The Herbal

After finishing the Liber Uricrisiarum, Henry Daniel turned his hand to another encyclopedic work, this time focused on another major theme of medieval medicine: plants and their therapeutic virtues. This treatise survives in only two manuscripts, organized in significantly different ways, one of which is incomplete: British Library, MSS Additional 27329 and Arundel 42.

The imperfect copy of the treatise in Arundel 42 has no title, but in the longer and apparently complete version of the text in Add. 27329, the scribe has written “Incipit Aaron Danielis” (“Daniel’s Aaron begins”) at the top of the first page, referring to the first plant described in the treatise, “aaron” (arum) or dragon’s tongue. Whether this title is authorial or merely scribal is unknown, but some scholars refer to the herbal as the Aaron or Aaron Danielis.

The full version of the herbal has two separate, alphabetically-ordered sections. The first deals only with herbs, running from aaron to zoib; the second covers a wider range of therapeutic materials, including plants, minerals, gums, metals, fungi, and miscellaneous medical terms, beginning with abies (the fir-tree) and ending again with the mysterious zoib. In Arundel 42, Daniel collects entries from both lists in Add. 27329 and conflates them into a single alphabetical series, from abies to gazares, at which point the text breaks off at the end of the gazares entry.

Entries in both manuscripts commonly include information on synonyms for names of plants, occasional etymologies, complexional qualities (hot/cold, wet/dry and in what degree), the appearance of the plant, what the plant or other ingredient is medically good for, recipes for specific medicines, and information on where particular plants grow or can be obtained and what light Daniel’s personal experience can shed on their use. The herbal is of particular interest for those autobiographical comments, which appear more frequently here than in the Liber Uricrisiarum.

Although the two versions of the text organize their material differently, even within individual entries for the same plant, they share a number of important common features. Most notably, both occasionally cite the Liber Uricrisiarum, referring to it as Uricrisis and in a few places as “our Uricrisis,” often referring to the book and sometimes the chapter in which relevant material may be found. The chapter references make it clear that Daniel is citing the beta version of the Liber Uricrisiarum (e.g., a reference to the discussion of leprosy in book 2, chapter 69, an addition in the later version). Given the number of medical recipes for a wide range of diseases given in the herbal, it seems likely that this is the “work by itself” that Daniel promised in the Prologue to the Liber Uricrisiarum, offering “medicines pertaining to the sickness & the infirmities” mentioned in the uroscopy.

Daniel’s general method in the herbal is one of compilation from identified sources, a list of which reveals access to a substantial library of botanical and other scientific works: Platearius (Circa instans), an abridged Platearius, “Macer Floridus” (possibly Odo de Meung), the anonymous Alphita, Henry of Huntingdon, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, pseudo-Albertus Magnus, Aristotle, Chrysippus, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, Serapion, Hunayn (Johannitius), Avicenna, Averroes, John Mesue, Haly, Constantine, “Magister Cancellarius,” an anonymous text cited as the Bolum armenicum (from its opening words; often cited as Auctor bolus/bolum), a lapidary text, and others. Daniel may have known some of these authors only indirectly, via quotations in other works, but he must have had a number of them as whole works.

An open question about the text of Daniel’s herbal has to do with the order in which the two different copies were compiled. Add. 27329 is a handsomely written, well-planned manuscript with substantial white space, while Arundel 42 runs the text together on the page in a cramped hand. The entries in Arundel tend to be fuller than those in the Additional manuscript, though whether that indicates expansion from Additional to Arundel or simplification from Arundel to Additional remains unclear.

E. Ruth Harvey has argued that Arundel represents the beginning of an expanded version of the text, with a more consistent internal organization within the entries and more botanical and personal information provided than in Additional. However, other students of the herbal, such as John Harvey and George Keiser, have suggested that the Arundel copy is more like what Daniel wrote, and that Additional represents a simpler, but more user-friendly presentation of the information. A definitive answer to the question of textual priority will most likely need to wait until both texts have been made available to the scholarly community for more detailed study.

Research on the Herbal is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Page header image: London, Wellcome Library, MS 49.