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Macer Floridus, De viribus herbarum; Sidrach, De la vertu des pierres précieuses et des herbes

Early 14th century
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


A copy of the Latin poem on medicinal herbs De viribus herbarum, possibly written by the 11th-century French physician Odo de Meung-sur-Loire under the pseudonym of Macer Floridus, and of the chapter De la vertu des pierres précieuses et des herbes from Le livre de Sidrac, in French; produced in France in the early 14th century, with coloured initials in red and blue with contrasting penwork decoration.


1. ff. 1r-41r: Macer Floridus, De viribus herbarum, a poem in Latin hexameters describing the medical virtues of herbs written in the late 11th century under the pseudonym of Macer (with reference to the Roman poet and naturalist Aemilius Licinius Macer, d. 15 BC). The French physician Odo de Meung-sur-Loire, known as Odo Magdunensis, has been suggested as the real author, as his name is mentioned in a 12th-century copy of the text (Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dc. 160, f. 37v, explicit) and a number of later manuscripts. The epithet 'Floridus' was added to the name by scribes from the 13th century onwards.

The text is divided into 77 chapters, each devoted to a different plant, and draws its material from classical and early medieval sources, Pliny (23-79 AD) and Walafrid Strabo (d. 849) in particular. Cited for the first time by Sigebertus Gemblacensis (d. 1112), the poem circulated widely in Europe, both in the Latin form and in vernacular translations, for the following five centuries, first in manuscript form and then in print, with the number of hexameter lines varying greatly in manuscripts and early printed editions.

On the text, its tradition and fortune, see:
L. Choulant, Macer Floridus de viribus herbarum una cum Walafridi Strabonis, Othonis Cremonensis et Ioannis Folcz carminibus similis argumenti secundum codices manuscriptos et veteres editiones … recensuit Ludovicus Choulant (Leipzig: Voss, 1832), text edited on pp. 28-123;
E. Wickersheimer, Dictionnaire biographique des médecins en France au moyen âge (Geneva: Droz, 1979; repr. of Paris: Droz, 1936), p. 584;
Bruce P. Flood, 'The Medieval Herbal Tradition of Macer Floridus', Pharmacy in History, 18 (1976), pp. 62-66;
D. Jacquart, Supplément (Geneva: Droz, 1979), p. 218;
Der deutsche 'Macer': Vulgatfassung. Mit einem Abdruck des lateinischen Macer Floridus 'De viribus herbarum', ed. B. Schnell and W. Crossgrove (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2003);
U. Jansen, 'Spuria Macri': ein Anhang an das mittellateinische Lehrgedicht 'Macer Floridus, De viribus herbarum' (Berlin: De Gruyter, [2013]), with (incomplete) list of MSS on pp. 17-39.

Listed in eTK, a digital resource based on Lynn Thorndike and Pearl Kibre, A Catalogue of Incipits of Medieval Scientific Writings in Latin (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy, 1963; with supplements in 1965 and 1968; online at, no. 610A.

First printed as Macer [Floridus] Philosophus, De viribus herbarum [carmen], by Arnaldus de Bruxella at Naples on 9 May 1477 (ISTC im00001000). The text in the present manuscript differs from the printed edition.

For other manuscript copies of the poem in the Wellcome Library, see MSS 458 (dated 1478), 459 (dated 1504), 460 (c. 1550) and 544 (codicological unit 2, pp. 211-237); a copy of an Italian prose version in MS. 531 (codicological unit 4, ff. 9r-51r); an excerpt in MS. 49 (f. 44r-v).

f. 1r: Incipit: [rubric in red] Macer de uirtutibus herbarum [end of rubric] / [H]erbarum quasdam docturus [sic for dicturus] carmine uires / herbarum matrem dedit arthemesia nomen...

f. 41r, lines 2-5: Explicit: … Vna diagridii [superscribed by another hand: 'i scamonie'] sic apta solucio fiet. / Querens antidotum qui librum lectitat istum / Scriptori primum det precis auxilium. / Explicit Macer. Deo gratias.

f. 41r, lines 6-8: Additions by a different, later, hand in cursive bookhand in black ink, early 15th [?] century: Vires herbarum quarundam vel specierum / Magdunensis Odo descripsit versificando / Et titulum posuit libri de nomine macri [all within a bracket drawn on the right; at the right of the bracket the addition continues as:] Versus isti scribendi / sunt in principio libri / qui dicitur macer.

