The Artzney book is an extensive example of medical literature from the 16th century, from southwestern Germany. It is worth noticing that this book, published nearly 450 years ago in Heidelberg, contains more than 900 large-format pages summarizing the pharmaceutical-medical knowledge of the time.
The Artzney Book and Its 15,000 Recipes
Christoph Wirsung was born in 1500 in Augsburg and came from a rich family of merchants although his father owned a pharmacy. As a young man, Wirsung spent several years in Italy, where he learned fluent Italian and developed humanistic interests.
After his return to Augsburg, he worked for over 25 years as a pharmacist and having collected over 15,000 recipes from home and abroad, he began to arrange this extensive collection.
Endorsement of Self-medication for the Poor
With his printed recipe collection, Wirsung wanted to enable the urban and rural population,
to properly recognize and assess diseases, and guide them to the appropriate remedies for healing. Self-medication as a treatment method was quite common and widespread, using medicines which could be made at home to prevent colds and several other diseases.
He had at heart the best interests of the poorer population who could not afford any expensive drugs; indeed, not only did he want to inform about expensive drugs, but he also intended to provide funds for the poorer classes.
A Capite ad Calcem Division of the Book
His Artzney book is divided according to the classical a capite ad calcem order (from
head to foot) into four parts: head, chest, abdomen and the organs lying in them.
Wirsung’s work was far above a usual German medicine book of the time and its greatest credit was that it was approachable not only as a medical textbook but also a book for general readers who wished to find solutions to their medical problems.
To the modern reader Wirsung’s Artzney Book does no longer offer a vademecum for self-medication as many recipes have proven to be ineffective, even dangerous, however, many other prove to be effective still today, although in modified form.
Dedication of the Artzney Book to Friederich III
What strikes as significant and rare is the approach of the work which takes into consideration not only the man but the environment too, involving it in the therapy, something that modern medicine seems to lack. The work was dedicated to Friedrich III, Elector of the Palatinate (1515-1576), under the name of Artzney book.
The binding was produced a few years after the publishing of the book, precisely in the year 1571. The creation belongs to the artist Guillaume Plunions.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Artzney Book of Christoph Wirsung": Das Heidelberger Artzney-Buch 1568 des Christoph Wirsung: Naturheilkunde in der Frühen Neuzeit facsimile edition, published by Bibliotheca Palatina Faksimile Verlag, 2011