Tabula Practice Dicte Lilium Medicine.

Venice, Giovanni & Gregorio de Gregori Fratelli [Benedetto Fontana], 1496/97


4to, ff. (4), 271, (1). Gothic letter, text in double column. Charming title page with large publisher’s woodcut device representing a fountain, floriated initials. Light age yellowing, occasional spotting, minor water stains in throughout, larger in a few places at end, a few leaves oil stained; small paper flaws at extremities and tiny worm holes on t-p and last gathering, small tears to outer lower corners of ff. 17, 234, rear free endpapers slightly torn with no loss, some leaves untrimmed. A good, crisp and well margined copy in later ¼ vellum over original carta rustica, a bit wormed and soiled, early faded ms. and later printed title to flat spine, recased. Four lines inscription to t-p including date and owner’s name in Italian – “Anno Domini 1643, il giorno di San Pelegrino”, “questo libro è di Io. Benedetti” – sparse Latin marginalia by contemporary and later hands throughout and to pastedowns; remains of ms. stubs (C14th), two and a half lines in Hebrew on early vellum (C13th) on front pastedown.

Rare fourth edition of one of the most important medieval medical texts which had wide circulation in manuscript – in translation from Latin into different languages – and then appeared in several printed editions, from the 1480’s in Naples by Francesco del Tuppo for Bernardinus Gerardinus, onwards (W. Osler, Incunabula medica. A study of the earliest printed medical books, 1467-1480, Oxford, 1923, p. 119, n. 198).

From a noble family with roots in Gourdon, a town in the former French province of Quercy (L. Demaitre, “Bernard de Gordon: Professor and Practitioner”, Toronto, 1980, pp. 3, 11), Bernard de Gordon (1260 ca.-1318 ca.) taught at the University of Montpellier in its golden age from the 1250s to at least 1308. Between 1303 and 1305 he wrote his best known work, “Lilium Medicinae”. Fragmentary details of his life and medical influence are known from his seven books and from Chaucer’s prologue to the “Canterbury’s Tales”, where Bernard is listed among the most eminent physicians. He was one of the pioneering pre-Renaissance medical experimentalists who challenged the method of Hippocrates, Galen and Holy Ibn Abbas, focusing on the connection between practice and theory.

The “Lilium Medicine” is an encyclopaedia of diseases with their symptoms, causes, effects and treatments. It summarised all the theoretical and practical medical knowledge then available, showing familiarity with Judeo-Arabic medical treatises and containing original material. It constitutes a valuable source for investigating the changing traditions in Montpellier during its transition from a Salernitan inheritance, with its dependence on Arabic authorities, to Anglo-Norman empiricism and dogmatic scholasticism. The subject matter of the work is arranged in 7 books, each preceded by a table of contents and structured in 163 chapters, divided into 6 sections, covering diseases from the head to toe in order. Each chapter begins with the definition of the disease and its elaboration, also describing the anatomical changes it produces in affected organs. In the second and third sections a list of causes and symptoms accompanying the disease is provided. The fifth and sixth sections discuss the natural history of the disease and the best medical and surgical treatment. The final section of each chapter, called “clarification”, deals with contemporary controversies relating to the questioning of Galenic dogma. Nevertheless, Galen is considered a model, quoted more than 600 times as “God’s servant”. A wide range of diseases is considered, from the acute fever (malaria and bubonic plague), to exanthemata, phthisis, epilepsy, scabies, “ignis sacer”, anthrax, trachoma and leprosy, all described as contagious. The text is especially notable for including one of the first descriptions of hernia truss, of the syndrome of obsessive infatuation and of the use of spectacles. A section contains information on bloodletting, uroscopy and pulse taking; even diseases of the ears and observations in dentistry are embraced. Particularly interesting also is the advice on ethical practice which refers to the essential qualities needed in a doctor: good vision, manual deftness, dexterity, a good memory and clear judgment.

Only BL, Glasgow (Royal College of Physicians and Hunterian) and Wellcome Library copies recorded in the UK. BM STC It. and Brunet list other editions, as well as Dürling and Osler. Not in Heirs of Hippocrates. Goff, B450; GW, 4083; Hain, 7799; Klebs, 177.4; Poynter, 129-131; Wellcome, I, 798.


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