Byzantine science – Botany

Here are some notes on sources for Byzantine Science; in this case botany.

Botany was not a subject of real interest to the Byzantines.  The Byzantine interest in plants was entirely practical. As such they compiled lists of plants useful for medicine – materia medica -, or for magical use. They are also noted for the copying of ancient botanical texts such as Dioscurides, with its copious illustrations of plants and their properties. (An example appears at the foot of this post).

Studies: Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, Vol. 2, Series: Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, XII.5 (Munich, 1978): pp.271-6.

Botanical lexicons / glosses. The lexicon or glossary became the usual form of botanical knowledge transfer in late antiquity and Byzantium. These were usually only alphabetic to the extent of the first letter. The botanical glossaries preserved in Byzantine manuscripts often give the impression of private notes, made more or less ad hoc on blank pages of manuscripts. They are usually short, and anonymous, except for those of ps.Galen, Nikomedes, and Neophytos Prodromenos. The manuscripts are usually 15-16th century. It is rare that these texts can be assigned a date, or read without difficulty because of the careless handwriting, and the use of terms from Latin or Arabic.

Editions: A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia 2, (1939), 273-454, includes 15 botanical glossaries, including ps.Galen, ps.Symeon Seth, Neophytos, Nikomedes, Nicholas Hieropais. (Review here) M. H. Thomson, Textes grecs inedits relatifs aux plantes, Paris 1955, Nr. 10, p. 139-168. With French translation.
Studies: A. Delatte, “Le Lexique de botanique du Parisinus Graecus 2419”, in: Serta Leodensia, Bibl. Fac. Philos. Lettr. Univ. Liege 44 (1930) 59-101; A. Delatte, Herbarius. Recherches sur le ceremonial usite chez les anciens pour la cueillette des simples et des plantes magiques, Liege-Paris 1936; J.Stannard, “Byzantine Botanical Lexicography”, Episteme 5 (1971), 168-87.

Neophytos Prodromenos. A 14th century monk and scribe of Albanian origin in the circle of Manuel II Paleologus. He wrote a compendium of Aristotelean logic, also on the 24 letters of the alphabet and on Indian numbers, as well as theological works, and works on medicine. He compiled a lexicon / botanical glossary probably for the needs of the hospital founded by the Serbian king Uros II Milutin in the monastery of Petra in Constantinople. He also did research on cancer and oral and teeth diseases, and proposed strengthening by binding the teeth with woolen thread.

Edition: V. Lundstrom, “Neophytos Prodromenos’ botaniska namnförteckning”, Eranos 5 (1903-04) 129-155. Info here.
Dental text: De dentibus: Neophytos Prodromenos, Πρόχειρος καὶ χρήσιμος σαφήνεια καὶ συλλογὴ κατὰ στοιχεῖον περὶ βοτανῶν καὶ ἄλλων παντοίων εἰδῶν θεραπευτικῶν, ed. A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia et alia, Band 2, Textes grecs relatifs a l’histoire des sciences. Liege-Paris 279-302, 1939. Details here.
Studies: Hunger, p.272-3, p.308-9; Michel Cacouros, “Néophytes Prodromènos copiste et responsable (?) de l’édition quadrivium-corpus aristotelicum du 14e siècle”, Revue des études byzantines 56 (1998) pp. 193-212. Online here; E. Bollingier, Essai sur l’oeuvre de Neophytos Prodromenos. Thesis, 1966. Info here.

A 7th century Dioscurides. Bibl. Naz. Naples MS Suppl. gr. 28.

One thought on “Byzantine science – Botany

  1. I just saw a fascinating little exhibition a month ago in Maastricht (one of a set of three, the other two of which I sadly did not get to) on late mediaeval and early modern herbals – in relation to botany. I wonder how much of this Byzantine work got fed into Western scholarship (e.g., via Florence)?

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