AE Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2009 Issue

Renaissance Medical Works from Thomas-Scheler and Alain Brieux


Early medicine from Thomas-Scheler and Alain Brieux.

By Michael Stillman

A very special catalogue has just been issued for those who collect in the field of early medical and anatomical books. The title is Precurseurs et Novateurs. Medicines et Medicins de la Renaissance, and as you might expect, the catalogue is primarily written in French. It is the joint work of two French booksellers, Librarie Thomas-Scheler and Librairie Alain Brieux. The works are very early, hence the reference to the Renaissance. They range from incunables (15th century) to late in the 16th century. Naturally, the medical field was quite primitive by today's standards. Most "cures" would have been ineffective, some harmful to the patient. Some of the earlier looks at the human anatomy were either fanciful, or humans have evolved at an astonishing rate over the past 500 years. Still, this was an exciting time for the field. Advancements in medicine were few during the twenty centuries between Hippocrates and the Renaissance. Now, all types of scientific studies were taking place, and despite the many misconceptions, superstitions, and inaccurate beliefs, the foundation was being set for the advances in protecting and saving human life which would come in the years ahead, particularly the last century. Here are a few of the groundbreaking medical books from four and five centuries ago offered in this extraordinary catalogue.

It is appropriate to start with the great Greek physician whose works were still the foundation of medicine two millennia later at the beginning of the Renaissance. Hippocrates described fevers and other disorders, wrote about bone fractures and surgery, offered rules on diagnosis and public health, and provided many medical observations. To this day he is remembered for his ethics and ideals, notably the Hippocratic Oath, for a physician to do his best to help his patients and do them no harm. Item 96 is Hippocratis Coi medicorum omnium longe Principis... a first edition of the complete works of Hippocrates, published in Rome in 1525. Priced at €35,000 (euros, or approximately $52,175 in U.S. dollars).

Item 15 is the first Parisian illustrated edition of Le Proprietaire en Francoys (The Property of Things). Writer Bartholomeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman) takes on virtually every subject imaginable in this encyclopedia, including medicine, the universe, God, minerals, air, water, and time. Bartholomew was a bishop as well as a scholar, not surprising as he lived in an era when few outside the Church would have had access to written works. Though this set of his works was published from 1499-1503, Bartholomew lived during the 13th century, long before printing made knowledge available to the public. €120,000 (US $178,890).

Item 111 is a second Latin edition of the first book to contain anatomical illustrations, Fasciculus medicine. This edition was published in 1495 (the first was published in 1491). The book carries the name of Johannes de Ketham (possibly the same person as the Viennese physician Johannes von Kirchheim). Not much is known about Ketham, but he was not so much the author as an editor or compiler of various manuscripts, some dating back to medieval times. Price on request.

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