Herbarium Apuleii Platonici

Plantago sp. from Herbarium Apuleii Platonici
used for headaches, stomach disorders, snakebite and scorpion stings

Herbarium Apuleii Platonici depicts 131 plants with their synonymy and instructions for their use in medicines and was first published in 1481 at Monte Cassino near Rome by Johannes Philippus de Lignamine, a Sicilian courtier and physician to Pope Sixtus IV. This was the first printed work on plants having numerous illustrations and is generally termed the first printed illustrated herbal. The history of the work has been lost with the passage of time, leading to endless speculation on the identity of the author. In all probability 'Apuleius Platonicus' was a pseudonym of Lucius Apuleius of Madaura in Numidia born AD124, while others writers refer to the him as Pseudo-Apuleius. A study of the book shows some of the plants being endemic to North Africa and lends support to the idea that the author was African.

The images are controversial and while crude in appearance, have been seen by some critics as sophisticated though stylised Roman art. The diverse textures of the images led some scholars to claim that they are woodcuts, while others see evidence of metal cuts. The plates figure snakes and scorpions beside the plants when they are regarded as a cure for poisonous bites or stings.

The publication of this work inspired the zealous Mainz printer Peter Schoffer to produce a similar work. He finished his illustrated Latin herbal which he called Herbarius Moguntinus in 1484, in time for the Easter Fair in Frankfurt. It sold well, prompting a second herbal, the Gart der Gesundheit, twelve months later.

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