The Theriaka and Alexipharma by Nicander is one of the most interesting manuscripts from Byzantine illumination as it is the only surviving example illustrating the work of Nicander. The codex was written and illuminated in the 10th century and with 40 of its 48 leaves featuring beautifully drawn illustrations it is justly considered, from an artistic standpoint, an outstanding work.
Nicander and his List of Remedies
Nicander - who lived in the 2nd century BC in the kingdom of Pergamum - was a physician, a grammarian, and a poet so it does not come as a surprise that the manuscript, despite its medical contents, is written in verse.
The list of Nicander’s formulae was increased and developed in later centuries by very popular physicians such as Mitridates who added the use of opium and herbs as remedies, Crito and Andromache, respectively Trajan’s and Nero’s physicians.
Theriaka and Alexipharmaka: an Example of the Didactic Genre
This feature belongs to a genre that is commonly known as didactic genre which entails having a difficult concept (often science-related) made of more easy interpretation with the use of verse.
While the Theriaka is concerned with poisonous insects and wild animals (absorbable only through the skin), the Alexipharmaka deals with oral poisons which originate from plants and minerals, and in both works, the necessary antidotes are provided.
Structures of the Theriaka and Alexipharmaka by Nicander
The Theriaka is structured in such a way that the information it provides can be broken down in three parts:
- animals’ description in terms of appearance and ethology;
- the symptoms caused by their bites or stings;
- the appropriate remedy or antidote.
The Alexipharmaka features 630 verses concerning 21 oral poisons which are studied in terms of their effects. In the poem, each poison is analyzed according to a three-part structure:
- a description of the solution containing the poison;
- the symptoms caused;
- a list of appropriate remedies.
A Realistic Iconographic Apparatus
The Theriaka and Alexipharmaka by Nicander feature, in terms of its iconographic apparatus, an elegant and original sequence of well-illustrated miniatures. Human figures and outstanding zoological and botanical images alternate along the text and in the text, for the illustrations lack – as it was customary at the time of production of the manuscript – framing elements allowing the miniatures to create a discontinuation.
The illustrations are a great visual support to the text for they depict what is described in the actual texts, ranging from depictions of wild animals to antidotes to mythological accounts.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Theriaka and Alexipharmaka by Nicander": Theriaka y Alexipharmaka de Nicandro facsimile edition, published by M. Moleiro Editor, 1997Request Info / Price