Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides

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This page is from an herbal, an illustrated book on the properties of plants. Herbals were among the first manuscripts of the Islamic world to include painted figural imagery. The lines in red are titles signaling how to make a particular kind of medicine.

Initially written in Greek by a physician working for the Roman imperial army in what is present-day Turkey during the 1st century AD, the text was translated into Arabic during the 800s for a caliph who sponsored many translations of Greek scientific and philosophical treatises. This copy entered the royal Topkapi Palace library in Istanbul, from where 33 of its illustrated pages were dispersed to various collections.

The first recipe on the text page describes the production of a syrup used for coughs, chronic diarrhea, and the treatment of syphilis in women. It states that the herb wormwood should be added to give it a more pleasant smell. The second recipe is for a syrup made from pine nuts, and the third is used to relieve chest pains and coughing without fever. The painting on the reverse depicts a physician in red and his two assistants preparing a medicinal syrup thought to be good for digestion. In accordance with the instructions on the page, tar in the consistency of dough is to be washed in salt water, then plain water. The artist has shown the washing taking place in a great basin. The syrup is then boiled, as seen on the left, and ladled into a bowl for storage.
Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides

Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides


Abdallah ibn al-Fadl

Iraq, Baghdad, Abbasid Period, 13th Century

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