Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres

Autore PRISCIANUS, Theodorus (c. 4th-5th century A.D.)]-NEUENAR, Hermann von editor (1492-1530)-ALBUCASIS (al-Zahrāwī, Abū ʻl-Qāsim, c. 936-c. 1013).
Tipografo Johann Schott
Dati tipografici Strasbourg, 
Prezzo Venduto/Sold
Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres

Two works in one volume, folio (305x205 mm). [8], 319, [1 blank] pp. Signatures: [π]4 a-z6 aa-bb6 cc4 dd6. Title page within an ornamental woodcut border, numerous woodcut illustrations in text of the Albucasis showing a wide variety of surgical instruments, 8 full-page woodcuts by Hans Waechtlin (wound man, cauterization, amputation, arrow extraction, blood-letting, skeleton, and two trepanning operations), ornamental woodcut initials; the full-page woodcuts made their first appearance in Gersdorff's Feldtbuch der Wundartzney (Strassburg, 1517) (cf. E. Lane Furdell, Textual Healing: Essays on Medieval And Early Modern Medicine, Leiden, 2005, p. 84). Contemporary vellum over boards (the vellum comes from an earlier manuscript bifolium written in two columns and rubricated), spine with three raised bands and inked titles, manuscript title also on the lower edge, original pastedowns and flyleaves preserved, lacking ties, top and bottom of spine slightly defective, some minor losses on the back panel, minimal staining. On the front flyleaf recto is the shelf mark “mmx24”. On the title page ownership's entry by a Giovanni Girolamo Sbaralei (“Jo. Hiermi Sbaralei”). Upper right-hand corner of the first leaf slightly crimped, light browning throughout, a few light marginal stains, small oval stamps erased on leaf [π]2r and on last leaf verso not affecting the text. All in all a very good, genuine copy with wide margins.

Priscianus: hemispheric specialisation of the brain
Albucasis: the single purely surgical work left us by the Arab world

FIRST COMPLETE EDITION of Priscianus' medical work, edited by the Cologne humanist Hermann von Neuenahr, from a codex (now in the Bibliothèque Royale in Bruxelles) probably dating from the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century and originally belonging to the monastery of Saint Pantaleon in Cologne (cf. R. Calcoen, ed., Inventaire des manuscrits scientifiques de la Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles, 1965, I, pp. 41-42).

Mislead by a line on fol. 1 verso of that codex, Neuenahr wrongly attributed the work to Octavius Horatianus. Neuenahr died in 1530 before he could complete his project, which was published by his nephew Hermann the Younger two years later. Meanwhile the first three books of Priscanus's medical work had been published at Basel in 1532 by Sigismund Gelenius under the title of Euporista (“Remedies”). Gelenius' edition omits some chapters of the first three books and book four in full, but correctly ascribes the text to Prisciunus.

Theodorus Priscianus, a pupil of the physician Vindicianus, is said to have lived at the court of Constantinople during the 4th century, and to have obtained the dignity of Archiater. His main treatise, the Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor, is divided into four books: the first deals with external diseases, the second with internal, the third with female diseases, and the fourth with physiology. The author, in his preface, speaks against the learned disputes physicians held at the bedside of the patient, and against reliance on foreign remedies in preference for indigenous ones (cf. P. Prioreschi, Roman Medicine, Omaha, NE, 1998, pp. 516-519).

In book four is included a tract De semine (‘On sperm') by an unknown author, sometimes identified with Priscianus' teacher Vindicianus. The treatise contains the oldest reference to the hemispheric specialization of the brain (cf. G.J.C. Lokhorst, The first theory about hemispheric specialization: Fresh light on an old codex, in: “Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences”, 51/3, 1996, pp. 293-312).

Hermann von Neuenahr, a native of Cologne, studied under Johannes Caesarius and since 1509 at the University of Bologna. After his return he was elected provost of Aachen and in January 1524 provost and archdeacon of the Cologne Chapter, offices that were combined with the chancellorship of the University of Cologne. A fervent supporter of Johannes Reuchlin and a friend of Erasmus, Neuenahr was a many-sided humanist and excelled as a philologist, historian, and botanist. He died in 1530 during the Diet of Augsburg (cf. C.G. Nauert, Graf Hermann von Neuenahr and the Limit of Humanism in Cologne, in: “Historical Reflections”, XV, 1988, pp. 65-79).

