A very good copy of the second appearance in print (editio princeps Venice c1474) of this poem on medical remedies, warily attributed to the late-second-century physician Q. Serenus Sammonicus based on a manuscript tradition that began in the ninth century. The text is known today as both a witness to late-Roman medical practices, and as the source of the first appearance (and perhaps the coinage) of the word "abracadabra," where it is used as a remedy against malaria, and with instructions on how to properly incant it:
Write several times on a piece of paper the word "Abracadabra," and repeat the words in the lines below but take away letters from the complete word and let the letters fall away one at a time in each succeeding line. Take these away ever, but keep the rest until the writing is reduced to a narrow cone. Remember to tie these papers with flax and bind them round the neck. (Tr. A. C. Wootten)
The text of Serenus is likely a fragment of a larger medical work, which borrows from Pliny, Dioscorides, Lucretius, and works now lost. A folk-medical dialectic pervades the text: there is as much emphasis on ritual and timing as there is with ingredients and preparation. Serenus contends with no fewer than 65 medical issues, among which we find advice on dental care, remedies for skin infections and elephantiasis, guidance for conception and prenatal care, and an odd chapter on "the curing of obscene things" (Omnibus obscenis medendis). Serenus discusses internal medicine at length, with indigestion, cardiac pain, and inflammation of the lungs and liver. The author even has a remedy for treating an infected monkey bite. The Serenus to which this text is attributed was a tutor to the children of Emperor Septimius Severus; Serenus was assassinated by Severus' rival Caracalla about 211 AD. Evidence of textual transmission emerges in the ninth century, then vanishes in the 11th, only to reappear in the early 15th; all of these stemma include 4th-century pseudo-Pliny additions. Our edition is the first to have been edited by Roman humanist Giovanni Sulpizio da Veroli, who was at the same time preparing for the press the first edition of Vitruvius. ISTC locates four copies of our edition in American libraries (College of Physicians, Countway, NLM, and NYAM); GW adds a fifth (Adler Planetarium).
Rome: Eucharius Silber, 1487.
Chancery octavo, 201 x 142 x 6 mm. [A-B]8, [C]10 = ff. Nineteenth century tree-marbled paper covering thin boards. Wear to extremities, with loss of paper to spine, exposing sewing. Interior: Scattered spotting and marginal foxing; text block separating between first and second gatherings; two wormholes, one in head margin and far from text, the other tiny and piercing lower board, both affecting final gathering. An unwashed and unpressed copy with very good margins.
Once in the stock of Giuseppe Molini (1772-1856) of Florence, with his bookplate illustrating Dante to upper pastedown; late-nineteenth-century and later cataloguers' notes in pencil in two hands to pastedowns; acquired by W. S. Cotter Rare Books from Marc van de Wiele of Bruges in July, 2022. Valid export license on file.
Klebs 914.2; BMC IV 124 (wrongly characterizing format as quarto); ISTC is00470000; GW M41702; Goff S470; HC 14698; Vollmer, Friedrich M. (ed.) "Quinti Sereni Liber medicinalis," Corpus medicorum latinorum II/3, Leipzig: 1916; Ruffato, Cesare (ed.) La medicina in Roma antiqua: Il Liber medicinalis di Quinto Sereno Sammonico, Turin: 1996; Phillips, Joanne H., The incunable editions of the Liber medicinalis Quinti Sereni, Rome: G. Bretschneider, 1985; Rouse, Richard, “Q. Serenus,” Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics, OUP: 1983, pp. 381-85; Champlin, Edward, "Serenus Sammonicus," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 85, HUP: 1981, pp 189-212.
Status: On Hold