Dioscorides, Pedacius

, an eminent physician of Anaxarba, since called Ceesarea, in Cilicia, flourished in the reign of Nero, in the first century, and composed five books of the Materia Medica. Fabricius is certain, that he composed these books before Pliny wrote his Natural History, although he supposes Pliny might reach the age of Dioscorides. Pliny has indeed made no mention of him, and yet relates many things of a very similar nature; which circumstances Fabricius imputes to their both having collected their materials from the same store-house, and to Pliny’s not having seen the books of Dioscorides. This physician tells us, in the preface of his first book, that he had consulted all who had written upon the Materia Medica before him; that to the information he had received from others, he had joined great application of his own; that he had travelled over many countries, for the sake of confirming by observation what he had learned from books; | that he had corrected many errors of others, added many new things of his own, and digested the whole into a regular order. Salmasius considers all this as so much boasting, and treats Dioscorides as merely a laborious compiler, or pillager of others; but Galen has pronounced these books of Dioscorides to be the best that had been written upon the subject, and it is evident that in the early stages of botanical science he was looked up to with a reverence which is no longer paid. His object being solely the Materia Medica, he discusses each subject specifically, and in a separate chapter, dividing the whole into five books; in which, as far as any order takes place, they arrange into aromatic, alimentary, and medicinal plants. His descriptions are chiefly taken from colour, size, mode of growing, comparison of the leaves and roots, with other plants well known, and therefore left undescribed. In general they are short, and frequently insufficient to determine the species; and hence arise the endless and irreconcileable contentions among his commentators. In this manner, however, he has described near 700 plants; to which he subjoins the virtues and uses; and to him all posterity have appealed as decisive on the subject.

Besides these five books, there are a sixth and a seventh mentioned by Photius; but the genuineness of them is justly doubted, since Galen takes no notice of them in several places where he could hardly be supposed to overlook them. There are also two other books “upon simple and compound medicines easy to be come at,” which have been attributed to Dioscorides; but these are supposed to be spurious, though they seem to have borne his name when Ætius read them. Several manuscripts of this author’s works with figures are extant, which have often been cited by his commentators. Of these the most celebrated is in the imperial library at Vienna, the figures of which were partly engraved in the reign of the empress Maria Theresa, under the inspection of Jacquin. Two impressions only of these plates, as far as we can learn, have ever been taken off, as the work was not prosecuted. Of these, one was sent to Linnæus, with notes by Jacquin, and is now in the valuable library of Dr. Smith the other was given, out of professor Jacquin’s own library, to Dr. Sibthorp, to assist his inquiries in Greece, and remains at Oxford. The LimiEcan copy consists of 142 plates, in oblong quarto, in alphabetical order; but nothing can be more rude than | these figures; and they scarcely afford any information that is not familiar to botanists versed in the subject. Haller asserts, that perhaps a third part of the plants of Dioscorides is still unknown, and it is to be feared they will never be entirely determined. The inquiry, indeed, at present, is rather a matter of curiosity than of any considerable medical importance. Dioscorides was first published at Cologn, in a Latin translation, 1478, fol.io, and ia the original by Aldus, 1495, folio. It was afterwards published in Latin by Hermolaus Barbartis, and Ruellius, 1516; by Vergilius, 1518; and by Cornarus, 1529, all in. folio. There are many other editions, but the learned prefer that with a translation by Saracenus, Lyons, 1598, and Francfort, 1620, folio. 1


Moreri. —Haller Bibl. Bot. Fabric. Bibl. Grc. —Pulteney’s Sketches. Rees’s Cyclopædia.