Marcellus, Über Heilmittel, herausgegeben von Max Niedermann, zweite auflage besorgt von Eduard Liechtenhan, übersetzt von Jutta Kollesch und Diethard Nickel, 2 Aufl., Berlin 1968 (= Corpus Medicorum Latinorum V).
The De medicamentis liber is a medical treatise written by Marcellus Empiricus most likely between 395 and 415. The year 395 can be identified as a terminus post quem because Marcellus is presented as magister officiorum of Theodosius the Great, an office that he held between 394 and 395; he further cites Ausonius (praefatio 2), who died precisely in 395. The terminus ante quem is 415, since Marcellus makes reference within the work to Gamaliel VI (23.77), the patriarch of Constantinople between 395 and 415.
The work is transmitted by three parchment codices: Parisinus Latinus 6889 (P), which dates to the 9th c.; Laudanensis 420 (L), placed in the 9th/10th c.; and Arundelianus 166 (A), dating to the 10th/11th c. Based on a comparison between the readings of these three codices, it is possible to produce a bipartite stemma, which seems to derive two branches from a common archetype: the first comprises manuscript P, the second a subarchetype α, from which codices L and A are descended.
The De medicamentis is composed in thirty-six chapters, in which are contained recipes drawn from earlier medical works; the compositional order is defined κατὰ τόπους or a capite ad calcem, since its order corresponds to the parts of the body.
An introductory section comprised of several parts precedes the actual medical treatise. This work opens with a prefatory letter written by the author and dedicated to his sons. The epistle is especially significant because it introduces and clarifies certain elements that will be included in the carmen, such as the need to offer natural and artificial remedies for every type of disease that afflicts mankind. Dedication to one’s children is a characteristic element of medical literature, in which the youthful age of the addressees justifies the need to communicate one’s own knowledge and responds to the traditional method of transmitting medical science within a family or school; yet the desire to obtain a “double communication” is evident: beyond its explicit addressee, it also directs itself to a broader public, and the author perceives a need to justify the utilitas of his work to this second audience, which is eager to avoid recourse to a doctor except in cases of absolute necessity (J. Jouanna-Bouchet).
Marcellus professes to compose a summa of earlier works, but highlights how the authors that preceded him were not adept at arranging the material in an organized way: a new libellus on empirical science is necessary, since there does not exist a work that treats it in an adequate and exhaustive manner, or that contains all the remedies of which a man might have need in the course of his life. Before listing a few authors who constituted some of his models, Marcellus refers to two chief types of sources that he utilized: learning and experience. He intends, therefore, to compose a work that is based not only on theory, but also on practice—two elements that constitute the basis of the technico-scientific treatises of this period.
After the prefatory letter, we find three treatises that offer a description of the doses of medications, of which the author makes great use in the course of various chapters: the first two are in Latin, De mensuris et ponderibus medicinalibus ex Graeco translatis iuxta Hippocratis and Item de ponderibus et mensuris medicamentorum ex libro XXI Plinii Historiarum Naturalium; the third, on the other hand, is in Greek and is entitled Περὶ μέτρων καὶ στάθμων.
There follows a section entitled Epistulae diversorum de qualitate et observatione medicinae, in which are contained seven prefatory letters composed by earlier authors, some known, others who cannot be identified: Largius Designatianus filiis suis salutem dicit, Antiocho regi Hippocrates Cous salutem dicit, Epistula alia eiusdem Hippocratis ex Graeco translata ad Maecenatem, Epistula Plinii Secundi ad amicos de medicina, Cornelius Celsus G. Iulio Callisto salutem dicit, Cornelius Celsus Pullio Natali salutem dicit, and lastly Epistula Vindiciani, comitis archiatrorum, ad Valentinianum imperatorem. Marcellus has inserted this collection of prefatory letters for a precise purpose: if on the one hand these permit him to confirm themes already addressed in his praefatio, like the importance of the use of remedies, on the other hand they make explicit information that was earlier implicit in his words, such as criticism of doctors.
The work ends with a carmen of seventy-eight hexameters, which can be subdivided into four parts: after a first section of an historical and mythological character (ll. 1-8), in which Marcellus treats briefly, but in a nevertheless effective manner, the history of medicine, there follows a programmatic unit (ll. 9-18), in which the contents of the work are set forth. At this point the author dedicates numerous verses (ll. 19-67) to a description of the elements of which remedies consist; an epilogue follows (ll. 68-78), containing a captatio benevolentiae addressed to the reader. [V. Rinaldi; tr. C. L. Caterine].