ALEXANDER OF TRALLES [with] LOYS VASSE
ALEXANDER OF TRALLES, De singularum corporis partium […], per Albanum Torinum Vitodurensem recens latinitate donate.
Excudebat Henricus Petrus, Basle, 1533 [with]
LOYS VASSE, In anatomen corporis humani, tabulae quatuor.
Ex officina Michaelis Faezandat, Paris, 1541.
FIRST EDITION of second work. Folio, 2 works in one, pp. (xxxvi) 342 (vi); ff. (iv) 40. Roman letter, some italic and Greek. Woodcut historiated and floriated initials, printed side notes. Occasional contemporary marginalia in Latin, Greek and French, underlining. Printer’s device on both t-p and on verso of last page of first work, one typographical ornament. Contemporary ms. ex libris of the Lyonnaise surgeon Simon Guy (ca. XVI century) to first t-p and autograph to p. 1 of first work. Arms of the French cardinal Robert de Lenoncourt (1485-1561) printed on verso of second t-p. Age yellowing, light waterstains to first t-p and to margins of first and last few gatherings, small worm-trail to lower blank margin of two central gatherings, rare marginal foxing. A good copy in contemporary vellum, covers a little soiled and worn, lacking ties. C17 reback in sheep (joints split at head), double gilt ruled in five compartments with fleurons and floral corner-pieces, gilt ornaments on raised bands. C14 manuscript stubs from the Ordinatio Oxoniensis (Liber I) by the philosopher and theologian Adam de Wodeham (1298–1358).
First edition of the most important Latin translation by Albanus Torinus of Alexander of Tralles’ chief work on medicine, bound together with a rare anatomical text by the Spanish Loys Vasse. On the title page of the first work, this compilation bears the ex-libris of the Lyonnaise surgeon Simon Guy: ‘Ce livre est a moy Symon Guy en jung 1545’. He practised in Lyon at the half of the XVI century, and the French poet Barthélemy d’Aneau addressed him as ‘tresfidel & eccellent chirurgien M. Maistre Simon Guy’ in the dedication of his translation of Gesner’s Thesaurus Evoymi Philiatri (1552). Guy’s annotations are particularly interesting. First of all, because in a few cases he wrote the translation of Latin terms in vernacular French (see ‘teigne’ p. 11 or ‘frontal’ p. 25) attesting – unlike many other annotated medical texts of the same period – that the critical reading was also done in vernacular. Then, because they demonstrate Guy’s extensive knowledge of anatomy: at p. 30, he comments on a small muscle that connects the elbow to the hand, stating that the ancient anatomists and Galen – in his Liber de usu partium at the pages 33 and 36 – believed that its function was that of flexing the fingers, whereas instead it provides ‘tactum sensum et firmam apprehensionem’ (the sense of touch and a firm grip’).
Alexander of Tralles (525-625 AD) is considered one of the most eminent ancient physicians. Born to a well-known Byzantine family – his brother Anthemius was the architect of Hagia Sophia – he practiced medicine in Rome and in various cities across the Mediterranean. His most important work, originally in Greek with the title Βιβλία Ἰατρικὰ Δυοκαίδεκα (Libri Duodecim de Re Medica), is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of numerous mainly internal diseases. In 1504, it ‘appeared in an old, barbarous, and imperfect Latin translation, with the title Alexandri Yatros Practica’ (Smith). That translation was corrected by Albanus Torinus and first published in this remarkable 1533 edition. In the rather sterile and literary tradition of Byzantine medicine, Alexander of Tralles stands out among many scholars, he is not a mere compiler of works written by others; his De singularum corporis partium is an original product of his personal experience, focused on practice rather than theory, and written with exceptional clarity. The author ‘follows especially Hippocrates and Galen [fathers of empiric medicine], but not slavishly, and his independent, even critical attitude toward Galen is notable’ (Langslow); however, as is characteristic of his age, he often prescribes the use of amulets and charms.
The identity of Loys Vasse, author of the second work, is obscure. Conversely, his ‘In anatomen corporis humani, tabulae quatuor’ was a widely known dissection manual. The printing rights of this first edition were shared by three Parisian booksellers (Michaelis Faezandat, Jean Foucher and Vivant Gaultherot) for two years, and for this reason copies bear different names and dates between October 1540 and 1542. Those printed by Michaelis Faezandat are all dated to 1541. An epitome of the two works ‘De anatomicis administrationibus’ and ‘De usu partium’ by Galen, the book consists in a meticulous description of the human body, divided into four chapters dedicated to: abdomen, thorax, head and limbs. Within each chapter, diagrams with braces are employed to arrange the text in a schematic way and to display the relationships between body parts. This graphical expedient makes up for the absence of pictures, surprisingly common in dissection manuals at the time. Vasse mentions the venous valves and their function for the first time in the history of anatomy, formulating a proto theory of blood circulation which is at the basis of the later scholars’ descriptions. Interestingly, it appears that this Faezandat issue of the manual was circulating at the University of Cambridge at the half of the XVI century and it was consulted by medical students, who were required to attend two dissections. An annotation to the copy owned by the Regius Professor of Physic Thomas Lorkyn (1529-1591) – held at the Cambridge University Library – records the earliest known public dissection at the University of Cambridge in March 1565.1) Durling 147; Wellcome I 206; Adams 701 2) Durling 4545; Wellcome 6506; Adams 300. Smith, William, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (London 1870); Langslow, D.R., The Latin Alexander Trallianus: The Text and Transmission of a Late Latin Medical Book. (Journal of Roman Studies 10, 2006). For Simon Guy, see also: B. Rossignol, Médecine et médicaments au XVIe siècle à Lyon, (Lyon, 1990), p. 56.