Uroscopy, the historical medical practice of visually examining a patient’s urine for signs of disease, is one of the oldest forms of diagnostic testing, dating as far back as 4,000 B.C.E. Practitioners also relied on taste and smell, and were able to accurately diagnose diabetes based upon the sweetness of a patient’s urine. Diabetes was thus known to the ancient Egyptians as “honey urine,” and to the Chinese as “sugar urine disease.”
The uroscopy wheel shown here appeared in a 15th century manuscript titled “Apocalypsis S. Johannis cum glossis et Vita S. Johannis; Ars Morendi, etc.” From a tree of seven branches bearing seven fruits emerge twenty uroscopy flasks of different colors, each corresponding to a different ailment. The uroscopy wheel originated with the Jewish-Arab physician Isaac Israeli ben Solomon (c. 832 – c. 932) and was a standard medical reference during Europe’s medieval period.
Uroscopy fell into decline with the introduction of the scientific method. Its more rational principles contributed to the development of modern urinalysis, while its less rational elements lingered in the realm of the occult. A new form of divination known as “uromancy” enjoyed brief interest during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Credit Line: Image by the Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0).