My gracious lord: alas! From numerous sources I have learned that plague now rages in Bohemia, just as I have often predicted to you. For that reason, I have written for your eminence a brief guide, compiled from the better sayings of the Greek doctors Avicenna, Galen and Hippocrates.1

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The pattern was familiar in Europe. Terrifying warnings of an approaching pestilence were succeeded by the ravaging disease itself. In this case it was the kingdom of Bohemia, where a university master and physician to Emperor Charles IV (1346–78) responded by offering his lord rehashed ancient medical wisdom. As with many examples of this genre, little of his advice would earn the approval of modern doctors — except, perhaps, his second of eight points: ‘Get yourself away from any place where plague is prevailing and from people infected with it’.2 But...

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