Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,710,190 articles and books

De materia medica.

Pedanius Dioscorides Pedanius Dioscorides (Greek: Πεδάνιος Διοσκορίδης; ca. 40-ca. 90) was an ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist from Anazarbus, Cilicia, Asia Minor, who practised in ancient  of Anarzarbus. De materia medica materia medica: see pharmacology. .

Altertumswissenschaftliche Texte und Studien 38. Trans. Lily Y. Beck. Hildesheim: Olms--Weidmann, 2005. xxxviii + 540 pp. index. [euro]78. ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number

ISBN International Standard Book Number

ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 
: 3-487-12881-0.

Alix Cooper. Inventing the Indigenous: Local Knowledge and Natural History in Early Modern Europe The early modern period is a term used by historians to refer to the period in Western Europe and its first colonies which spans the two centuries between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution. .

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press (known colloquially as CUP) is a publisher given a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1534, and one of the two privileged presses (the other being Oxford University Press). , 2007. xiv + 218 pp. index. illus. map. bibl. $75. ISBN: 978-0-521-87087-0.

For more than 1,500 years, the closest equivalent of today's Physicians' Desk Reference Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR),
n a comprehensive reference book detailing the composition and accepted applications of pharmaceuticals from major manufacturers.
 was the pharmacological treatise, De materia medica, "On medical materials." Dioscorides, a Greek doctor from Roman Cilicia, composed it late in the first century CE after traveling through the eastern Mediterranean lands. Succinct entries for some 600 natural substances--mostly plants, but also animal and mineral products--provided the materials' names, sources, appearance, medicinal properties, therapeutic uses, methods of preparation, and tests for adulteration Mixing something impure with something genuine, or an inferior article with a superior one of the same kind.

Adulteration usually refers to mixing other matter of an inferior and sometimes harmful quality with food or drink intended to be sold.
. Dioscorides also recorded folk remedies and superstitions but usually distanced himself from them with the skeptical words, "they say that...."

Almost as soon as it was written, De materia medica began to be excerpted, condensed con·dense  
v. con·densed, con·dens·ing, con·dens·es
1. To reduce the volume or compass of.

2. To make more concise; abridge or shorten.

3. Physics
, rearranged, and translated into Latin, Arabic, and European vernaculars. A medieval Latin version glossed by Peter of Abano made it into print in 1478, but was quickly supplanted by fresh editions, translations, and commentaries by humanist scholars (see John Riddle's detailed survey in Catalogus translationem et commentariorum: Mediaeval me·di·ae·val  
Variant of medieval.


same as medieval

Adj. 1.
 and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries, IV, 1980). The new availability of Dioscorides deeply influenced Renaissance medical education and spurred a more general interest in natural history. By 1600, De materia medica could be read in Greek, Latin, Italian, Castilian, German, French, Czech, and Dutch--but not in English.

Except for passages embedded in the herbals of William Turner, John Gerard, and John Parkinson, Dioscorides was not translated into English until the mid-seventeenth century. Then, in the midst Adv. 1. in the midst - the middle or central part or point; "in the midst of the forest"; "could he walk out in the midst of his piece?"
 of civil strife, John Goodyer, a learned and capable botanist, transcribed the Greek text and wrote his translation between the lines Between the lines can refer to:
  • The subtext of a letter, fictional work, conversation or other piece of communication
  • Between The Lines (TV series), an early 1990s BBC television programme.
. Goodyer willed his manuscript (4,540 quarto quar·to  
n. pl. quar·tos
1. The page size obtained by folding a whole sheet into four leaves.

2. A book composed of pages of this size.
 pages!) to Magdalen College Library, where it sat until 1934, when Robert T. Gunther published it as The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides ... Englished by John Goodyer A. D. 1655 (reprint, 1968).

Even for readers familiar with Greek, Latin, seventeenth-century English, and early modern medical terminology, every line of Goodyer's version poses problems. So a translation of De materia medica by a classicist clas·si·cist  
1. One versed in the classics; a classical scholar.

2. An adherent of classicism.

3. An advocate of the study of ancient Greek and Latin.

Noun 1.
 into clear modern English is very welcome. Lily Y. Beck has followed Max Wellmann's authoritative critical edition of the Greek text (1906-14; 1958 reprint; full-text available on Google Books), consulted the 1901 German translation by Julius Berendes, and used Jacques Andre's botanical identifications in Les noms des plantes dans la Rome antique (1985). Her notes provide cross-references and elucidate etymologies, place-names, and natural history. The volume includes very useful indexes of the natural products (by English common name, Greek name, and, for plants, scientific name) and medical conditions they were used to treat.

The potential readership for De materia medica today is larger than it has ever been, thanks to recent scholarly interest in early medicine and natural history and the enormous upsurge of general interest in alternative medicine. Beck's translation reveals how strikingly dependent Western herbal medicine Western herbal medicine

see herbal medicine.
 in the twenty-first century remains on this first-century treatise. Unfortunately, at this price and in this series for classical scholars, Beck's translation and her promised commentary will not reach the very wide audience they deserve. For that, we need a book that combines the two and fixes the typesetting typesetting: see printing.

