Mandrake in Dodoens’ New Herbal (1578)

October 12, 2018

In honor of this weekend’s symposium “On Human Nature: Machiavelli’s Mandrake at 500,” we offer a look at the account and depiction of the mandrake in A nievve herball, or, Historie of plantes: Wherein is contayned the whole discourse and perfect description of all sortes of herbes and plantes, their diuers and sundry kindes, their straunge figures, fashions, and shapes: their names, natures, operations, and vertues, and that not onely of those which are here growyng in this our countrie of Englande, but of all others also of forrayne realmes, commonly used in physicke, itself an English version (published in 1578) of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck. (Call number: Thordarson T 866 oversize.)

A busy title page, made busier by an early owner.

This hefty volume, 32 cm. tall and more than 800 pages, was “Imprinted at Antwerpe: By me Henry Loë bookeprinter, and are to be solde at London … by Gerard Devves.” The title page advertised that the text was “First set foorth in the Doutche or Almaigne tongue, by that learned D. Rembert Dodoens, Physition to the Emperour: And now first translated out of French into English, by Henry Lyte Esquyer.” 

Our copy features many manuscript annotations, as shown here in the chapter about the mandrake :

Page 437, with the beginning of the description “Of Mandrake or Mandrage. Chap. lxxxiiij.”
Page 438.

The text on page 438 warns “It is most dangerous to receive into the body, the iuyce [juice] of the roote of this herbe, for if one take never so little more in quantitie, then the iust [just] proportion which he ought to take, it killeth the body. The leaues [leaves] and fruit, be also dangerous; for they cause deadly sleepe, and peeuish [peevish] drowsines like Opium. See Turners remedie agaysnt this euill [evil] in the Chapter of Mandrage.”

The unknown annotator had more to say about Dioscorides (“Diosc.”), who at “the end of the chapter of Mandrake, describeth a thyrd kind delivering also the vertues ….”

Detail of the woodcut illustration of the mandrake and manuscript annotations on page 437.

Special Collections also holds a second copy of this edition (call number: NX D66 E Cutter oversize). Both are available for consultation in our reading room: place a request from the Library Catalog record.

A digitized version of another (unannotated) copy of this book (at the Getty Research Institute) is available through the HathiTrust.

— Robin Rider