The continued adventures of Wound Man

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By | Early Medicine

Late medieval anatomy works often contain a standard set of illustrations, copied and recopied from text to text. Typically, these depict the body front and back; the skeleton and muscles within it each from the same two viewpoints, and so on. Strangest to our modern eyes is the illustration that usually comes last: the Wound Man, a compendium of all the injuries that a body might sustain. Captions beside the stoic figure describe the injuries and sometimes give prognoses: often precise distinctions are drawn between types of injuries, such as whether an arrow has embedded itself in a muscle or shot right through. (The latter is better – the arrowhead can be cut away and the shaft withdrawn smoothly, whilst the embedded arrow will tear the muscle with its barbs when pulled out.)

Once seen, never forgotten: the Wound Man feels like an old friend to many Wellcome Library users, and the example here from our MS.290 has adorned several items of Library publicity. It’s interesting, then, to see him appearing in a new twenty-first century context: as part of the current Queer Up North festival, the one-man show The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley sees our medieval figure reimagined as a superhero, a “freelance social interventionist” (now decently clad in a posing pouch). The centuries pass and Wound Man endures, dealing with everything that life can throw at him, an example to us all.

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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