Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Three Physicians of Salerno

Salerno is a seaport in southern Italy, on an inlet of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was famous in the Middle Ages for its medical school, founded in AD 850.

Various Arthurian legends feature physicians from Salerno, including the Alliterative Morte Arthure, in which one such doctor tries unsuccessfully to heal Arthur at Avalon.

The three venerable graduates had the misfortune to visit Constantinople just when the Empress Fenice had secretly swallowed her nurse Thessala’s potion and apparently died, in a plan to escape her wedded lord and live secretly with her lover. Examining Fenice, the chief of the three saw that she still lived. He promised, on pain of his own life, to restore her. (Whether this offer included the lives of his two companions, cannot be told.)

Demanding to be left alone with her, the three proceeded from cajolery to torture in their desperate efforts to bring her back; Thessala’s potion kept her silent and immobile while they scourged her bloody and pierced her palms with molten lead. At last more than a thousand ladies, Thessala among them, peeped through a chink in the door, saw the physicians about to roast Fenice on a grill, and, outraged, broke in and killed the trio by defenestration.

Alliterative Morte Arthure | c. 1400