The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (1934) (1st ed)


The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (1934) (1st ed)


Title: The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (De Materia Medica)

Author: Pedanius Dioscorides, Illustrated by a Byzantine in 512 AD, translated by John Goodyer in 1655, Edited and first printed by Robert T Gunther

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 1934. First edition. Very scarce.

Condition: Hardcover, white cloth. Heavily darkened spine, some wear overall, good interior. Hinges cracked. With 396 illustrations.

This is the first published English translation of one of the most important works of medicine and natural history in the world. It was translated into English in 1655, but never published until this edition in 1934.

About the book:

De Materia Medica (Latin for “On Medical Material,” a translation of the original Greek Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς) is a pharmacopoeia of herbs and the medicines that can be obtained from them. The five-volume work describes many drugs known to be effective, including aconite, aloes, colocynth, colchicum, henbane, opium and squill. In all, about 600 plants are covered, along with some animals and mineral substances, and around 1000 medicines made from them.

The work was written between 50 and 70 AD by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army. It was widely read for more than 1,500 years until supplanted by revised herbals in the Renaissance, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.

De Materia Medica was circulated as illustrated manuscripts, copied by hand, in Greek, Latin and Arabic throughout the mediaeval period. From the sixteenth century on, Dioscorides’ text was translated into Italian, German, Spanish, and French, and in 1655 into English. It formed the basis for herbals in these languages by men such as Leonhart Fuchs, Valerius Cordus, Lobelius, Rembert Dodoens, Carolus Clusius, John Gerard and William Turner. Gradually such herbals included more and more direct observations, supplementing and eventually supplanting the classical text.

Several manuscripts and early printed versions of De Materia Medica survive, including the illustrated Vienna Dioscurides manuscript written in the original Greek in sixth-century Constantinople.


The book is divided into five volumes. Dioscorides organized the substances by certain similarities, such as their being aromatic, or vines; these divisions do not correspond to any modern classification. In David Sutton’s view the grouping is by the type of effect on the human body.

Volume I: Aromatics
Volume I covers aromatic oils, the plants that provide them, and ointments made from them. They include what are probably cardamom, nard, valerian, cassia or senna, cinnamon, balm of Gilead, hops, mastic, turpentine, pine resin, bitumen, heather, quince, apple, peach, apricot, lemon, pear, medlar, plum and many others.

Volume II: Animals to herbs
Volume II covers an assortment of topics: animals including sea creatures such as sea urchin, seahorse, whelk, mussel, crab, scorpion, electric ray, viper, cuttlefish and many others; dairy produce; cereals; vegetables such as sea kale, beetroot, asparagus; and sharp herbs such as garlic, leek, onion, caper and mustard.

Volume III: Roots, seeds and herbs
Volume III covers roots, seeds and herbs. These include plants that may be rhubarb, gentian, liquorice, caraway, cumin, parsley, lovage, fennel and many others.

Volume IV: Roots and herbs, continued
Volume IV describes further roots and herbs not covered in Volume III. These include herbs that may be betony, Solomon’s seal, clematis, horsetail, daffodil and many others.

Volume V: Vines, wines and minerals
Volume V covers the grapevine, wine made from it, grapes and raisins; but also strong medicinal potions made by boiling many other plants including mandrake, hellebore, and various metal compounds, such as what may be zinc oxide, verdigris and iron oxide.

A lot more at wikipedia.

About the Author:

Pedanius Dioscorides (Ancient Greek: Πεδάνιος Διοσκουρίδης, Pedianos Dioskorides; c. 40 – 90 AD) was a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De Materia Medica (Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς) — a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances (a pharmacopeia), that was widely read for more than 1,500 years. He was employed as a medic in the Roman army.

About the translator:

John Goodyer (1592–1664) was a 17th-century botanist who lived in south east Hampshire, England, all his life. He amassed a large collection of botanical texts which were bequeathed to Magdalen College, Oxford, and translated a number of classical texts into English. Though married, he died childless.