2. ff. 41v-51v, line 14: Sidrach, De la vertu des pierres précieuses et des herbes, extract from Le livre de Sidrac or La fontaine de toutes sciences, a text composed by an anonymous French author in the last quarter of the 13th century (after 1268), which combines fictional, encyclopedic and almanac-related elements organised in the form of questions and answers. See Le livre de Sidrac in ARLIMA - Archives de literature du Moyen Âge at (accessed on 20 April 2017), providing a list of manuscripts (incomplete: the two Wellcome manuscript copies are not listed) and bibliography, including the modern critical edition Sydrac le philosophe: Le livre de la fontaine de toutes sciences, Edition des enzyklopädischen Lehrdialogs aus dem XIII. Jahrhundert, ed. Ernstpeter Ruhe (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert, 2000).

First printed as part of Sydrach, Philosophe, La fontaine de toutes sciences by [Pierre Levet] for Antoine Vérard [and Nicole Gilles] at Paris on 20 February 1486/87 (ISTC is00878000).

The manuscript presents this portion of the text as divided into two sections, the first relating to the nature and healing properties of 24 precious stones (24 chapters), the second to plants that can cure 28 medical conditions (28 chapters). For the portion dedicated to the precious stones, see: F. Fery-Hue, 'Sidrac et les pierres précieuses', Revue d'histoire des textes, 28 (1998), pp. 93-181; eadem, 'Sidrac et les pierres précieuses: complément', Revue d'histoire des textes, 30 (2000), pp. 315-21; eadem, 'Une version réécrite du chapitre minéralogique de Sidrac conservé dans le manuscript de Londres, British Library, Royal 16 F. V, ff. 110rb-113vb', Scriptorium, 60.1 (2006), pp. 124-46.

For a discussion of two Middle English translations of the same portion of text as The lapidary of Sidrac, see C. Duffin, 'Pharmaceutical Lore in the Lapidary of Sidrac (12th century)', Pharmaceutical Historian (Lond), 45 (2015), pp. 90-6.

For a manuscript copy in the Wellcome Library of one of the anonymous Italian translations of the Livre de Sidrac, see MS. 750.

f. 41v: De la vertu des pierres précieuses, Incipit: [rubric in red] Ceu qui sensuit a este pris et extrait dum [sic] liure que son appelle sydrach. Et demande li roys a sydrach de quantes manieres et de quel vertuz sont les pierres precieuses et ou se trouuent elles et combien sont. Sydrach Respont [end of rubric] / [I]l ya moult de pierres precieuses ... [list of stones] Sarde … Turquemas. et sont les pierres qui sont vertueuses. / [rubric in red] de sarde [end of rubric] / [S]arde et grenat et alemandines et jagonces son contees ensemble …

f. 48r, lines 20-21, Explicit: … [De turquemas] … quiconquas yaura bonne esperance.

f. 48r, lines 23-28: De la vertu des herbes, caption in red: Le chapitres qui sensuit est pris don liure de Sydrach dessus dit et est de la uertu de plusors herbes. Et demande li roys a sidrach de quel uertu sont les herbes precieuses et ou se trouuent elles et combien sont. Sydrach respond.

f. 48v: De la vertu des herbes, Incipit: [L]es herbes precieuses sont donset [?] grant quantite …

f. 51v, Explicit: ... Cettes paroles eschapent et eschaperont lame de mort et de grant peril. Amen. / [rubric in red] Explicit sydrach de la vertu des pierres precieuses et des herbes.[end of rubric; followed by an addition by a later hand in black ink, 15th century]: He bien Alegue Paix et Joye a Bele Viegne / [in red] Belut [?].


Early 14th century

Physical description

1 volume

On parchment.

53 leaves, plus three paper flyleaves and conjoint pastedowns at the beginning and the end; ff. 52-53 blank; old foliation '1-40' in grey ink in upper right corner of ff. 1-40, possibly 16th century, continued by modern foliation '41-53' in pencil in lower right corner of ff. 41-53; traces of later foliation '2-4' in black ink at centre of the upper margin of ff. 2-4, possibly 17th century. 165 x c. 138 mm (upper and lower margin badly cropped by later binder); written space circa 124 x 80 mm, ruled in metal point in vertical bounders (double vertical lines at the left, single at right of the text, a supplementary vertical line in the outer margin) and 29 horizontal lines for a single column (the horizontal lines crossing the vertical bounders); 28 written lines beginning below the upper horizontal line; with pricking holes at the edge of the outer margins.

