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  • Herbs and Healers from the Ancient Mediterranean through the Medieval West: Essays in Honor of John M. Riddle eds. by Anne Van Arsdall and Timothy Graham
  • Nicholas Everett
Anne Van Arsdall and Timothy Graham, eds. Herbs and Healers from the Ancient Mediterranean through the Medieval West: Essays in Honor of John M. Riddle. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2012. xvi + 377 pp. Ill. $124.95 (978-1-4094-0038-7).

The eleven essays of this Festschrift honor the outstanding contribution of John Riddle to the history of medicine, pharmacy, and botany across a vast chronological and geographic landscape from the ancient world through the Middle Ages and into the premodern world and beyond. Riddle is perhaps most renowned for his research on premodern contraception using natural products, and his earliest scholarly contributions on Dioscorides already defined his signature approach: the combination of first-class philological skills (Greek and Latin scientific vocabulary, source criticism, manuscript tradition, and influence) with the application of modern scientific knowledge to elucidate the valuable information, and the wisdom, contained in premodern texts on materia medica, or what today we call natural-product pharmacy.

The editors of this volume have included a bibliography of Riddle’s contributions from 1964 to 2010, in itself a handy resource, but it also allows one to monitor the trajectory of Riddle’s research interests over time, and see how chasing certain questions led from one field of enquiry to another, often boldly into unknown territory, highlighting Riddle’s pioneering role in the field of premodern [End Page 376] pharmacy. Arguably a Festschrift for Riddle deserved two, even three volumes, but the scholarly essays presented here provide excellent examples of how mining premodern medical texts with the type of questions and acumen applied by Riddle reveals insightful and often startling results.

The volume rightly opens with an essay by John Scarborough deftly tracing the careers of three physicians known at the court of Cleopatra VII and analyzing what we know of their drugs; Alain Touwaide, who also provides an introductory overview to the volume, investigates the origin, content, and influence of the Ps. Galenic treatise De succedaneis on substituting one substance for another in pharmacy (quid pro quo), and provides an appendix of Greek names and substitutions/equivalences mentioned; Eliza Glaze demonstrates how glosses added to Gariopontus of Salerno’s Passionarius reveal an important substrata of scholarship and teaching in the early stages of Salerno’s development, and shows that the translation of early medieval medical terminology to the “new” learned language of medicine inherited from the Islamic translations of Greek works was an integral element of the culture that made Constantine the African possible; and on Constantine we are treated to a prize-winning essay by Winston Black, who traces the versification of Constantine’s work in Northern Europe and provides a helpful catalog of such as an appendix. Faith Wallis completes this trifecta on Salerno with a characteristically insightful analysis of a commentary (probably by Bartholomaeus of Salerno) on Constantine’s Liber graduum, a work that was never included in the Salernitan text book known as the Articella, but the manuscript presence of this commentary alongside others on the Articella demonstrates how the Liber graduum served as a “ghost in the Articella,” its pharmacological contents disseminated via commentary rather than the Liber itself: a critical edition of the commentary (here 425 lines) from four manuscripts is given as an appendix, along with comments on sources.

The rest of the essays point in different directions. Maria Amalia D’Aronco demonstrates the philological firepower provided by the Old English Dictionary project at the University of Toronto to argue for a new meaning of elehtre in Anglo-Saxon medical texts as squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium Rich.), rather than lupins; Linda Ehrsham Voigts discusses examples of herbal chicanery in Middle English satire by focusing on rural examples from the West Midlands and East Anglia, complementing what we know from Chaucer and his London audience; Gundolf Keil (in German, and the only contribution not in English) reconstructs the manuscript tradition and critical aspects of a text known as the Oberschlesische Roger-Aphorismen to reveal a practical, original work best understood as a “Morovian-Silesian surgical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 376-378
Launched on MUSE
2014-06-23
Open Access
No
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