Dioscorides and Greek Herbals
Traditionally considered a physician who accompanied the Roman troops as a military surgeon under the emperors Claudius or Nero, Dioscorides is the first-century author of a vast compilation in Greek on the natural substances to be used as ingredients for medicines (plants, animals, and minerals), identified in scholarly literature as De Materia Medica. The work was transmitted by an abundant manuscript tradition in Greek and Arabic, with some Latin translations, rearrangements, and derivatives. Early printed in Latin (1478) and in Greek (1499), it was edited five more times during the sixteenth century and abundantly translated first into Latin and further on in the vernacular and also commented on, with multiple editions, particularly by the Italian Pietro Andrea Mattioli. The treatise acted as a catalyst on the Renaissance transformation of materia medica and botany. After a first phase of classicizing interest, it provided the main substance of Brunfels and Fuchs’ herbals devoted to medical botany, to be further studied per se to properly identify the plants. The gradual development of botanical descriptions rapidly made the work obsolete, as did also the amalgamation of plants originally not described in it, which led to its collapse and made it necessary to compile botanical encyclopedias on a fresh basis as early as the late sixteenth century.
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