Stock, Science & Medicine
Pedacio Dioscorides Anazarbeo, Acerca de la Materia Medicinal, y de los Venenos Mortiferos, Traduzido de lengua Griega, en la vulgar Castellana, & illustrado con claras y substantiales Annotationes, y con las figuras de innumeras plantas exquisitas y rara
THE ONLY COLORED COPY RECORDED IN THE TRADE: A REMARKABLE VERNACULAR MATERIA MEDICA BASED ON THE EXPERIENCES OF THE ‘SPANISH GALEN’. Folio. [29 x 20 cm]. (8), 616 pp, (24), with ca. 450 woodcuts in text, finished in contemporary handcolor. All pages ruled in red. Bound in early vellum with later manuscript title on spine; binding restored with modern ties. A few dozen lines throughout ‘censored’ – not for any sacrilegious content, but rather by a discerning reader who disagrees with Laguna's commentary (in one instance on p. 157, an early hand has scrawled “este quento es fabula”). Occasional old paper repairs to blank margins; title-page re-margined; closed tear repaired with tissue through much of *2 (no loss of text); Bb1 repaired with early adhesive, now stained; Gg1 the same; old paper repair to lower corner of LIII1 (index) with loss of a few letters; final leaf (privilege) laid down with loss of text to inner corners. First edition, and a remarkable rarity of the botanical and medical literature of the 16th century: Andrés de Laguna's extensive vernacular (and rather lively) commentary on the Materia medica of Dioscorides. A work untraced in any form at auction since 1978, the present copy’s nearly 450 woodcuts have been meticulously colored by a contemporary hand. It is thus only the second recorded example as such; the other is a copy printed on vellum and magnificently illuminated for presentation to Prince Philip II, today housed at the National Library of Spain. Uncolored, the work survives in just a handful of institutional copies worldwide - many of them incomplete (see below) - and is significantly lacking from both the Wellcome Library and the NLM. Dioscorides was “translated into Arabic in the 10th century under Abderramán III, and later into Latin in the Toledo Translation School… In Antwerp in 1555, the publisher Juan Latio published this translation into Castilian by the doctor Andrés Laguna, physician to Pope Julius III, who, during his trips to Rome, could consult different codices. The work continued to be published until the mid-18th century.” (BNE catalog). Symbolic of the emerging significance of the vernacular in the medical sphere, Laguna's chef d’eouvre is prized not merely for its first translation of Dioscorides into Spanish, but for his own lengthy commentary on each entry, often based on his own practice and observations. It is in the present work, for example, that we find the first recorded suggestion that the phenomena of witchcraft may be due to delusions caused by psychoactive herbs, rather than the direct influence of the Devil (Rothman, “De Laguna's Commentaries on Hallucinogenic Drugs and Witchcraft in Dioscorides' Materia Medica”). Laguna in fact pleads for clemency in such cases, in his particularly colorful commentary on species of nightshade (Book IV, Chapter LXXV), which he calls “a plant that engenders madness”. Going far beyond Dioscorides' description of the plant, Laguna states his own conviction that “most delusions of witches and wizards must be due to the ointments with which they anoint themselves; the excessive coldness of these ointments render them so unconscious that during their prolonged sleep a thousand stray visions so insistently appear in their brains that when they awake they confess sins they never committed.” Laguna goes on to relate a lengthy anecdote from his own experience as a physician in the city of Metz in 1545, when he was called upon to examine two witches accused of killing cattle and sucking the blood of children (“wretched old people, a husband a wife who squatted in a hermitage half a league from that city”). Among the belongings of these witches a pot of a “certain green ointment… proved to be composed of extremely cold and soporific herbs such as hemlock, nightshade, henbane, and mandrake.” The curious Laguna decided to test this ointment, and relates that he “had the wife of the public executioner anointed with it from head to foot… no sooner did I anoint her than she opened her eyes wide like a rabbit, and soon they looked like those of a cooked hare when she fell into such a profound sleep that I thought I should never be able to awake her…” When she was finally