De re medica libri tres. Iacobo Syluio medico interprete

Paris, Christianum Wechelum, sub scuto Basiliensi, in vico Iacobaeo. & sub Pegaso, in vico Bellouacensi, 1542.


FIRST EDITION thus. pp. (xx), 350 (i.e. 352). Roman letter, commentary in Italic, some Greek. Woodcut printer’s device on title, historiated woodcut initials, “Les Merlingues de l’hopital de calquens” in an early hand on fly, extensive marginalia throughout in the same hand, lengthy notes on rear pastedown (including a treatment for the morbi galliei, the French pox or syphilis) folded leaf with many remedies pasted in at gutter at front, all in the same hand. Light age yellowing, some minor spotting, hole in blank section of title page restored at an early date, early restorations to tear in blank margin of two leaves, the occasional ink splash or spot. A good crisp copy in contemporary blind-stamped calf, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, blind fleurons to outermost panel, two middle panels with blind floral scrolls, large fleuron at centres, well re-backed to match, spine with raised bands ruled in blind a.e.r.

A most interesting copy of the first edition of the major works probably falsely ascribed to the great Assyrian physician Yahya Ibn Masawayh with the commentary of the French anatomist and scholar Jacques Dubois (Sylvius), extensively annotated in an early hand by a physician with detailed notes that derive from a close reading of the text and with many recipes added. Masawaiyh, in Latin Mesue, was an tenth century physician from the Academy of Gundishapur who came to Baghdad and studied under Jabril ibn Bukhtishu. He wrote mostly in Syriac and Arabic. The works here however were probably written or collected by an Italian author who appropriated Mesue’s name, though the principal sources of these texts are Arabic, in particular from Avitenna, Rhazes and Abulcasis. Pharmaceutical literature from the period between 800 and 1000 AD is marked in large part by Arab works principally founded on works of Greco-Roman descent. The pseudo-Mesuae’s works are typical of those, and survive in manuscript form from the 13th century in anonymous Latin translations, though were most probably transcribed through Hebrew texts.

The works here are divided in four parts. The first two parts concern purgatives. The first of these the Canones universales or De consolatione medicinarum, deals with the rules of treatment in general and shows the criteria for judging whether a drug is suitable for use. Touch, smell and taste are of particular importance in order to determine the characteristics of a drug, but colour, age, durability and location of a herb give additional information. Certain drugs specifically act on different humours and on different organs.

The second part, De simplicibus, is about the properties of particular drugs. Instructions are given on how to improve drugs that are too weak or too strong, avoid harmful side effects and direct drugs to the organ intended. This is done by adding certain substances to the drug itself, or to change some of the characteristics of the drug by skilled preparation, especially cooking, washing, soaking or grinding. The work also deals with the treatment of harmful conditions after purgation, such as fever, headache, vertigo, loss of eyesight, loss of stomach function, thirst, hiccups, stomach pain, bowel lesions, loss of blood, weakness and convulsions.

The third part, the Antidotarum, is particularly interesting for the four chapters that contain recipes that concern sugar and pastries; the first De electariis delectabilis, concerns recipes with sugar preserves mostly made with honey. The second, De conditis, concerns recipes with flowers, spices and fruit preserves (quince, lemon, ginger, rose etc.) The third, De speciebus loch, is translated from the Arab la’uq and concerns confiseries from the Greek tradition (Nougats Marzipans and other varieties of sweets). The fourth, De syrupis et robub concerns fruit based syrups.

The final part of the book contains Dubois’s interpretation of the Antidotarum. Jacques Dubois (1478 – 1555), also known as Jacobus Sylvius in Latin, was a French anatomist in Paris. He was the first to describe venous valves, although their function was later discovered by William Harvey, and was the first author to use the Greek term ‘pharmacopoeia’ to refer to the knowledge necessary to both physician and apothecary

This work has been extensively annotated by a physician or a pharmacist who has added many recipes of his own to the work. Unfortunately we have not been able to find his name or the ‘Hopital de Calques’, though ‘Les Merlingues’ possibly suggests a religious order. A most interesting copy of this rare and important work.

USTC 195201. Durling 3140. Waller 6520. Not in Wellcome.


Print This Item Print This Item