England, ca. 1590?


Small Quarto (14.7 x 20.2 cm.). Manuscript Latin treatise on Astrological Medicine, fifty-five unnumbered pages, with three horoscopes, and several pages of argumentative diagrams and tables incorporated with the text, written in a fair hand, with no crossings-out, interlinear or marginal additions. Bound in contemporary vellum (England, late C16th), ruled in gilt, with gilt italianate central medallion, decorative gilt corner-pieces incorporating flaming torches, and four gilt-stamped acorns on each cover, remains of ties, slightly creased and soiled. All edges gilt.

To our knowledge the most complete example of a rare treatise on astrological medicine, written in a clear secretarial hand and in an English Renaissance collector’s binding. The title is that of an ancient text by pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus, but this is a different work. The Hermes text, originally Greek, was published in two separate sixteenth-century Latin translations, each printed several times: the present book is not a copy of either, and, although it may borrow content, it is not a new translation.

Iatromathematics is defined in the introduction as “the means of revealing the properties, future instances and particular causes of sickness through contemplation of the stars and sky”. The author gives a warning from Lucretius concerning making calculations on bad scientific principles. He then explains “What to look for in the heavens the illness might be” (the text here followed by tables, referring both to body-parts and afflictions, and signs of the zodiac), “What part of the body might be infirm”, “whether or not the affliction will last”, “Whether or not [the person] will recover”, “Changes in illness, when or why they may happen, and whether they indicate good or bad things”. A study, with three horoscopes, is given of a man who was confined to his bed at 2 p.m. on June 5 1557 and died at 11 p.m. on June 14. Answers to the questions listed above are given for his case.

We were provided with information at the book’s purchase, that it came from the library of Lord Delamere of Vale Royal Abbey, Cheshire. The Cholmondeley family, who had this title, inhabited 11 Vale Royal from 1615 to 1948, and lived elsewhere in Cheshire before this, but the book was possibly made for a member of a different family on account of the gilt acorns to the covers: these could well be heraldic insignia, and acorns do not appear on recorded Cholmondeley armorials. Sixteenth- to seventeenth-century English manuscript culture is increasingly recognised for its liveliness, and the present volume illustrates this. We have found one other variant example of this text, without the introduction or the horoscopes, amongst the Sloane MSS. of the British Library (Sloane MS 1770 fols. 120–130), which are recognised for their importance in medical history. This other example is written in a less clearly legible working hand, from the same period as our manuscript.

This work not in Lynn Thorndike, Pearl Kibre, Catalogue of incipits of Medieval Scientific Writings in Latin (Revised edition, Cambridge, Mass., 1963), nor Neil Ker, A.J. Piper, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries (Oxford 1969–92). Not in Julian Roberts, Andrew G. Watson, John Dee’s Library Catalogue (London 1990). On editions of Hermes Trismegistus see Paolo Lucentini, V. Perrone Compagni, I testi e I codici de Ermete nel Medioevo (Florence 2001). On English manuscripts see the introduction to H. R. Woudhuysen, Sir Philip Sidney and the circulation of manuscripts 1558–1640 (Oxford 1996). On Sloane medical manuscripts see M. A. E. Nickson, ‘Books and Manuscripts’, in Arthur MacGregor, ed., Sir Hans Sloane, Collector, Scientist, Antiquary (London 1994), 263–278, see 269. We are very grateful to Dr Sophie Page of UCL for invaluable advice and bibliography.