Medical Aldines

Medical Aldines

On 6 December 1498 Aldus Manutius, in his second application for copyright, mentioned plans to produce a series of medical works. Beyond his 1499 Dioscorides little came of this during his lifetime for it was not until the 1520s that the Aldine press began producing major medical editions. That decade witnessed the publication by the press of the editiones principes of Galen and Hippocrates, as well as a 1523 edition of Nicander, and a 1528 edition of Paulus Aegineta. All these texts were collected by Edward Worth.

Aetius 1534 note to Medical students 

Aetius 1534 note to medical students.

The inclusion of this note to medical readers in the Aldine 1534 edition of the first eight books of the Byzantine physician Aetius of Amida, is a reminder of just how far medical publications had come since the early 1490s. While humanists such as Thomas Linacre, Nicolò Leoniceno and Andrea Brenta had played an important role in translating Greek medical treatises, presses had been slow to take on this potentially risky genre. As Fortuna (2007) has noted, the medical market of the last quarter of the fifteenth century had been devoted to medieval translations of Arabic and Greek authors, not to humanist editions of ancient sources. Partly this was because the latter were not readily available. Donald Jackson’s (2012) survey of Greek medical manuscripts in fifteenth century Italian collections points to this relative dearth – at least until the early 1490s when Janus Lascaris (1445?-1535) began sourcing manuscripts for the Medici Library at Florence and Gioachino della Torre (ca. 1416-1500) started collecting Greek medical works at Venice with an eye towards augmenting the famed (but largely inaccessible) collection of Cardinal Bessarion. Aldus’ 1499 edition of Dioscorides had been both a reaction to this increased interest in Greek medical works and a catalyst in creating further interest in the field.

AEgineta 1528 titlepage

AEgineta 1528 title-page.

The mid fifth-mid sixth century Aetius was very much a Galenic physician as was the seventh-century Byzantine writer Paulus Aegineta (c. 625 – c. 690). Like Aetius (who may have been the Empress Theodora’s gynaecologist), Aegineta was renowned for his texts on obstetrics and gynaecology (areas in which Worth took a professional interest).1 His compedium, which he claimed contained the ‘description, causes and cure of all diseases’ was a well organised introduction to galenic medicine. The seven books examined hygiene and diet, fever, topical diseases, intestinal worms, poisonous bites, surgery, medicine and drugs – in that order. The prevalence of medieval manuscript copies of the De re medica in the Byzantine empire point to its enduring popularity as a medical textbook there, but, as Rice (1980) points out, the text in its entirety, was ‘virtually unknown’ in the late medieval West. It was only in the sixteenth century that Aegineta rose to prominence as a medical source and this was mainly because of the Aldine editio princeps of 1528.

Nicander 1523 spine

Nicander 1523 spine.

Poisonous bites and stings was also the subject of another of Worth’s medical aldines, Nicander of Colophon’s Theriaca which was printed by the press in April 1523. Worth already had a copy of Nicander’s Alexipharmaca and the Theriaca in his editio princeps of Dioscorides (1499), for Nicander’s works on difference types of poisons had been appended to that edition.


Fortuna, Stefania (2007), ‘The Prefaces to the First Humanist Medical Translations’, Traditio 62, pp. 317-335.

Jackson, Donald G. (2012), ‘Greek Medicine in the Fifteenth Century’, Early Science and Medicine 17, pp. 378-390.

Nutton, Vivian (1997), ‘The rise of medical humanism: Ferrara, 1464-1555’, Renaissance Studies 11, no. 1, pp. 1-19.

Rice, E. F. (1980), ‘Paulus Aegineta’, Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, no. 4, pp. 145-91.

Scarborough, John (2013), ‘Theodora, Aetius of Amida and Procopius: Some possible connections’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 53, pp. 742-762.

Touwaide, Alain (2012), ‘Printing Greek Medicine in the Renaissance. Scholars, Collections, Opportunities, and Challenges. Introduction.’, Early Science and Medicine 17, pp. 371-377.

1 Scarborough, John (2013), ‘Theodora, Aetius of Amida and Procopius: Some possible connections’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 53, pp. 742-762.