Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia

Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia Facsimile Edition

Canterbury (United Kingdom) — Third quarter of the 9th – first half of the 17th century

Pharmacology in 4 Languages from 9 centuries: a precious pharmacological compendium including texts in Latin, Old English, Anglo-Norman, and Greek ranging from the 9th to the 17th centuries

  1. Vernacular medical works appeared in Anglo-Saxon England earlier than in the rest of Europe

  2. This large-format codex has 200+ illustrations and signs of occasional use across the centuries

  3. The manuscript spans medical knowledge from Classical Antiquity to the Early Modern Period

Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia

Vernacular medical works appeared in Anglo-Saxon England earlier than in the rest of Europe and the Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia or Old English Herbarium is a compendium of texts bound together for Sir Robert Cotton that includes the only surviving illuminated Anglo-Saxon medical work, a translation of the Herbarius Apuleii and Medicina de quadrupedibus. Altogether, the compendium includes texts in Latin, Old English, Anglo-Norman, and Greek ranging from the 9th to the 17th centuries. The large-format codex was created for practical purposes and has signs of occasional use across the centuries, during which time it was most likely stored in a monastic library. It is adorned by more than 200 illustrations, making it unique among the manuscripts of these works. The other texts in the manuscript include the Compendium in Genealogia Christi by Peter of Poitiers, the Saturnalia by Macrobius, and medical recipes copied in the 1st half of the 17th century by William Harvey, the physician who discovered the circulation of blood.

Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia

This manuscript, one of the rarest and most important specimens of Anglo-Saxon book culture and, along with the 10th century manuscript of Bald’s Leechbook, represents the only Old English medical compendia to survive today. It was bound together for the famous antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton (1570/1–1631) in the early 17th century and has a frontispiece from the Cotton Library with his signature as well as an early modern table of contents. The manuscript was damaged by a fire in 1731 and each leaf is mounted separately. Today it represents one of the highlights of the impressive collections of the British Library.

Complex Origins

There is evidence of at least nine different hands in the manuscript and the scribe responsible for the second section used signs to indicate the spaces that were left for the artists. Chapter numbers were added to the table of contents and at the head of each column, indicating its regular use as a reference work. Despite its significance, the origin and ownership history of the manuscript are virtually unknown, and it likely spent most of its existence in a monastic library or perhaps even an infirmary.

A Splendid Compendium

The compendium of four volumes, the first two consisting of various English texts. Part 1 contains the Compendium Historiae in Genealogia Christi by Peter of Poitiers ending with a diagram of Jesus, his apostles, Paul and Barnabas, a list of chapter titles with English glosses from De viribus herbarum by Aemilius Macer, and includes some notes written in Anglo-Norman. These folios were copied sometime around the turn of the 13th century and include roundels and initials in red throughout.
Following a table of contents, Part 2 was copied during the early 11th century, possibly at Christ Church in Canterbury, and consists of the Herbarius Apuleii and Medicina de quadrupedibus. Glosses in Latin, Anglo-Norman, and English were added between the 12th and 16th centuries throughout the text and some 11th and 12th century recipes were written in Old English and Latin by various hands. This section is illustrated by two full-page miniatures, illustrations of plants and animals imbedded in the text, as well as red, green, and blue initials throughout.
Part 3 has the Latin text of Saturnalia by Macrobius, which was copied in northern France ca. 850–875 and is adorned by red initials and drawings of heads in the margins. Finally, Part 4 consists of unadorned medical notes and recipes copied by William Harvey (1578–1657), the first physician to fully describe the functions of the circulatory system.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Altenglisches illustriertes Arzneibuch
Size / Format
170 pages / 26.0 × 18.0 cm
Date
Third quarter of the 9th – first half of the 17th century
Language
Script
Anglo-Saxon minusclue

Available facsimile editions:
Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia – Ms. Cotton Vitellius C III – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1998
Facsimile Editions

#1 Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia

Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1998

Publisher: Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1998
Commentary: 1 volume by Maria A. d'Aronco and Malcolm L. Cameron
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of folios 11-85 of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
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