roused, after thirty-six hours, she proclaimed that she had been “surrounded by all the delights in the world” and had cuckolded her husband with a younger man. “From this we may infer,” says Laguna, “that all that those wretched witches do and say is caused by potions and ointments which so corrupt their memory and their imagination that they create their own woes, for they firmly believe when awake all that they had dreamed when asleep.” Among the popular European and Middle Eastern remedies still in use from the time of Dioscorides (male & female mandragora, domestic and ‘wild’ cannabis, etc.), Laguna adds his own observations on the use of a handful of New World herbs and drugs: “Pimienta da India” (I, V); a “cierto Bálsamo de la nueva España” (I, XVIII); Mexican “estoraque” (Styrax officinalis) (I, 64); guayaco and sarsaparilla (I, 109); corn (II, 88); Calabaza (II, 123); Cochinilla (IV, 49); and among medicinal minerals, “Las esmeraldas del Perú” (V, 114); etc. etc. “[Laguna's] references were explicit enough to show that American drugs were taken very seriously when no similar drugs were available for common illnesses of when they were associated with the healing of new and dangerous diseases… those he did list, he fitted into the Galenic system as substitutes for plants described by Dioscorides that Laguna thought had disappeared, or if he could not do this, he called them gifts from God….” (Huguet-Termes, “New World Materia Medica in Spanish Renaissance Medicine: From Scholarly Reception to Practical Impact”). Born in Segovia in 1499, the “Spanish Galen” Laguna studied Greek and medicine at the Sorbonne in the 1530s with Yacobe Tusano and Pelzo Danesio. Returning to Spain in 1536, he is known to have visited the court of Henry VIII of England, and lived in Italy between 1545 and 1554 while serving as Papal physician to Paul III and Julian III. From 1555-1557 he was employed in the service of the Holy Roman Emperors Charles V and Philip II in the Low Countries. The 450 woodcuts were apparently designed by Laguna himself and cut by a yet-unidentified Flemish artist, although some show similarities to those used in the Venetian editions of Mattioli. As mentioned, other than the richly-illuminated copy printed on vellum for royal presentation (held at the BNE), this is the only other colored copy that we have traced. In our copy, the images have been carefully and skillfully colored with an unusually rich palette including purples, blues, reds, pinks, and yellows, and of course a wide variety of greens. The colorist was clearly confused by the depictions of shells, mollusks, etc. – all of which he colors a rather uniform brown; but in other cases, he adds artistic flourishes: for example, the tips of the aloe plant on p. 279 are colored a delicate pink, as they are wont to do when lacking water (also colored as such in Philip II's copy!). Note: this text is not to be confused with Laguna’s duodecimo-format, unillustrated Annotationes in Dioscoridem printed in Latin in Lyon in 1554, which is an entirely different work merely detailing the errors of Jean Ruelle’s translation rather than Laguna’s own experiences. OCLC reveals fewer than a dozen copies worldwide; of these, the Complutense copy suffers significant text loss to several leaves of the index and is lacking the final leaf with the privilege completely; the New South Wales copy is lacking 10 pages of the index; The Catalunya copy is lacking 18 pages of index; the Biblioteca do Mosteiro de Poio copy is lacking the title-page; and so on. Two copies are recorded in US libraries, at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia and the Chicago Public Library. The present copy is offered with a Spanish export license. References: Not in Wellcome; not in Durling; Palau 74022; Garrison-Morton 13125; Hunt Botanical Catalogue, I, #95; Nissen, Botanische Buchillustration, #500. Cf also Huguet-Termes, “New World materia medica in Spanish renaissance medicine: From scholarly reception to practical impact” Medical History 45 (2001), pp. 359-376; Fresquet Febrer, “Terapéutica y Materia médica americana en la obra de Andrés Laguna (1555)” Asclepio 44 (1992), pp. 53-82; Rothman, “De Laguna's Commentaries on Hallucinogenic Drugs and Witchcraft in Dioscorides' Materia Medica” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 46 (1972), pp.562-567; and Kousolis et al., "Andrés Laguna: A great medical humanist (1499-1559)," História da Medicina 24 (2011), pp. 671-674.