To modern sensibilities the thought of using somebody else’s body parts to medicate seems a macabre perversion, wholly out of step with the spirit of medicine and science. Richard Sugg’s book Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians goes some way to dispelling the myth that cannibalism belonged to simpletons of the dark ages or tribal savages. He brings to light several examples where the great and the good believed in the medicinal properties of the human body. Charles II, for example, is noted to have been prescribed a distillation of the powder of human skull on his deathbed by his physician.
The Enlightenment ushered in a new way of looking at the world, one that valued science over superstition. It treated nature as something to be tamed and quantified. Suggs describes this process as “trying to get nature on your