Friday, 14 February 2014

Poison or plague in St Petersburg?

This week's rather grisly translation comes courtesy of Dr Clare Griffin.  She writes:

Seventeenth-century Russian court medicine was imported: before 1654 all official medical practitioners were from Western Europe, and even after this date Westerners dominated court medicine.

Beautifully be-hatted boyars
One of the duties of these men was to produce reports on a variety of topics of interest to the court, including examinations of purchased medicines, injured service-persons, proposed treatment regimes for the royal family, and autopsies.

As none of the physicians spoke Russian, and few Russians knew Western languages, physicians composed reports in Latin and they were then translated into Russian for use by Russian bureaucrats.

Below is our translation of one such report, an autopsy of a Russian noble, prince Ivan Alekseevich Vorotynskii, who had died soon after being in council with the tsar. Autopsies were commonly conducted when the individual in question was themselves important, when they had been in close contact with the tsar before their death and may have infected him, or when plague was suspected. As Vorotynskii's skin discoloured after death, then thought to indicate a plague death, all three points here contributed to the decision to conduct an autopsy.

Here's the original Latin:

                       Actum d. 24 Julii 1679.
          Illustrissimus Knesius ac Dominus, Dn. Johann Alexewitz Waratinsky, Consilii intimioris Regii Senator, in consessu preconum male sese incipit habere et de summa cordis angustia conqueri: unde monitus domum transvehitur, malo subinde aucto, et succedente vomitu pauculae materiae phlegmaticae subito concidit et violenta morte exstinguitur, citra stertorem statim succedente colore faciei et unguium livido, totiusque corporis frigore.
          Quaesiti de genere atfectus, ex quo Illustiss, hic princeps tam subito fuit exstinctus?
          Respondemos, malum hoc aliud non fuisse, quarn Syncopen Cardiacam ex subita interceptione venarum et arteriarum ad cor pertingentium, unde calor nativus et spiritus vitalis subito fuit suffocatus et exstinctus, malo procul dubio exorto ab insigni cruditate circa hypochondria haerente, quae cruditas frequens est hodiernae Suffocationis Hypochondriacae.
          De caetero aullam hic neque veneni accepti neque maligni et contagiosi esse suspicionem ex Artis fundamentis certi sumus, ad hanc visitationem reduisiti.
                     Laurentius Blumentrost D. mp.
                     Sigmund Sommer. Mpp.

Source: Mamonov, N. E., Materialy dlia istorii medistiny v Rossii [Materials for the History of Medicine in Russia], 4 vols (St Petersburg: M. M. Stasiulevich, 1881), 1304.

And here's our translation.  The italicised text above and below the report is taken from the Russian translation.

          24th July 1679. According to the order of the Great Lord Tsar and Grand Prince Fedor Alekseevich, autocrat of all the Russias, the physicians Lavrentii Blumentrost and Simon Sommer were sent to examine boyar Prince Ivan Alekseevich Vorotynskii.           And on the 25th of July Doctors Lavrentii and Simon presented a report in Latin about their examination of boyar prince Ivan Alekseevich Vorotynskii, signed by their own hands.
And according to the translation of that report by the Diplomatic Chancery translator Stakhei Gadzalov, it was written:

          Most illustrious Prince and Lord Ivan Alekseevich Vorotynskii, member of the privy council of the Tsar, during a session of advisors began to feel ill and to complain of extreme tightness of the heart: thus warned, he was carried home, with the illness getting worse, and having vomited a little phlegmatic material, he suddenly collapsed and died a violent death, and the death rattle was immediately followed by a blue colour of the face and nails and a coldness of the whole body.
          [We were] asked concerning the type of illness which so suddenly carried off this most illustrious prince. 
          We respond, that this illness was none other than Cardiac Syncopy from sudden blockage of the veins and arteries leading to the heart, whence the natural heat and vital spirits were suddenly stifled and extinguished. The illness no doubt arose from remarkable undigested matter sticking to the abdomen, which matter these days often causes stifling of the abdomen.
          Concerning the other question put to us about this examination, on the basis of our expertise we have formed no suspicion of poison taken nor of malice nor contagion.

          Doctor Lavrentii Blumentrost (signature)
          Doctor Simon Sommer (signature)

25th July 1679 the Great Lord was made aware of this report by kravchii Prince Vasilii Fedorovich Odoevskii.

We hope all that undigested matter hasn't put you off your lunch!  As always, any comments welcome.

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