GRÉVIN, Jacques.

A C16 HERBALIST’S COPY

GRÉVIN, Jacques. De venenis libri duo

Antwerp, Christophe Plantin, 1571

£3,250.00

FIRST EDITION, thus. 4to, pp. (xx) 332 (xii), 2 ll. in gatherings A, E, I and P misbound. Roman letter, woodcut floriated and figurative initials, printer’s device to t-p, numerous quarter to half-page woodcuts of venomous animals and plants. Light age browning, very wide margins, paper flaw to lower outer blank corner of fol. 73. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, lower cover a bit creased, spine cracked at bands exposing sewing, missing ties. Occasional Latin marginalia, early annotations and contemporary ms. 5-line gift dedication: “Fr(ater) Franc(iscus) Malocchius Magni duci etruriae simplicista dono mihi dedi librum hunc pisis anno 1598” to fly.

First edition of the Latin translation, by the Augsburg physician Jeremias Martius, of this important and beautifully illustrated treatise on poisons by Grévin. Martius took the initiative and asked Plantin to publish his translation, based on the original French printed also by Plantin in 1568. With this work, Grévin “marks the beginning of a new era in biotoxinological studies. (…) He provided the foundation and the historical departure point from which subsequent researchers began their investigations” (Halsestead).

In the introduction, Grévin discusses the essential nature of poison drawing from classical and contemporary authorities, defining poison as categorically opposed to food and contrary to human nature. The first book is dedicated to poisonous animals, their venom and the antidotes, while the second focuses more on plants, trees and mushrooms. Grévin describes snakes (e.g. viper and basilisk), as well as spiders, scorpions, mice, lizards, frogs, insects (e.g. flies, beetles), fish (e.g. stingray, the “draco marinus” and mollusks) and the rabid dog; among plants, aconitum and taxus. All the species described are illustrated with attractive and detailed woodcuts by the engraver Jehan de Gourmont after drawings of Geoffrey Ballain, the same set appearing in the French original. “The best feature of this work is its skeptical and realistic attitude. Grévin regards the tales told about the basilisk as fabulous (…) expresses doubt as to many substances supposed to detect the presence of poisons, such as serpent’s tongue, toadstone and the turquois (…) he will not deny, however, that some gems like emerald, agate, sapphire and pearl, if powdered and taken in the mouth, can cure poisoned persons.” (Thorndike V, 477-78).

The second book includes ‘De viribus et facultate antimonii’, a treatise on the virtues of antimony against the physician Loys de Launay, in which Grévin argues that antimony is not a medicament, but a poison – this work helped get the substance declared illegal by the medical faculty of Paris. At the end is Grévin’s translation of “Theriaca” (here in the Latin version by Martius), a Greek poem by Nicander on poisonous animals on which “De venenis” is largely based. Jacques Grévin (c. 1539-70) became famous, in his twenties, as a poet and playwright. In 1563, he obtained a degree in medicine in Paris and, after spending some time in London and in the Netherlands, he moved to Turin as physician to Margaret of France, the Duchess of Savoy. 

Interesting provenance: “[I], Friar Francesco Malocchi, simplicista (= herbalist) to the Duke of Tuscany, gave this book to myself as a present, Pisa 1598”. A Franciscan Minorite friar, Francesco Malocchi (d. 1613) was appointed herbalist to Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici (1549-1609) and superintendent of the botanical gardens in Pisa. He was also director of the “Galleria”, a museum – annexed to the gardens – containing all sorts of natural specimens and curiosities, which Malocchi enlarged bringing new objects and plants from numerous travels around Italy. An expert chemist, Malocchi was the founder of a chemical laboratory where medicines were produced from the plants grown in the gardens. Moreover, his correspondence with Ulisse Aldrovandi, author of the bestseller “Ornithologiae” (1599) on birds, reveals Malocchi’s profound interest for animals and their habits. The occasional manuscript annotations in the book are in a different contemporary hand, and they focus mainly on the sections dealing with the basilisk (one points out: “it is afraid of the rooster”), spiders, scorpions, mushrooms (e.g. annotating names of edible species and how to distinguish them from the poisonous ones) and plants (hemlock).

USTC 401496; Adams G1244; BM STC Netherlands C16, p. 88; Durling 2174; Voet 1267. See Brunet II, p. 1737. This ed not in Graesse, Wellcome I, Garrison-Morton, Heirs of Hippocrates. B.W. Halstead, Poisonous and venomous marine animals of the world I (1965).