Collation: 1-68, 76; catchwords in the lower right corner of last verso in quires, supplemented by internal catchwords in the lower right corner of versos of leaves in the first half of each quire.

Secundo folio: Sic posit variis.

Written in Gothic bookhand (Textualis Libraria), France, early 14th century.

Large (5 lines) puzzle initial in red and blue with penwork decoration in contrasting blue and red, and penwork decoration in alternating red and blue, in the inner margin of f. 1r; 2-line initials in alternating blue and red with contrasting penwork decoration in red and blue, verse initials touched in red, and rubrics and marginal notabilia providing the names of plants in red throughout Macer's text (ff. 1r-41r); initials (2- to 5-line high) in alternating red and blue with contrasting penwork decoration in blue and red, capitals touched in red, and rubrics in red throughout Sidrach's text (ff. 41v-51v), and paragraph marks in alternating red and blue for the list of stones on f. 41v.

Some marginal notabilia relating to the names of plants left out by the scribe in Macer's text were supplied in red by a 15th-century hand.

Binding: Parchment over pasteboards, bookblock sewn on four single spine bands, with bookblock edges mottled in brown and red, and manuscript titles 'Macer / de / virtutib / herbar' and 'Sidrac / des / pietres / precie / uses' on two upper spine compartments, late 17th [?] century. Upper and lower margins considerably cropped away by binder.

Acquisition note

Purchased for £20 on 18th January 1909 from the London bookseller and collector Wilfrid Michael Voynich (1865-1930): see note '£ 20 / Voy 18/1/09' in pencil in lower right corner of upper pastedown (recorded in Wellcome Library Accession Book WA/HMM/LI/Acc/2 on 5th May 1909).

Ownership note

Claude Fauchet (1520-1601), magistrate, antiquary and historian of French language and literature, his ownership inscription 'CLAVDII FAVCHET PARISIENSIS REGII CONSILIARII' in small capitals in grey ink in the lower margin of f. 1r.

Marked '242' in brown ink, 18th century.

Caroline Ferdinande Louise de Bourbon-Sicile (1798-1870), wife to Charles Ferdinand, duc de Berry (1778-1820), her armorial bookplate inscribed 'Bibliothèque de Rosny' on upper pastedown; the sale of the Rosny library on 20 February 1837, lot 2414: see [Hector Bossange], Catalogue de la riche bibliothèque de Rosny ... dont la vente aura lieu le lundi 20 février prochain et jours suivans ... dans ... la galerie de M. Bossange père ... par le ministère de M Bataillard, commissaire-priseur ...; tous les livres ... avec les armes ... de Madame la duchesse de Berri (Paris: Bossange père, [1837]).

Jean-Baptiste Joseph Barrois (1784-1855), French deputy and book collector, probably bought at the Rosny library sale, his manuscript no. cclxviii: marked '268' in pencil on upper pastedown. On Barrois, see H. Collingham, 'Joseph Barrois: Portrait of a Bibliophile XXVI', The Book Collector, 33 (1984), pp. 431-48.

Bertram Ashburnham (1797-1878), 4th earl of Ashburnham, acquired in 1849 together with 701 other Barrois manuscripts: see Collingham, 'Joseph Barrois', pp. 443-5.

Bertram Ashburnham (1840-1913), 5th earl of Ashburnham: sold at the Ashburnham-Barrois sale, 10 June 1901, lot 370: see Catalogue of the portion of the famous collection of manuscripts, the property of the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Ashburnham known as the Barrois Collection, Sotheby's, Wilkinson and Hodge, London, 10-13 June 1901.

Marked 'a4026.', '373' and '£ 20' in pencil on upper pastedown, and '201', '218', '187' and '9090' in pencil on lower pastedown.

Marked '208 / 9' on a round green paper slip pasted onto lower spine compartment, early 20th century.

Marked '323' and '451' in pencil on upper pastedown, and '59 E . 9' (former Wellcome shelfmarks?) in pencil on first upper flyleaf.

Finding aids

For original description, see S.A.J. Moorat, Catalogue of Western Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1962-1973), vol. 1, pp. 310-11. Description enhanced by Laura Nuvoloni in Spring 2017 based on the compiler's own research.

Der deutsche 'Macer': Vulgatfassung. Mit einem Abdruck des lateinischen Macer Floridus 'De viribus herbarum', ed. B. Schnell and W. Crossgrove (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2003), p. 32.

U. Jansen, 'Spuria Macri': Ein Anhang zu 'Macer Floridus, De viribus herbarum'. Einleitung, Übersetzung, Kommentar (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 26.


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