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Diosco'rides PEDACIUS

1. PEDACIUS or PHDANIUS (Πεδάκιος or Πεδάνιος) DIOSCORIDES, the author of the celebrated Treatise on Materia Medica, that bears his name. It is generally supposed, says Dr. Bostock, that he was a native of Anazarba, in Cilicia Campestris, and that he was a physician by profession. It appears pretty evident, that he lived in the [first or] second century of the Christian era, and as he is not mentioned by Pliny, it has been supposed that he was a little posterior to him. The exact age of Dioscorides has. however, been a question of much critical discussion. and we have nothing but conjecture which can lead us to decide upon it.


Dioscorides has left behind him a Treatise on Materia Medica, Περὶ Ὕλης Ἰατρικῆς. in five books, a work of great labour and research, and which for many ages was received as a standard production. The greater correctness of modern science, and the new discoveries which have been made, cause it now to be regarded rather as a work of curiosity than of absolute utility; but in drawing up a history of the state and progress of medicine, it affords a most valuable document for our information. His treatise consists of a description of all the articles then used in medicine, with an account of their supposed virtues. The descriptions are brief, and not unfrequently so little characterized as not to enable us to ascertain with any degree of accuracy to what they refer; while the practical part of his work is in a great measure empirical, although his general principles (so far as they can be detected) appear to be those of the Dogmatic sect. The great importance which was for so long a period attached to the works of Dioscorides, has rendered them the subject of almost innumerable commentaries and criticisms, and even some of the most learned of our modern naturalists have not thought it an unworthy task to attempt the illustration of his Materia Medica. Upon the whole, we must attribute to him the merit of great industry and patient research; and it seems but just to ascribe a large portion of the errors and inaccuracies into which he has fallen, more to the imperfect state of science when he wrote, than to any defect in the character and talents of the writer.


His work has been compared with that of Theophrastus, but this seems to be doing justice to neither party, as the objects of the two authors were totally different, the one writing as a scientific botanist, the other merely as a herbalist; and accordingly we find each of these celebrated men superior to the other in his own department. With respect to the ancient writers on Materia Medica who succeeded Dioscorides, they were generally content to quote his authority without presuming to correct his errors or supply his deficiencies. That part of his work which relates to the plants growing in Greece has been very much illustrated by the late Dr. John Sibthorp, who, when he was elected one of the Radcliffe Travelling Fellows of the University of Oxford, travelled in Greece and the neighbouring parts for the purpose of collecting materials for a " Flora Graeca." This magnificent work was begun after his death, under the direction of the late Sir J. E. Smith (1806), and has been lately finished, in ten volumes folio, by Professor Lindley. With respect to the plants and other productions of the East mentioned by Dioscorides, much still remains to be done towards their illustration, and identification with the articles met with in those countries in the present day. A few specimens of this are given by Dr. Royle, in his " Essay on the Antiquity of Hindoo Medicine" (Lond. 8vo. 1837), and probably no man in England is more fitted to undertake the task than himself.

Besides the celebrated treatise on Materia Medica, the following works are generally attributed to Dioscorides: Περὶ Δηλητηρίων Φαρμάκων, De Venenis; Περὶ Ἰοβόλων, De Venenatis Animalibus; Περὶ Ευ᾽πορίστων Ἁπλῶν τε καὶ Συνθέτων Φαρμάκων, De facile Parabilibus tam Simplicibus quam Compositis Medicamentis; and a few smaller works, which are considered spurious.


His works first appeared in a Latin translation (supposed to be by Petrus de Abano) in 1478, fol. Colle, in black letter. The first Greek edition was published by Aldus Manutius, Venet. 1499, fol., and is said to be very scarce. Perhaps the most valuable edition is that by J. A. Saracenus, Greek and Latin, Francof. 1598. fol., with a copious and learned commentary. The last edition is that by C. Sprengel, in two vols. 8vo. Lips. 1829, 1830, in Greek and Latin, with a useful commentary, forming the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth vols. of Kühn's Collection of the Greek Medical Writers.


The work of Dioscorides has been translated and published in the Italian, German, Spanish, and French languages; there is also an Arabic Translation, which is still in MS. in several European libraries.

Further Information

For further information respecting Dioscorides and the editions of his work, see Le Clerc, Hist. de la Méd.; Haller, Biblioth. Bolan.; Sprengel, Hist. de la Méd.; Fabric. Biblioth. Graeca; Bostock's History of Medicine; Choulant, Handbuch der Bücherkunde für die Aeltere Medicin.

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