ZAPATA, Giovanni Battista.


ZAPATA, Giovanni Battista. Li maravigliosi secreti di medicina e chirurgia.

Venice, heirs of Pietro Deuchino, 1586.


8vo. pp. [40], 196. Roman letter, with Italic. Woodcut printer’s device to title, decorated initials and ornaments. The odd lower edges untrimmed, couple of gatherings slightly browned, a little marginal foxing and finger-soiling, 3 tiny holes to last leaf, not affecting reading. A good copy in modern vellum over boards, early ms ink ‘794’ to title, armorial dry-stamp with rampant lion and sword to title and one more, C19 armorial blue ink stamp (unidentified bishop) at blank foot of last.

A good copy of the fourth edition of this popular and most interesting book of medical secrets, in Italian. Giovanni Battista Zapata (b.1520) was a physician and surgeon of Spanish origins who practised in Italy. First published in Rome in 1577 and edited by Zapata’s pupil, Giuseppe Scienza, ‘Li maravigliosi segreti’ ‘deals […] with the treatment of a great number of ailments, and explains the preparation of the necessary remedies […]; it contains a good deal of chemistry as applied to pharmacy. This makes it valuable for the history of the science, for here we get the processes employed 300 years ago for preparing certain well-known compounds, uncomplicated by any theoretical views about elements or transmutation’ (Ferguson). The work opens with a detailed index, head to foot, of ‘loci’ discussed in the chapters, such as ‘epilepsy can be treated with the quintessence of rosemary’ (used pulverised or in vapours for many other conditions) or ‘St Anthony’s fire healed with Aesculapius’s water’ (also used to treat syphilis and the plague), as well as references to specific remedies, many invented by Zapata, e.g., ‘our universal syrup’, ‘our remedy’, ‘our ointment’, etc., mostly made from rosemary, apples, vitriol or antimony. Among hundreds of recipes are also a few surgical secrets, such as the healing of eyes by cutting the arteries on the forehead. Those ‘easy remedies’ were devised to be accessible to non-professionals as well; the first chapter begins with an appeal to the popular reader: ‘I believe that you poor people, without wealth, find yourself worrying about your infirmities, for the physical pain but also for the lack of means, so that you cannot be helped and healed as you should be.’ The appeal is followed by a brief critique of the way the wealthy are treated, using useless remedies such as the ingestion of crushed gemstones or gold. Each short section is written in colloquial Italian and explains in plain language the simple procedures (‘it can be carried out in a quarter of an hour’) for the preparation of a remedy and how it will improve or treat a condition. Zapata even mentions ‘sales representatives’, often former patients, such as a poor lady called Giulia who sang and played to earn money throughout Italy, with her children and husband, and sold a ‘miraculous’ balm produced by Zapata. Among the ‘secrets’ discussed are also a few non-medical, e.g., the use of water made of vitriol residue with which one can make iron look like gold and dye sheets yellow. A most interesting work shedding light on early modern popular medicine. 

Only NLM and Harvard copies recorded in the US. USTC 855559; EDIT16 30744; Durling 4784; Wellcome I, 6797; Ferguson, Books of Secrets, II, p.30. Not in Heirs of Hippocrates or Brunet.
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