Among the books recently received from the Waldmann Dental Library was an early materia medica book on the therapeutic use of herbs. Materia medica is a Latin term that literally translates to “medical matters” and is used to refer to the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing.
The author of this particular book is Tollat von Hochenberg, who was an early physician and professor in Vienna. Our copy is early, from 1532. The first edition appears to have been published in 1497. Books published before 1500 are generally referred to as incunables, and they are extremely rare. An incunable was a book, single sheet, or pamphlet printed using movable type before the year 1501. The word translates to “in the cradle” and was coined in the seventeenth century to refer to books produced in the infancy of printing.
This book is one of the earliest in our collection—not an incunable, but close. According to OCLC, Ehrman is one of only five libraries in the world that owns this particular edition of the book.
Rodrigo de Castro’s Medicus-Politicus was a kind of medical encyclopedia and methodologyinitially published in Hamburg in 1614. It is one of the earliest known texts on medical ethics. The author came from a prominent family of physicians from Lisbon, but worked mainly in Antwerp and Hamburg, where he fled to escape the Inquisition. In Hamburg, he was one of the most famous physicians of his time. This book was written for the senate of Hamburg.
Castro was a Jewish physician who came under fire for his religious background from Protestants later writing in the same genre. He also identified himself as a Lusitans, or Portuguese, in all of his writing. His ideas reflect his Spanish training (among these Spanish ideas is the theory that music can be used medically to rebalance the humors).
Castro discusses spells and charm in this work, and rejects reports of their efficacy. He writes that magic and spells are the concern of ignorant women—“nugacitis muliebris” and “anicularum figmenta”—female trifling or figments of little women.
One of the most outspoken American health reformers of the mid-nineteenth century was William A. Alcott of Boston. He was a cousin of Louisa May Alcott’s father, and his work stressed the moral basis of health and education. His books were written for the lay reader with the intent to popularize the laws of health. The library has several of these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century popular health guides, which provide modern readers with a sense of the common medical beliefs and practices of that age.
The library owns four volumes, in the original wrappers, of Dr. Alcott’s Library of Health, published in the late 1830s. According to the preface, the book was designed to supply a series of cheap yearly volumes to instruct in popular language on the function of the human body. He stresses the importance of healthful eating and drinking and temperance in all things.
These books are very interesting as historical documents. Dr. Alcott offers his medical opinion on a wide range of topics, including essays on topics like how one should dress in the fall, the use and abuse of milk, and the dangers of beer-drinking. The text is vocal in its opposition to medical quackery and warns of the dangers of self-medication—Alcott believed that the individual had it in his or her own power to keep members of the family in good health by forgoing most of the drugs prescribed by physicians.
In one section, Alcott supplies a remedy for drowsiness: “I have derived great benefit from abstaining almost wholly from food, Saturday noon, Saturday evening, Sunday morning and Sunday noon.” He also warns that “the breath of a dog or cat or any other animal in our beds is not healthy or safe unless under the direction of a physician.”
Another author represented in the library is the seventeenth-century German physician Scultetus (Johann Schultes). Scultetus is famous for his illustrations of surgical procedures and instruments. His Armamentarium chirurgicum was published in 1666 and was the most popular surgical text of the 17th century. It underwent numerous editions and translations; the first edition was the only one to be published in folio format.
This work contains a complete catalogue of surgical instruments, illustrated demonstrations of a variety of operative procedures, and approximately one hundred case reports. It was a significant milestone for the development of surgery as an academic specialty.
The library boasts two copies of this book, both published the same year but in different cities. They have an interesting difference: the German copy has more plates than the second copy published in Venice, and many of the plates missing from the Italian copy show surgeries performed on the sexual organs. It is possible that these plates were suppressed in the Italian copy by the Vatican.
The library also owns several original works by the Renaissance physician and scientist Paracelsus, who helped revolutionize the theory and practice of medicine. One of his most important contributions was the application of chemistry to medicine. He stressed the use of chemical medications rather than the then more popular "magic potions" based on herbs.
One of the books Ehrman recently received from Waldmann Dental Library is Paracelsus’ Opera Chyrurgicum. It is the first of the larger collected editions of Paracelsus’ works on surgery and medicine. Paracelsus detested the separation of surgery from medicine, and strove to unite the two disciplines.