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RE: Macer Floridus' "De Viribus Herba"...

Hi GC,

After 1525 there were several abbreviated versions of the Herball printed in
English, one especially from 1543 that claims it to be a translation of
Macer's Herball.  The true translation of Macer's Herball seems to be "The
Great Herball", and not the Banckes' Herball, although Banckes' seems to be
somewhat based on Macer's Herball.

Note that Gosta Frisk's 1949 book "A Middle English Translation of Macer Floridus" is (it says here) based on MS. X91 in the Royal Library at Stockholm. You can search this (plus a load of other Swedish libraries) from the Royal Library's Web OPAC interface, on http://www.kb.se/

However, they've changed their indexing since 1949, so MS. X91 (as a reference) appears to be no more. Searching for "Macer Floridus" gave two 16th Century hits, one from 1515 and another from 1540, the latter marked as having been printed in Fran[cofurti] - so perhaps the 1515 edition is the Middle English one? I guess you'd need to look at Gosta Frisk's book to determine if that's the case - I'll see if I can get a look at the BL's copy of it. :-/

Also: here's a rather nice web-page, describing Burgess MS 34 held by the University of Oregon, which is a manuscript copy of Macer Floridus (but without illustrations), almost certainly from Bolognese Italy, & dating from somewhere in the late 14th to 15th century:-


This contains 41 of the 77 herbs listed by Frisk in the Middle English translation of Macer Floridus (it says) - as opposed to the 131 (IIRC) of the VMS.

At Durham University, here's a description of another Middle English manuscript version of MF that dates from 13th and 15th century (I'm not sure which, it's not completely clear from the text). But (it says) the order of the plants in it is decidedly different from the order described by Frisk:-


BTW: another search threw up this link:-


.....which gave a list of references, one of which was:-

        Brodin, Gosta. (1950). _Agnus Castus: A Middle English Herbal
        reconstructed from Various Manuscripts_. Uppsala, Sweden:
        Almgvist & Wicksells Boktryckeri AB.

        This was Brodin's dissertation printed in Sweden and has no ISBN.
        The name Gosta actually has an umlaut over the "o", but I suspect
        most email packages will make it unreadable. This manuscript is
        dated at roughly the late 14th century. No author is known.

If you're looking for English herbal traditions that might have led into the VMS, this might not be a bad place to start. The BL has two copies (of course it does, Nick).

This is probably linked with "vitex agnus-castus", which is the berry from the chaste tree, AKA the chasteberry. There's a small (£2.99) recent (1992) book on this by Simon Mills called "Woman medicine. vitex agnus-castus, the herb", which also includes a bibliography.


As (according to the links I've just followed) chasteberry was originally found around the Mediterranean, it might well be a thing we'd expect to see in the VMS? Dana? :-)

  Bancke's Herball is heavy into female
disorders, and Anthony's writings even more so, and both also have a higher
focus on treatments of the eyes.

Nancy Siraisi makes it clear both that eye problems were extremely common all through the Middle Ages, and that people often looked to herbals for things that might help their eye problems. Also: the degree to which the VMS contains eye-related herbs and/or recipes is far from resolved yet. :-/

This is a long way from our understanding of medicine, but whoever wrote the
Voynich had a working knowledge of these systems, and it is in our best
interest to develop some semblance of that knowledge as well.

Agreed! But it's great that we are now starting to produce possible candidates - we'll almost certainly learn a great deal from comparing those to the VMS, and by testing predictions based on those candidates' contents. :-)

Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....