<p>Learned medicine was mostly written in Latin, but readers of medical books had to cope with an extraordinary variety of technical terms, many originating in other languages. There were Greek, Arabic, Hebrew or Syriac words, transliterated into Latin, and many of these words might refer to the same thing. Working out what a particular medical author meant was vital, especially when it came to prescribing medicines. No surprise then that one of the most valuable books a doctor could own was an alphabetical dictionary of these terms in Latin. The thirteenth-century physician Matteo Silvatico from Mantua was the author of a standard medical dictionary of this kind, the <i>Opus pandectarum</i> (literally ‘A work of universal knowledge’). His work was incorporated with the <i>Synonyma medicinae</i> of Simon of Genoa, physician to Pope Nicholas IV, at the end of the fourteenth century.</p> <p>This copy of the <i>Opus pandectarum</i> was owned by Thomas Lorkyn, the fourth Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge. When he died in 1591 he bequeathed his extensive medical library to the University with the intention that it should be used by medical teachers and students. The book has his distinctive monogram in it, but before Lorkyn it had at least two previous owners. One was John Holand, who recorded his ownership in 1523, and the other Thomas Southake, Junior, who bought the book in 1534. These two men, otherwise unknown to us, added a remarkable number of notes and drawings to the book. It is quite likely that they too were Cambridge students of medicine.</p> <p>Most of their notes tell us how to interpret terms in the dictionary. Opposite the entry for Semissen (sesame) there is a drawing of the plant, and a note that it grows among grain in England, where the local name for it is ‘drawk’ (drake). A separate note says in Latin, ‘I think this is called darnel.’ In fact these two weeds, drake and darnel, are not the same, showing the difficulties doctors had in deciding what was meant by an obscure Latin term. Not all the drawings are of plants or <i>materia medica</i>. At two points in the text we find pictures in the margin of a foetus in the womb, in both cases where the text refers to abortifacients – <i>Abel</i>, Savin juniper, and <i>Elleborus</i>, hellebore.</p> <p>Peter Murray Jones</p>
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