Medieval Medical Manuscript: Documents That Found Homes

A medieval medical manuscript purchased at Raab arrives at McGill University’s Osler Library

It is exciting when a historic manuscript finds the right home, and what better place for a twelfth-century medical manuscript than a top-tier medical library?

Over the past three decades, Raab has sold some of the most important archives and documents in the world. Occasionally, with the approval of the buyer, as in this case, we can follow a document on its journey. 

Raab offered for sale a twelfth-century bifolium on parchment, “De Greco in Latinum,” earlier this year. It had once been part of a larger herbal glossary in the Synonyma tradition. Although we could not pinpoint its parent text, we believe it was used by physicians to understand newly discovered Greek medical texts in their native Latin. 

Dr. Mary K. K. Hague-Yearl, head librarian at McGill University’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine, became aware of the bifolium when it was discussed on the Medieval Medicine listerv. “The dialogue suggested that there was some interest among scholars who might come to the library specifically to study it,” Dr. Hague-Yearl told us. “I liked the idea of the bifolium as part of a larger puzzle. After being approached by a donor, I was already keeping an eye out for an item of significance to acquire for the library, preferably a work of pre-modern medicine. The bifolium proved to be a good fit for the donor’s interests and ours.”

Its purchase was made possible thanks to an anonymous donation in memory of Dr. Joseph G. Stratford, M.D.C.M., F.R.C.S.(C), Professor of Neurosurgery, McGill University.

Preliminary discussions about the manuscript indicate that it is a commentary on a text either by or ascribed to Galen, a Greek physician whose theories dominated medical thought for centuries. Surely more discoveries await. 

In addition to the manuscript’s historical medical significance, Dr. Hague-Yearl said she envisions how it might be used within other disciplines, as well. “I imagine the bifolium coming into discussions we have about book history, including the manufacture (and dismantling) of books and their constituent parts.” 

The library plans to have the manuscript digitized soon so that it may be accessible to all. 

More From the Newswire

Join Us

Stay informed about new historical documents, historical discoveries, and information for the educated collector.

Collect. Be Inspired.