Thursday, June 14, 2012

Piss-prophets

Reproduction of "A Doctor Examining Urine" by Trophime Bigot (1579-1649/50)

 Reproduction of "The Urine Examination" by Joos van Craesbeeck (c. 1605/06– c.1660)

"The Doctor's Visit" by Jan Steen (1658-1662)

The expression "piss-prophet" was 1st used in print in the 17th c., during which the images above were originally painted. It referred to a physician who diagnosed illness by inspecting a patient's urine. The inspection could be visual, or the doctor could employ the other senses. It was English physician Thomas Willis (1621-1675) who was the 1st to observe that the urine of those later termed diabetics tasted "wonderfully sweet as if it were imbued with honey or sugar." The urine was swirled around in (and sipped from) a matula, a round-bottomed flask made out of clear glass whose shape approximated that of the human bladder. Uroscopy was very much in vogue at the time, although it had been relied on for centuries. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) had noticed that fever changes the smell of a patient's urine and Galen (131-201 A.D.) stated that evaluating the urine was the best way to see whether or not the body's 4 humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) were in balance. "Due to the influence of Arabian teachings, the uroscopy eventually became an important part of medical diagnosis in the Middle Ages. Indeed, looking at the urine of a patient, inspecting the quantity and quality, the smell, taste, colour and cloudiness of it became such an important task of the medieval doctor that he is usually depicted with the uroscopy flask in art," writes blogger Sandra Schwab. In addition to being used to diagnose illness, these means were also used to determine pregnancy. A 1552 text cited by RandomHistory.com described the pee of pregnant women as “clear pale lemon color leaning toward off-white, having a cloud on its surface.” In subsequent centuries more empirical methods like chemistry replaced the old "swirl-and-taste" methods. The urologist or nephrologist replaced the outdated "piss-prophet" and the word came to mean a quack.
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Plenty of past posts about paintings:

1 comment:

  1. The book Pope Joan describes her using urine to diagnose illness in a plot-forwarding way, but it was set much earlier in time than the 17th century.

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