Doctor Schnabel (1656)

The image is by Paul Fürst. It was a copper engraving of a plague doctor, accompanied by a satirical poem.

The poem translation and the interpretation is by me, TeeTee Ella. I am by no means an expert in any of these topics!

Poem Translated by TeeTee Ella

For you, Do you believe as a fable
Doctor Schnabel written from
The past contagion.
He authorizes fine reward of this
The corpses he seeks to fisting
Same as Joe on the crap
Ah Believe, do not go there
Then Rome, ruled by the Plague.

Who would not be very scared
The thief slashes or stretches
Where floods, as if he was dumb
And interprets as his plan
How many a credit without doubts
That makes him a black devil
Pouch(purse) is called fine Hott
And arum the fetched soul.

Interpretation By TeeTee Ella

‘Doctor Schnabel’ means ‘Doctor Beck. ‘Schnabel’ means bill or pecker, which is what the doctor’s mask looks like. Also, ‘Schnabel’ was used in a derogatory manner. Now we might say something like ‘Shut your mouth!’, in the past it would be ‘Halt den Schnabel!’.

The corpses he seeks to fist, refers to his interest in probing the dead infected. The next line refers to this as bullshit. Instead of the doctor wanting to find clues to cures, he fondles the corpses for pleasure. ‘Joe on the crap’, is like saying now “Full of crap”. Joe is a general name for males.

‘Where floods’ refers to the swelling lymph nodes on plague victims. The doctor cuts the bumps open and stretches the skin of the patient. The purpose of doing this is to relieve the patient of the pressure and remove puss.

The pouch, or purse, is referring to the bags of strong scented organic contents, that the Plague Doctors would carry around. The belief was the disease was carried through the stink and smell.

The current and only definition I could find on ‘Hott’ is an extractor hood. This is an electrical Kitchen device fitted over cooking areas. The hood sucks off vapors from cooking. During the plague times, there were no such things as electrical extractor hoods.

I have two guesses as to what the text on the image means by ‘Hott’. Firstly, it could be simply a way of stating the pouches took in the bad air, and exhausted it as good air.

Secondly, the ‘Hott’ could had meant the doctors hood. It would also be good at preventing vapors. Although it would do this be preventing the vapors from entering vs exhausting. Also, ‘Extractor hood’ literally has hood in it.

Arum is gold. So maybe the last line was saying the doctor turns the sick wretched souls into money.

More Information

Another version of this image was included, on page 171, in the 1921 German book “The caricature and satire in medicine“; in English ” The Cartoon and Satire In Medicine “. The book is free to read online and download. It is also where I got the verse in which to translate from. For more context, I would like to share accompanying text.

The great horror of the plague was so overwhelming in the Middle Ages and even into modern times that someone who had made fun of this divine chastisement would probably have been simply beaten to death. The survivors, on the other hand, were annoyed that the doctors had benefited from the scourge of God, and that some of the plague brought them to prosperity. How many doctors perished in the exercise of their incredibly difficult profession, of course, forgets the negating national spirit.

These critics should be presented with the picture of Mignard (see Figure 111 in Medicine and Classical Painting)*, where the scene is described in a highly dramatic manner in which a doctor who has just opened the plague bump in the armpit of a young woman is a victim of the Contagion sinks there. Boccaccio describes in his Decamerone the transmission of the plague by touching the clothes. As a result, the doctors soon sought to protect themselves from this contagion with a final garb.

They wore leather clothing with gloves and a mask in front of their mouth and nose into which they made prophylactic effective spices. Despite its ridiculous appearance, such protective clothing will not have been ineffective. We have a engraving of Columbina, who drew such a doctor on occasion of a plague epidemic at Rome in 1656 after life. The famous printing press of Paulus Fürst, from which a myriad of interesting single-page prints went into the country, used this template to make it a satire against the doctors, the Doctor Schnabel of Rome. We reproduce the linguistically amusing verses that change the character of the picture. Furst has falsified the image only insofar as, instead of the small pulse-feeling lump, he gives a long staff to the doctor who ends up in bat wings, so that the whole thing becomes a child’s fright.

Just as little as with the pest was it to joke with the great genital pest that had struck the old world since the beginning of the fifteenth century. The satirical material in word and picture against this God-sent plague is of course a very small one. Confession and penance were the common antidotes. But the pain was almost like vices and the emperor Maximilian I.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is under Public Domain License. Information source Wiktionary(CC BY-SA 3.0).