By | August 6, 2010 12:00 am

Magic and Medicine

Harry Potter’s adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry actually have their basis in the early history of science and medicine. The magic in the “Harry Potter” books is partially based on Renaissance traditions that played an important role in the development of Western science, including alchemy, astrology, and natural philosophy.

The UCF College of Medicine Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library is now hosting an exhibit called “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine,” that traces medical history from potions, herbs and monsters to what we know today. The touring exhibit, created by the National Library of Medicine, is on display in the library until August 21.

The seven-part exhibit includes some fascinating facts about early medicine. For example:

  • During the Renaissance, people believed in the medicinal value of a unicorn’s horn, especially as an antidote to poisons.
  • Historically, scholars have believed that studying plants could provide clues into how nature works. In the late 1400s, many people believed the roots of the poisonous mandrake plant resembled the human figure and possessed magical powers including the fatal scream fictionalized in “Harry Potter.” Botanists and physicians used small doses of the plant as an anesthetic.
  • Like Harry Potter’s professors, 16th-century Swiss naturalist and physician Konrad Gesner appreciated the knowledge gained by studying nature. His most famous work, “Historiae Animalium,” is considered one of the first examples of modern zoology. Unique to its time, the book included not only Greek and Biblical descriptions of animals, but also information Gesner had gained from dissection.
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