CAIUS, Bernardinus

CAIUS, Bernardinus De alimentis, quae cuique naturae conveniant liber

Venice, Evangelista Deuchino and Giovanni Battista Pulciani, 1608


FIRST EDITION. 4to, (xvi) 175 (i). Italic and Roman letter, printer’s device to t-p., woodcut floriated initials and headpieces. Light spotting to t-p and to blank margins of some initial and final ll., early circular armorial stamp removed from t-p (repaired) and rubbed on p. 174. A very good copy on thick paper, wide-margined, crisp and clean, in high-quality contemporary limp vellum, covers a bit soiled, missing ties.


First edition of this rare and fascinating medico-philosophical treatise concerning diet and health. Bernardinus Caius (Bernardino Caio, Gaio or Gageo, fl. 1596-1612) was a learned physician and professor of medicine active in Venice and Padua. Specific details of his life are obscure, but he was a friend and correspondent of Galileo Galilei and Giovanni Francesco Sagredo (one of Galileo’s closest friends). Caius appears several times in Galileo’s correspondence: in a letter, he thanks Galileo for sending him a copy of his treatise on the solar spots. In another one, Caius discusses Galileo’s health and diagnoses the famous astronomer with kidney stone disease, advising him on how to recover; it appears, however, that Galileo never replied to this letter, making up excuses, and Caius complained about this with Sagredo. Caius was also a quite prolific medical writer, author of treatises on vesicants and blood, and editor of a commentary by Bernardinus Paternus on Avicenna (1596).


In ‘De alimentis’, Caius explores all aspects of alimentation and diet, particularly focusing on what are the correct eating habits in relation to the different human ‘natures’. This interesting work, which combines Aristotelian, Neoplatonic and Stoic philosophy with Hippocratic and Galenic medicine, aims at demonstrating that the right diet can help maintaining good health, but also cure illnesses restoring the body’s balance. Caius begins presenting the universal principles of nature, from which various ‘natures’ or ‘qualities’ are generated: these are, according with traditional Hippocratic doctrines, hot and cold, wet and dry. The human body is regulated by these qualities, and they also apply to food and diseases. Caius explains the ‘doctrine of the opposites’: in order to restore good health, one should eat foods that have the opposite ‘nature’ of the illness: for example, someone with a fever (hot) should eat ‘cold’ foods. In his letter to Galileo, Caius states that he is affected by ‘humidity’, and therefore he should eat dry and roasted foods, not boiled. A few sections are dedicated to pleasure and desire, which is closely connected to alimentation, and the author describes the “pleasures of the eyes” and of “the palate”.


Particularly interesting are the chapters dedicated to taste: Caius gives a general definition of ‘taste’ according to Aristotle, then moves on to describe the different flavours (e.g. sweet, bitter, salty, sour and even “fat” or “oily”), explaining that water ‘contains’ all the natural flavours and it plays a fundamental role in determining them – if the tongue is “too dry or too wet”, flavours cannot be fully appreciated. The author also explains the process of taste perception, and defines the ‘properties’ of flavours and their ‘effects’ (for example, ‘bitter things’ are less likely to rot, but they are often inedible). Other chapters discuss the different types of foods, their ‘powers’, with many pages especially devoted to wine. Caius also briefly talks about the ‘frigida potio’ (a remedy to fever) and the cooling and fertilizing properties of ‘salnitrum’ (potassium nitrate), a substance that was used in pharmacology and food preparation. Two final chapters are concerned with two controversial topics: the use of chemistry in medicine and the longevity of children born at eight months.

USTC 4035172; BM STC It. 17th century, p. 169, Vicaire p. 140. Not in Notaker, Oberle, Bibliotheca Bacchica, Heirs of Hippocrates, Garrison Morton, Bibliotheca Osleriana, Krivatsy or Wellcome.
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