Kitâb al-Diryâq (Thériaque de Paris)

Ms. Arabe 2964 - Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Alternate Titles:

Paris Theriaka, Theriaque de Paris, Livre de la Thériaque de Paris, Paris Kitâb al- Diryâq

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Alternate Titles

Paris Theriaka
Theriaque de Paris
Livre de la Thériaque de Paris
Paris Kitâb al- Diryâq

Extent / Format

73 pages / N/A

Artist / School

Muhammad ibn Abi al-Fath


Several half-page illustrations and arabic motifs

Short description

A treatise about the most significant remedy of ancient and medieval medicine in one of the oldest illustrated Arabic manuscripts: the so-called Kitâb al-Diryâq, also known as the Thériaque de Paris. Originating at the end of the 12th century from the Arab world, the splendid manuscript contains explanations for the production, application, and effect of theriac, the remedy from various and mysterious recipes that was simultaneously widespread and shrouded in legend. The Kitâb al-Diryâq is of great significance art-historically, medically, and botanically, presenting itself as a true historical treasure!

Facsimile editions available


Kitâb al-Diryâq (Thériaque de Paris)

Marvelous Arabic ornamentation overruns the pages of this manuscript and coalesces with the artful script into a true wonderwork of illumination. Half-page miniatures with realistic depictions of plants, people, and animals in interesting scenes appear continuously between them. All of that is immersed in bright colors and precious gold and exudes the mysterious charm of the Orient. Nonetheless, behind this famous Arabian manuscript, the so-called Thériaque de Paris, hides a significant work of art history: a treatise concerning theriac, which was the most important remedy for centuries.

The Panacea of Antiquity

Theriac has been known since antiquity and was a particularly wide-spread remedy in the Middle Ages, composed of various ingredients. Originally used against snake bites and bites from wild animals, theriac eventually evolved through the course of the Middle Ages into a widely circulated panacea. A wide variety of recipes developed over the centuries: the components of theriac ranged from herbs like fennel and caraway to spices (cardamom, pepper, or garlic), opium, and rare ingredients like viper meat and duck blood. Over time, more complicated recipes with hundreds of ingredients developed. The elaborate preparation at the center of the production of theriac became a major event, and was simultaneously a well-guarded secret.

A Precious Arab Manuscript

The manuscript with the shelf mark Ms. Arabe 2964 of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris even contains these enigmatic recipes for theriac. Originating in the years 1198-1199 from the Arab world, the Kitâb al-Diryâq is considered to be one of the oldest illuminated Arab manuscripts.
Muhammad ibn Abi al-Fath furnished his treatise on theriac with portraits of famous Greek physicians with their respective recipes for the preparation of theriac inter alia. Alongside those, one finds a gorgeous miniature with a scene depicting the preparation of the remedy inter alia: three men in a landscape, surrounded by leaves, among which birds frolic, a river with fish therein, and in the center stands a jug wherein the theriac is mixed.

A Gem of the History of Art and Culture

The Kitâb al-Diryâq presents text and picture in complete harmony. The oriental manuscript is both culturally important as well as of great worth for the history of science and botany. It presumably originated from the commission of a high-ranking person, as is indicated by the abundant wealth of its artistic furnishings. The Thériaque de Paris is a unique work of illumination and is a true treasure for researchers into the fascinating history of theriac.

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