Setting of type for use in any of various printing processes. Type for printing, using woodblocks, was invented in China in the 11th century, and movable type using metal molds had appeared in Korea by the 13th
 problems that mar this volume. Because Dioscorides is also a prime source of information about ancient crafts, cooking, and agriculture, such a volume should add indexes to people, places, subjects, individual ingredients, Greek names, and scientific names. It should include a map to show the remarkable scope of the ancient drug trade and coordinate the scientific and common names with the Integrated Taxonomic Information System/Catalogue of Life database ( And it should take advantage of Alain Touwaide's research on Dioscorides' Greek text, plants, and pictorial traditions. I hope that Dr. Beck, the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, which supported this work, and an enterprising publisher will undertake the project.

To the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century naturalists whose work and ideas Alix Cooper examines in Inventing the Indigenous, De materia medica was both a standard reference book and a guide to method. Over the course of the sixteenth century, European naturalists had become comfortable with the fact that Dioscorides and other classical authorities had not known the flora and fauna of Northern Europe, let alone the New World, Asia, and Africa. Although Dioscorides' preeminence had diminished as the number of described species had increased ten-fold, his precepts were taken all the more to heart.

Dioscorides had emphasized the importance of direct, "personal observation in utmost detail": "anyone who wishes to gain experience in these matters" had to follow his example of going out in all seasons to see living plants in their native habitats (Beck 3, 5). Throughout Europe, but especially in the fragmented principalities of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire, designation for the political entity that originated at the coronation as emperor (962) of the German king Otto I and endured until the renunciation (1806) of the imperial title by Francis II. , physicians, pharmacists, and medical students began exploring their own countrysides with the avidity avidity /avid·i·ty/ (ah-vid´i-te)
1. the strength of an acid or base.

2. in immunology, an imprecise measure of the strength of antigen-antibody binding based on the rate at which the complex is formed. Cf.
 of overseas adventurers. Cooper focuses on the new genres they created: local floras, regional catalogues of fossils and minerals, and natural histories of territories and nations. Their motives were more complex than Dioscorides'. Their prefaces appealed not just to the physician's need to know what remedies were at hand, but also to the naturalist's pride in backyard discoveries, the cameralist's anxiety about economic self-sufficiency, the conservative's fear of the foreign, and the natural theologian's appreciation of creation and its creator. Above all, Cooper argues, they sought identity in the indigenous: what made the natural history of their homeland as worthy of attention as the curiosities from elsewhere?

On the face of it, those new genres are unpromising material for historical analysis. The local floras, in particular, are simply lists of Latin and vernacular names of plants, together with the nearby places where the plants could be found. It is a pleasure to watch Alix Cooper extract meaning from these seemingly barren opuscules. Her account of the 1615 catalogue of plants growing around Altdorf (near Nuremberg), for example, goes well beyond the work's content, medical-school authors, and local context. It is shot through with insights about--to name just a few--the natural knowledge of physicians and peasants, the social mobility of naturalists, the connotations of the "common-place" in literature and science, and the early appreciation of mountain landscapes.

The compilers of regional mineralogies and territorial natural histories took inspiration from the local floras but--literally and figuratively--covered more ground in their search for natural wealth. Unlikely their princely prince·ly  
adj. prince·li·er, prince·li·est
1. Of or relating to a prince; royal.

2. Befitting a prince, as:
a. Noble: a princely bearing.

 patrons, however, the Royal Society and Linnaeus were not wholly enthusiastic about such local efforts. As Cooper observes, they saw both the individual specimens and their idiosyncratic id·i·o·syn·cra·sy  
n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
1. A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

2. A physiological or temperamental peculiarity.

 collectors as raw material for a universal science, to be put in order by their own overarching systems.

Inventing the Indigenous is an astute, rich work. Anyone doing local and regional history will find in it sparking new approaches, but it also deserves readers in all the disciplines it weaves together: history of science and medicine; cultural, economic, and intellectual history; art history; book history; natural history; ethnography; geography; and museology mu·se·ol·o·gy  
The discipline of museum design, organization, and management.


Taken in tandem, these two books underscore the strong connections between natural history practices in antiquity and early modern Europe: Dioscorides and Cooper's naturalists could have happily gone collecting together, comparing observations about local and exotic productions of nature. But just as Cooper makes us think about naturalists as part of the larger cultural and intellectual scene, so too her book raises much broader questions--about the private and the public, the wild and the cultivated, the rural and the urban, the "vulgar" and the rare, the native and the invader, the provinces and the center, the colonies and the empire, and the exotic and the indigenous--that can be turned back onto De materia medica, its generations of users, and our own responses to the natural world.


University of Pennsylvania (body, education) University of Pennsylvania - The home of ENIAC and Machiavelli.

Address: Philadelphia, PA, USA.
 and Princeton Research Forum
COPYRIGHT 2008 The Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Inventing the Indigenous: Local Knowledge and Natural History in Early Modern Europe
Author:Reeds, Karen
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Previous Article:Leprosy in Premodern Medicine: A Malady of the Whole Body.
Next Article:The World Map, 1300-1492: The Persistence of Tradition and Transformation.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters