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22.01.11 Garrido-Anes, A Middle English Version of the Circa Instans

22.01.11 Garrido-Anes, A Middle English Version of the Circa Instans

As its title indicates, this book presents the edition of Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.1.13 (ff. 1r-91v), a hitherto unedited manuscript which houses, among other contents, a Middle English version of the influential reference work Liber de simplici medicina, commonly known as Circa instans. This treatise on materia medica, which has been attributed to Matthaeus Platearius, was originally written in Latin at the well-known School of Salerno between 1150 and 1170. It consisted of more than two hundred entries of “simples” of natural origin (be it mineral, vegetal of animal) or “medicines with a single active ingredient as opposed to compound remedies.” [1] The popularity of the Circa instans “extended over more than four centuries” as demonstrated “by the substantial number of surviving manuscripts, incunabula, and Renaissance editions that contain the work in Latin” (xiv). It was translated into several European vernacular languages, including English, German, Dutch, Danish, French, and Catalan, as well as Hebrew, which also bears witness to the importance and wide circulation of the treatise. The first attestations of the English version date from the early fifteenth century. This is of particular interest since, despite the large number of extant exemplars (Garrido-Anes lists 29 on page ix), copies of the Middle English Circa instansremain virtually unexplored, having received little attention to date. [2] Not all of them contain the text in full form and here is where Garrido-Anes’s work proves to be an asset since she provides the first edition of one of the complete Middle English versions.

In the “Introduction” (xiii-lvi), the editor addresses the most relevant aspects of the background and context of the Middle English Circa instans by taking into consideration first the Latin treatise and discussing its precursors and sources along with its analogues and the influence that the text has exerted on later works on simples and herbals. Then, she moves on to deal in more detail with aspects of the English manuscripts that house the treatise, including the function of the vernacular work, which points to a wide variety of contexts in which the Middle English Circa instans was used, its transmission and the circulation of the copies. The English manuscripts can fall within three groups “corresponding to three distinct translations or compilations derived from the Latin treatise” (xxix). A significant part of the introductory section is devoted to the manuscript selected as the base text for the edition of the Salernitan text, namely Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.1.13. Thus, the manuscript is comprehensively described from a physical point of view, an index of the contents of the codex is given, and its ownership and history are discussed. [3] A thorough linguistic study, which pursues the dialectal localisation of the text by using the methodology put forward in LALME, follows. [4] This introductory section closes with the editorial policy and conventions, which are carefully explained.

The edition, which has been meticulously prepared, is presented on pages 1-89. As Garrido-Anes contends, her main goal is to offer the version of the Circa instans in CUL, MS Ee.1.13 “as it was received and perceived by its medieval readers” (liv), not to reconstruct the archetype. In the transcription, the original spelling has been retained, but word division, capitalisation, and punctuation have been modernised. Some modifications have also been undertaken concerning the layout of the text, which has not been kept, such as the indication of the beginning of each folio by means of square brackets and the numbering of every five lines in the left margin. On the other hand, the critical apparatus gathers the most important variants found in three other manuscripts which contain a similar version of the Middle English Circa instans to the one found in CUL, MS Ee.1.13: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ahsmole 1477 (ff. 114r-195v); London, British Library, MS Additional 29301 (ff. 55r-89r); and London, Medical Society, MS 131 (ff. 3r-56v). This collation allows the reader to see in which ways the manuscripts are related. The apparatus also collects emendations and original readings which have been corrected in CUL, MS Ee.1.13.

Explanatory notes are provided after the edition in the “Commentary” section (90-123). This is intended to make the text more accessible and comprehensible to the reader by explaining significant and/or difficult words and concepts. Justification of editorial emendations, as well as references to the Latin text can also be found in this section, which has been neatly arranged.

As is customary in editions of Middle English texts, a “Glossary,” preceded by an introductory note which briefly discusses the origin of the words and lays out the conventions followed, is furnished on pages 124-175. The glossary caters for the needs of both standard readers and scholars, since it collects “words and phrases of a technical or specialized nature as well as others whose meanings might not be readily inferable from their spelling or the context in which they occur” (124). The editor draws from reference works by authors such as Mats Rydén and Tony Hunt (1989), among others to identify botanical terms, and resorts to Juhani Norri for medical terminology. [5]

Apart from the main sections described above, two lists including manuscripts of the Middle English Circa instans and of the Latin manuscripts found in British and American Libraries are supplied on pages ix-x.

The book finishes with two appendices: “Appendix 1” (176) contains a comparative table of entries in the Latin text and in the four closely related Middle English manuscripts under consideration in the edition, whereas “Appendix 2” (181) comprises a list of the marginal annotations found in CUL, MS Ee.1.13; and a “Bibliography,” which has been divided into “Early Printed Editions” (196), “Modern Editions and Secondary Sources” (197-208) and “Theses and Dissertations” (208-209).

Overall, Edurne Garrido-Anes’s edition is a most welcome addition to the so far scarce work on the Middle English Circa instans and enhances substantially our current knowledge of it by focusing on one specific manuscript--but also offering variant readings from other three copies--and its context. Thus, it constitutes an invaluable contribution to the study of the English version of this particular treatise, as well as that of the vernacularisation, transmission and diffusion of science and medicine in the medieval period.



1. Jean A. Givens, “Reading and Writing the Illustrated Tractatus de herbis, 1280-1526,” in Jean A. Givens, Karen M. Reeds, and Alain Touwaide, eds., Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 115-145, at 118.

2. An exception to this is Esteban-Segura’s edition of the Middle English Circa instans preserved in Glasgow, Glasgow University Library, MS Hunter 307 (ff. 167r-172v), Laura Esteban-Segura, “The Middle English Circa instans: A Pharmacopoeia from Glasgow, University Library, MS Hunter 307 (U.7.1.),” Manuscripta: A Journal for Manuscript Research 59/1 (2015): 29-60, which holds an abridged version of the text.

3. The fact that the other texts in CUL, MS Ee.1.13 relate to recipes and plants allows the editor to sensibly propose that the manuscript “was owned and used by ‘yeomen’” (xlv).

4. Angus McInstosh, Michael L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English. 4 vols. (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986).

5. Mats Rydén, The English Plant Names in “The Grete Herball” (1526): A Contribution to the Historical Study of English Plant-Name Usage (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wicksell, 1984); Tony Hunt, Plant Names of Medieval England (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989); and Juhani Norri, Names of Sicknesses in English, 1400-1550: An Exploration of the Lexical Field (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1992), Names of Body Parts in English, 1400-1550 (Helsinki: Academia Scientarum Fennica, 1998), and Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375-1550: Body Parts, Sicknesses, Instruments, and Medicinal Preparations. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2016).