Dioscorides Neapolitanus

Ms. ex Vindob. gr. 1 - Biblioteca Nazionale "Vittorio Emanuele III" (Naples, Italy)

Alternate Titles:

Dioskurides Neapolitanus, Dioskurides von Neapel

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Dioskurides Neapolitanus
Dioskurides von Neapel

Type
Extent / Format

344 pages / 29.5 x 25.0 cm

Origin
Date
Beginning of the 7th century
Style
Genre
Language
Illustrations

403 miniatures

Former owners

Augustine monastery S. Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples
Habsburg family

Short description

The Dioscorides Neapolitanus: a pharmacological work for the ages! Written by the Greek surgeon Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D., the primary significance of Dioscorides as a major authority in his field is evidenced by the wide spread use of his work over the centuries, and translation thereof into many languages. Made either in Byzantium or southern Italy, it contains 403 miniatures depicting different plants and gives unique testimony to the unmatched virtuosity of the illuminators of this period. This codex goes beyond being a work of art, and was actually designed to be used as efficiently as possible as a practical reference work with its contents listed alphabetically and written in clear, Bible majuscule, chosen for its easy legibilty. This is one of the most important texts for botany and medicine to ever be written and is presented here in a superb luxury manuscript.

Facsimile editions available

Description

The Most Famous Pharmacology in History

The Codex Neapolitanus is one of the oldest manuscripts in the tradition of Materia Medica, the leading pharmacological work of Greco-Roman times, written by the Greek surgeon Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D. The eminent role of this codex is not least due to the great number of botanical illustrations and descriptions of plants in all their details. The primary significance of Dioscorides as a major authority in his field is evidenced by the wide spread use of his work over the centuries. In the 6th century, it was translated into Latin and from the 9th century, it was translated and edited into Arabic, Syrian, and Hebrew as well. Materia Medica thus remained the pharmacological reference work and was read not only by physicians and botanists but also by interested lay botanists. The Dioscorides Neapolitanus can be dated to the early 7th century, although research still varies as to whether it was made in Byzantium or Italy. G. Cavallo suggests that the miniatures in the manuscript were obviously a product of the activity of Greek artists in Italy. The 403 miniatures depict different plants and bear unique testimony to the unmatched virtuosity of the illuminators of this period.

The Miniatures

The botanical illustrations in the Codex Neapolitanus, according to some, are not originals of early Byzantine book illumination but rather constitute copies of more ancient models which are probably based on the Herbolarium by Crateuas, a source used by Dioscorides, and thus go back to the Alexandrian or Pergamenes textbook illustrations of the two centuries before Christ. In a successful didactic approach, one to three illustrations of plants are found in the upper half of each recto page and described in the text below. The verso pages are, however, mostly left blank or carry only additional text, in the attempt to avoid possible interference with the picture composition due to color showing through the vellum. The font used is the so-called Bible majuscule, a square type appreciated for its easy legibilty. The division of the text into two columns also guarantees easy use. Below the botanical illustrations, the names of plants were added in red ink, thus keeping to a very synoptic layout. Later annotations added throughout the manuscript justify the great esteem for the Codex Neapolitanus which was frequently used over the centuries. Even today, Dioscorides is referred to in context with certain plants and drugs.

A Physician’s Reference Work

Dioscorides examines one plant per chapter. Its designation and synonyms are followed by a description of its properties as well as information on its origin and effect, preparation, use and dosage. The work, whose significance applies both to the fields of botany and pharmacology, was above all conceived of as a textbook on drugs for use by physicians. A striking feature of the Codex Neapolitanus is the lexical rearrangement of its contents in alphabetical order. The systematic order according to the therapeutic properties of plants was supplanted to enable users finding their way round the book as quickly as possible.

The History of the Manuscript

We know little about the history of the manuscript. Until the early 18th century, it was kept in the Augustinian Monastery of San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples. In 1718, the Habsburgs took it back with them to the Viennese Court Library, and the codex was returned to Naples in 1919 following the conclusion of the peace negotiations after World War I, this time to the Biblioteca Nazionale, and now belongs to the most precious gems of this richly stocked library.

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