The Saint Petersburg Book of Simple Medicines is a remarkable codex not only because of its outstandingly beautiful illustrations but also because it is the culmination of European medieval knowledge of the animal, vegetable, and mineral substances used to cure or relieve disease.
This knowledge originated in classical antiquity. The books on medicine in Greek of that period were recuperated in Europe by means of indirect Latin translations from Arabic with the addition of remedies from the Islamic world. These translations were begun in the 11th century, initially in the city of Salerno. Working on such translations in the mid-12th century was Matthaeus Platearius, the physician to whom De medicinis simplicibus ("On simple medicines"), the most important and influential Salernitan compendium on this subject, was attributed.
The codex housed in St Petersburg was produced in France in the late 15th century for Count Charles of Angoulème and his wife Louise of Savoy. It consists of 220 pages and is divided into five parts: herbs and flowers, trees and their gums and resins, metals and minerals, animal products and other matters. It is followed by a splendid 116-page atlas with 386 figures.
The core of the text is the French translation of the compendium attributed to Matthaeus Platearius, with the addition of chapters from works of the following three centuries, a period when the knowledge of medicinal substances increased, based on the translations produced mainly in Toledo. The atlas is similar in certain respects for its author – in all likelihood the great artist Robinet Testard – gathered together medieval illustrations of a diagrammatic nature or bearing no resemblance to reality with other realistic illustrations belonging to the Renaissance "back to nature" movement. Most of them depict medicinal plants and, to a lesser extent, curative animal or mineral products, although some scenes portray people gathering them.
Examples of such scenes are found in the figure entitled "Aloe," which does not refer to the aloes that bitter aloes are obtained from, but to lignaloes, i.e., wood saturated in agalloch resin, often substituted in that period by aloe resin. The other three depict gold, alum, and antimonite being collected (antimonite was used at that time as a desiccative medicine).
Another interesting feature of this codex is the annotations by two physicians who handled the codex in the 16th century. They were both of a clearly Renaissance outlook and had editions in Greek and direct Latin translations of books on medicine from classical antiquity. They consequently deemed the original terms of the codex to be "barbaric" and added others in Greek and Latin, sometimes together with comments.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Saint Petersburg Book of Simple Medicines": Libro de los Medicamentos Simples facsimile edition, published by M. Moleiro Editor, 2000Request Info / Price