A portrait
of Sir John Harington hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A scan in PDF format of the 1920 edition of the Regimen is now (2005) online.

A biography centering on Ajax is on John H. Lienhard's site "The Engines of our Ingenuity," an NPR program from the engineering school at the University of Houston, Texas


Sir John Harington's English translation of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum

Prefaces to the Regimen by Sir John Harington and others

The Latin text Harington (loosely) translated

Preface by the Webmaster to the first World Wide Web edition of Harington's work

Site map
for the rest of Bob Richmond's personal Web site.

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Sir John Harington 1561-1612

English translator of the Medical Poem of Salerno

[portrait of sir john harington.]
If Sir John Harington had never translated a line of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, his name would live in memory as the inventor of the flush toilet, and author of "A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax" in 1596. "A jacks" was what the Elizabethans called a privy, and not surprisingly Sir John's name was immortalized in that homely article of plumbing.

Though he was not a physician, Harington in 1608, for reasons that are not very clear, did a loose translation of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, the Medical Poem of Salerno, into English verse. The Poem by then was at least half a millennium old, and still in use as a medical mnemonic by untold generations of students who memorized its homely Latin verses with their catchy internal rimes. Sir John did not enslave himself to the Latin text, but rather used it as a springboard into a fancy of his own, rather like Edward Fitzgerald would do with the Persian verses of Omar the Tentmaker in a later century.
[portrait of sir john harington.]
Harington's translation has perhaps never been very well known; in this century it was published by Paul B. Hoeber in New York in 1920, with prefaces by two physician scholars, and this work was reprinted unchanged by Augustus M. Kelley in 1970. The School of Salernum, Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, the English Version by Sir John Harington, with a History of the School of Salernum by Francis R. Packard MD and a Note on the Prehistory of the Regimen Sanitatis by Fielding H. Garrison MD reproduces the original, with all its tall s's, archaic spellings, gratuitous italics, and strange vagaries of typography, so that scanning it was impractical, and I typed the verse text, though I used an OCR scanner for the Latin, damning its ligatures the while. The entire English text is here, with the verse numbers corresponding to the numbers of the pages on which it appears in the 1920 edition, with missing numbers representing blank pages or illustrations. The Latin text also has page numbers, which I have occasionally referenced in the notes to the English translation.

I discovered Harington's translation while reading Howard W. Haggard's popular history of medicine Devils, Drugs, and Doctors in my physician father's library when I was a boy, and always wanted to see what the entire text looked like, but had never seen it until I found the book on an auction page. The poem seems to have no presence on the Web. Its sprightly verses will be of interest to herbalists, and to poets interested (as I am) in the practical magickal use of rimed verse.

Harington never varies from a ten-line iambic pentameter stanza, riming always abababccdd. His verse is quite regular, but has always has a lively music to it that outruns monotony. There are no alexandrines, and the occasional tetrameter verse usually appears to result from a defect in the text. The last couplet always snaps off nicely, like the couplet that ends one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The poem is enjoyable to read out loud, and I have tried to mark difficult places in the scansion for the reader's convenience. (In particular, I have regularized the spelling of the past tense -ed, marking the vowel with a grave accent when it needs to be sounded.) I have written some notes to illuminate particularly obscure points.

I have appended the Latin text of the poem, warning the reader that I do not read Latin well and have probably proofread the OCR scan imperfectly. I have haphazardly indexed the English to the Latin, but Harington does not follow the Latin at all closely.

This preface © Robert S. Richmond, M.D., F.C.A.P.
Knoxville, Tennessee
May 2000

posted to the Web May 26th, 2000
revised August 5th, 2005