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Herbarium Of Apuleius Platonicus

( Originally Published 1912 )

Another very early book based on classical writings, especially those of Dioscorides and Pliny, was the ` Herbarium' of Apuleius Platonicus. This little Latin work is among the earliest to which the term " Herbal" is generally applied. A herbal has been defined as a book containing the names and descriptions of herbs, or of plants in general, with their properties and virtues. The word is believed to have been derived from a mediaeval Latin adjective " her-balls," the substantive "liber" being understood. It is thus exactly comparable in origin with the word " manual " in the sense of a hand-book.

Four early printed editions of the Herbal of Apuleius Platonicus are known, all of which appear to have been based on different manuscripts. The earliest was published in Rome late in the fifteenth century, from a manuscript discovered by Joh. Philippus de Lignamine, physician to Pope Sixtus IV. Nothing is definitely known concerning the author, but it is conjectured that he was a native of Africa, and that his book may date from the fifth century, or possibly even the fourth. The work undoubtedly had a career of many centuries in manuscript before it was printed.

Various extant manuscripts of the Herbarium are illustrated with coloured drawings of the crudest description, which are found on comparison to be identical in many different examples, and to have been reproduced, in a degraded form, when the book was printed. The original figures, from which the drawings in the different manuscripts were copied, must date back to very early times. They probably represent, as Dr Payne has pointed out, a school of botanical draughtsmanship derived from late Roman art.

These illustrations, some of which are reproduced in Plates IV, V and )(VI, and Text-figs. i and 2, will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter VI I. One of their peculiarities is that, if a herb has the power of healing the bite or sting of any animal, that animal is drawn with the plant on the same block.

Soon after the appearance in Italy of the earliest printed editions of the Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus, three works of great importance were published at Mainz in Germany. These were the Latin ` Herbarius' (1484), the German `Herbarius' (1485), and derived from the latter, the ` Hortus Sanitatis ' (1491). The Latin and the German Herbarius, together with the Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus, may be regarded as the doyens amongst printed herbals. All three seem to have been largely based upon pre-existing manuscripts, representing a tradition of great antiquity.

The various forms of the Latin and German Herbarius, and of the Hortus Sanitatis are described under many titles, and the unravelling of the various editions is a matter of great difficulty. In the fifteenth century, before copy-right existed, as soon as a popular work was published, pirated editions and translations sprang into existence. In the case of the German Herbarius, a new edition was printed at Augsburg only a few months after the appearance of the original at Mainz. Some such editions were dated, and some undated, and the sources from which they were derived were seldom acknowledged.

The passage of the earliest printed books through the press was naturally extremely slow, as compared with the rapid production of the present day. The result was that the printer had leisure to make occasional alterations, so that different copies belonging actually to the same edition sometimes show slight variations. The bibliographer has thus to deal with an additional element of confusion.

As far as the works now under consideration are concerned, however, much of the obscurity has been removed by the late Dr Payne, to whom we owe a very lucid memoir on the various editions of the Latin and German Herbarius and the Hortus Sanitatis, based in part upon the researches of Dr Ludwig Choulant. Free use has been made of his account in the present chapter.

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