Maesters, Greyscale, and Milk of the Poppy: Medicine in ‘Game of Thrones’: An Illustrated, Live Zoom Lecture with Rare Book Librarian Elisabeth Brander
The Westeros of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire—adapted by HBO into TV’s Game of Thrones—can be a rather unpleasant place to live in. In evoking a world reminiscent of medieval England, Martin creates a place where living a long and healthy life is not easy; diseases such as greyscale and plague stalk the land, roaming bands of mercenaries leave missing limbs in their wake, and the services of a master are accessible to few.
The author frequently specified that he wanted A Song of Ice and Fire to appeal to fans of historical fiction as much as fantasy. But if a physician from 15th century England were to find themselves transported to Westeros, would they find the medical landscape familiar? Would they be able to treat the ailments of the Great Houses and the smallfolk using the treatments they learned in our own world?
Tonight’s lecture examines how the medicine practiced by Martin’s masters compares to the real-world medical landscape of medieval and early modern Europe, spanning how medical practitioners were trained to the reasons why leeching was so popular and the most effective treatments for leprosy.
Elisabeth Brander keeps watch over a collection of rare medical texts in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to degrees in History and Library Science, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and dabbles in horror, retellings of myths and fairy tales, and historical fiction. She still isn’t sure if her natural habitat is Heian Japan, early modern Europe, or the depths of the ocean.
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