The second part of the volume includes the surgical treatise of al-Zahrāwī, Abūʻl-Qāsim, commonly known as Albucasis. It is book thirty of his famous encyclopedic work Kitab at-Tasrif (‘The Method of Medicine') and it is considered as the single purely surgical text left us by the Arab world. It is here in the 12th-century Latin version of Gerard of Cremona, first printed at Venice in 1497 (with reprints in 1500, 1520, and 1531). The present is thus the fifth printing and the first to be printed outside Italy.

Albucasis' treatise, the first independent surgical treatise ever written, includes many pictures of surgical instruments, mostly invented by Albucasis himself, as well as detailed instructions to their use, ranging from a tongue depressor and tooth extractor to a catheter and an elaborate obstetric device. The variety of operations described is amazing. Albucasis discusses bloodletting, midwifery and obstetrics, the treatment of wounds, the extraction of arrows, and the settings of bones and compound fractures. He also promotes the use of antiseptics in wounds and skin injuries, and devises sutures from animal intestines, silk, wool, and other substances. He describes the exposure and division of the temporal artery to relieve certain types of headaches, diversion of urine into the rectum, reduction mammoplasty, and the extraction of cataracts. He writes extensively about injuries to bones and joints, even mentioning fractures of the nasal bones and of vertebrae. He outlines the use of caustics in surgery, fully describes tonsillectomy, tracheotomy, and craniotomy, which he had performed on a dead fetus. He explained how to use a hook to extract a polyp from the nose, how to use a bulb syringe he had invented for giving enemas to children, and how to use a metallic bladder syringe and a speculum to extract bladder stones.

Moreover Albucasis is the first to describe the so-called ‘Walcher position' in obstetrics. He also is the first to depict dental arches, tongue depressors and lead catheters, and the first to clearly describe the hereditary circumstances surrounding hemophilia. He also describes ligaturing of blood vessels long before Ambroise Paré and is the first to detail the classic operation for cancer of the breast, lithotrities for bladder stones, and techniques for removing thyroid cysts.

Albucasis is also considered as one of the early leading plastic surgeons as he performed many plastic surgery procedures. He used ink to mark preoperatively the incisions in his patients, which became a routine standard procedure.

Once his works were translated into Latin, his tremendous influence on surgery in the West began. The French Surgeon Guy de Chauliac in his Great Surgery, completed in about 1363, quotes Albucasis over two hundred times. Pietro Argellata (d. 1423) describes Albucasis “without doubt the chief of all surgeons”. Another French surgeon, Jacques Daléchamps, made extensive use of the At-Tasrif in his Chirurgie françoise (1569), confirming the great prestige of Albucasis throughout the Middles Ages up to the Renaissance (cf. S.K. Al-Ghazal, Al-Zahwiri (Albucasis). A Light in the Dark Middle Ages in Europe, in: “Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine”, 1/3, 2003, pp. 37-38).

To this edition are added 8 full-page woodcuts from the Feldtbuch der Wundtartzney of Hans von Gersdorff (1517). These woodcuts, which are of exceptional quality, are by Hans Wechtlin of Strasbourg, and are “some of the most instructive pictures of early surgical procedure in existence; in particular, the first picture ever made of an amputation” (F.H. Garrison, Introduction to the History of Medicine, Philadelphia & London 1929, p. 202). They achieved a high point in medical illustration by their vividness, and were the source for many later illustrators. They include the much repeated “wound man”, the chest operation on the battlefield, and a viscera-manikin. The illustrations of the use of the trepan are particularly impressive, “an example of the finest woodcut graphic art of the early sixteenth century” (R. Herrlinger, History of Medical illustration, London, 1970, p. 142). The woodcuts representing surgical instruments are obviously based on those employed by surgeons of the Renaissance period (cf. J. Kirkup, The Evolution of Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century, Novato, CA, 2005, pp. 26).

Abulcasis is considered as the founding father of modern surgery. He was the first to put into practice a series of surgical operations, partly recovered from the past, partly conceived by him. Originally from Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, he was undoubtedly the greatest representative of the Hispanic-Arabian surgery in the same period in which Avicenna operated and the great rivalry between Baghdad the Abbasid and Cordova the Umayyad was at its peak. He was for many years court physician of the caliph al-Hakam II.

VD 16, A-60 and T-840; Adams, P-2119; Durling, no. 3764. M. S. Spink & G. L. Lewis, eds., Albucasis on surgery and instruments; a definitive edition of the Arabic text with English translation and commentary, London, 1973, p. X; Benzing (Strassburg), 1514; Waller, 7646; Wellcome, I, 5256; Choulant, 217.

  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres
  • Rerum Medicarum Libri Quatuor. [And:] Chirurgicorum Libri Tres