Section 1. Origins. Materia Medica from the Ancient Greek World
Dioscorides (1st cent. A.D.), a native of Anazarba in Asia Minor, is the author of the most comprehensive treatise on the natural substances used in medicine compiled in Antiquity that has been preserved: Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς (De materia medica). The work circulated widely in different forms, the last of which are illustrated here. The first is a thirteenth-century manuscript and indicates the long-standing diffusion of the text in southern Italy, where it was reproduced more or less accurately in the local Greek dialect. In the Eastern Mediterranean, instead, the work was repeatedly revised and rearranged as shown by the small fourteenth-century manuscript made for personal use. Its copyist first reproduced Dioscorides’ text in another manuscript while in Constantinople, where De materia medica was extensively studied. He then brought this codex to Cyprus and reproduced its text in the manuscript presented here, adding sketchy representations of plants as illustrations of the descriptions in the text. From 1499 on, Dioscorides’ treatise was repeatedly printed and studied, starting with the Aldine edition. In 1549 two editions were published in Paris, one of which is shown here. It is abundantly annotated by an unknown individual in a way that was characteristic of how scholars in the Renaissance read their books.