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Monday, October 19, 2009

Book of the Week: The Oldest Book in BHL



Question: What's the oldest book in BHL?

Answer: [R]ogatu plurimo[rum] inopu[m] num[m]o[rum] egentiu[m] appotecas refuta[n]tiu[m] occasione illa, q[uia] necessaria ibide[m] ad corp[us] egru[m] specta[n]tia su[n]t cara simplicia et composita... also known as "Herbarius latinus"


Published in 1484, this Pre-Linnean text describes 150 plants and 96 medicines commonly found in apothecaries, and each plant description is accompanied by a detailed woodcut. The work is compiled from older sources, including classical, Arabic, and Medieval works, and contains Latin text, with the names of the herbs in both Latin and German. The popularity of the text resulted in the publication of ten reprints before 1499.

This important work was compiled by Peter Schöffer, an early German printer born in 1425 in Gernsheim, Germany. Studying in Paris, Schöffer spent his early career as a manuscript copyist, but he eventually became an apprentice to Johannes Gutenberg. In 1457, Schöffer went into business with Guternberg's moneylender, Johann Furst, establishing the printing firm Furst and Schöffer, after the foreclosure of the mortgage on Gutenberg's printing shop.

Peter Schöffer's famous works include the Latin Psalter (1457), Cicero's De officiis (1465), and our very own book of the week, "Herbarius latinus". Schöffer is attributed with such innovations as dating books, introducing the printer's device and Greek characters in print, and using colored inks in print. Eventually, after going in to business on his own, Schöffer restricted his publications to works involving theology, and civil and ecclesiastic law.

Schöffer's legacy still lives on today, beyond the bounds of the published arena. Schöffer's house was eventually turned into a brewery, from which the Schöfferhofer brand of German wheat beer originated. (Schöffer's portrait is used as a trademark for this beer). With such accomplishments as "Herbarius latinus" and his own German beer, what more could Schöffer have hoped to leave behind him for remembrance in the new millenium?

To view this week's book of the week, [R]ogatu plurimo[rum] inopu[m] num[m]o[rum] egentiu[m] appotecas refuta[n]tiu[m] occasione illa, q[uia] necessaria ibide[m] ad corp[us] egru[m] specta[n]tia su[n]t cara simplicia et composita (1484), contributed by the Missouri Botanical Garden, click here.

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