AN UNUSUAL HERBAL BOOK
The title of the work is "Herbal, of All Herbs, Animals, Stones and Metal, Nature, Value and Use". It was published by Christian Egenolff in Frankfurt am Main in 1538. The title already makes it clear that this work is not a herbal in the classic sense.
With the first edition of 1533, Roesslin intended to combine two important works in one handy book and make the contents accessible to a wide readership. The book is divided into four parts and covers the art of distillation, then animals, inanimate nature, and finally plants. Their uses follow each description. The more than 300 pages contain almost 250 old-coloured woodcuts, as well as a title woodcut and a title-page border. The binding of the present example consists of a two-column, medieval manuscript on parchment with a coloured initial H.
The woodcuts represent plants, animals, and the processing of mineral soils using alchemy. The work also contains famous images of a physician at a patient's bedside, an apothecary and herb collectors at work.
A HEALTH BOOK FOR THE COMMON MAN
Im Prolog macht Eucharius Roesslin klar, dass sich sein Werk speziell an den „gemeynen man“ wendet, also an die Allgemeinheit, die gesamte alphabetisierte Bevölkerung, alle Berufs- und Privatpersonen, die der Landessprache in Wort und Schrift mächtig waren. Es sollte den damaligen Wissensstand über die Natur und ihre Nutzung vermitteln. Dabei ging es nicht um eine Erhöhung des Allgemeinwissens, sondern um dessen Nutzung zur Gesunderhaltung und Behandlung von Krankheiten.
Das Bildmaterial sollte den Lesern vermitteln, wie die Pflanzen, Tiere und Mineralien aussehen und wie sie verarbeitet werden können, wobei die Holzschnitte aus älteren Ausgaben des „Gart der Gesundheit“ oder ähnlichen Werken stammten.
Bei seinen Zeitgenossen war das Werk ein grosser Erfolg, wofür auch die zahlreichen Auflagen innerhalb von wenigen Jahren sprechen. Erst in späteren Jahrhunderten erfuhr das Werk heftige Kritik als Plagiat.
ROESSLIN JUNIOR AND SENIOR
The author is not listed on the title page of the work. It is a new edition of a work that was already known at that time which Eucharius Roesslin the younger (before 1500 to about 1554) had written. Roesslin was the son of the city physician of the same name from Frankfurt am Main who had become famous through his work "Der schwangeren Frauen und Hebammen Rosengarten" (The Rose Garden of Pregnant Women and Midwives). Eucharius Roesslin the younger translated this book, which was aimed at the female readership, and published his own works in the common language. Like his father, he also held the position of city physician. He adapted his name, as was common among scholars during the Renaissance, to an ancient language and called himself "Rhodion" in ancient Greek.
Roesslin's herbal resulted from a compilation of two works which played a prominent role when books were first printed for medicine: "Gart der Gesundheit" by Johann de Cuba and the Small Book of Distillation by Hieronymus Brunschwig published in 1500.
A MEDIEVAL MEDICINAL TREASURE
The book is not an original creation. Rather, it brought the treasure that was medieval medicine into modern times and enriched it with additional knowledge of nature. This knowledge formed a basis which continued to be handed down into the 18th century.
Roesslin enabled his contemporaries to acquire the knowledge of the time and implement it to promote their own health. Despite distancing itself to a certain extent from the purely religious interpretation of nature which prevailed in the Middle Ages, early modern natural science remained strongly interwoven with moral and magical ideas.
According to the logic of the time, white saltpetre cleaned people inside and out, the shining stone of Ophtamus not only healed eye problems but could also make its wearer invisible by dazzling his/her surroundings, and holy incense healed every wound, strengthened the heart and made it joyful.