Fran Cudlipp

Fran Cudlipp

Interdisciplinary MA student


Margot Wilson


Culture, health and inequality

I obtained a BA (University of Toronto, 1980) focusing on Classics and an LLB (Osgoode Hall Law School, 1983), after which I practiced criminal law briefly before fleeing into legal publishing. I also trained as a homeopath, and have a long-term interest in psychoanalysis. I have maintained an abiding interest in Latin and Medieval Studies, and on being released from a life of corporate servitude in early 2014, now, with great excitement, embark on an Interdisciplinary Master’s Program, under the supervision of Margot Wilson (Anthropology) and Helene Cazes (Medieval Studies).

My research will investigate how Hellebore, a plant with medicinal properties, and used in the past for curing depression and madness, had, by the 13th century, become associated with the Devil and witchcraft.

In Antiquity, in the Hippocratic Corpus, Hellebore was prescribed more frequently than any other remedy, even though it is so poisonous as to be frequently lethal. My research investigates how and why this change in societal attitudes towards this plant occurred. I will examine how Hellebore is described in the herbals, from the 1st century CE through to the 16th, as these are the primary sources for descriptions about the medicinal properties of plants, together with instructions for harvesting them, and for the myths and folklore which surround them. One challenge will be to determine what plant we actually mean when we talk about ‘Hellebore’, because it was referred to by different names and often depicted with misleading illustrations in the herbals.

I will explore under what circumstances, how, and by whom, Hellebore was prescribed in the Middle Ages. For example: was it prescribed differently by monks and nuns, compared with folk healers? Folk healers were typically women, and one facet of the research will explore the cultural construction of illness and the symbolic meanings attached to medicinal plants, and will illuminate the dynamics of stigmatization as they apply to medicinal plants and healers.  The social and symbolic meaning of this particular plant will be examined, and what this tells us about the public perceptions and the individual being ‘demonized’ by association with the plant. For example, was it the properties of the plant itself, such as toxicity, or was it the way in which it was prescribed (its purgative quality might cause abortions, intentional or otherwise), which led to its problematic association? Did the plant become an ideological tool used to denounce women healers with accusations of witchcraft?