HERB - Re: Tree diagrams

khkeeler kkeeler at unlinfo.unl.edu
Wed Dec 2 10:38:53 PST 1998

Gaylin Walli wrote:
> Oooh. This ought to be interesting. I know that today we point to
> Banckes or Markham or Gerard and say "look, here are the some of
> the most important works we have as primary sources." But I think
> what I'd like to know is what sources did people of those time
> periods think were important. And the only way I know of to find
> out for sure is to track the copying and rewriting (okay, we'd
> probably call it plagerism today) that went on in period. Which
> works were the ones that people lifted from the most and why? Was
> it because the author was more vocal? Was s/he in favour with the
> church or out of favour? Those kinds of things.
> Jasmine

But copying was the right thing to do for most of period, as I
understand it.
Plato talked of the essence of an item: there's a perfect form we're
trying to attain. Wouldn't there be a perfect herbal?
Enter Christianity:   You wouldn't dream of editting the Bible.
In the Middle Ages, preChristian sources had to be approved by the
Church, if approved, they were Authorities.
So Dioscorides is an Authority.  You don't change his words (before the
beginning of the Renaissance).  You might clarify.  You might check the
translation and correct.  Or translate into the vernacular.  Or,
especially, condense a very large book into a manageable size.  Macer is
a selection of Dioscorides in Latin verse:  shorter, and easier to learn
because its poetry.

The idea of "new" and "original" should replace the established,
historical view, is, as I understand it, one of the things that
separates the Renaissance and the Age of Reason from the Middle Ages. 
The whole plagiarism concept would, I think, be incomprehensible to
Period writers:  we are all seeking to perceive God's plan, how could I
claim it as "mine"?

For the history of the herbals, I'd think access was critical: some
people could travel all over to see various herbals, others worked
locally. And whether the author was a encyclopedia-ist (wanted to
include everything possible) or not.  And: was he writing a readers'
digest condensed edition? a popular handbook? or a tome for other

You might take a look at Hildegard of Bingen's herbal writings as
counterpoint.  She used her visions (or personal knowledge or ...) but
anyway didn't write based on existing works.  She wasn't copied or
included in the mainstream of herbal knowledge in Europe as far as I can

And, as you get to the printed ones, the philosophy of knowledge is
changing radically.  Exploring the Old World, finding the New World,
bringing back unknown plants and animals, shook the foundations of
knowledge.  Classical sources were increasingly obviously flawed or
inadequate. Etc.  So many of the relatively accessible herbals do play
to a marketplace, reflect author's connections etc.  That's why we [in
university Botany courses] always teach that Gerard is the first herbal
to include plants that aren't useful, just to catalog them, thus
changing subtly from an herbal to what we'd now call a flora.  Which is
to say, Gerard is the first modern plant book.
(Hmmm but I still use him as if he's Period, how intellectually
dishonest!)  (The unabridged has a bunch of detailed information on
American plants, relevant to all those "but did they actually eat ---"

kkeeler1 at unl.edu
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