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Medieval Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine Medieval Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine home National Library of Medicine in blue lettering. National Library of Medicine logo which is a link to the National Library of Medicine homepage. Historiated inital O featuring a physician consulting a book at his patient's bedside which is a link to the History of Medicine Division homepage.
The Articella written in red lettering.

No part of the ancient legacy of Greek medicine enjoyed a more constant transmission than the Aphorisms and Prognostics attributed to Hippocrates of Cos. From the unforgettable opening line, "Life is short, the Art long," the axiomatic and level-headed character of these works made them ideal for teaching, but it also called for elaboration and rationalization. This need was abundantly met by the Greek writings of Galen of Pergamum in the second century C.E. The Hippocratic foundations were complemented, possibly by Byzantine teachers before the eighth century, with Galen's epitome of the "Art of Medicine", Techne iatrike, which became known in the Middle Ages as Tegni or Microtegni, in Latin Ars medica and Ars parva, "The Little Art." The addition of two short treatises on diagnosis, by pulse and urine, resulted in a collection that loosely covered the basics of medical learning. However, one relatively brief and simple text with origins in Baghdad became the catalyst for the development of this collection into the nucleus of the first genuine curriculum.

Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi, 809?-873 (known as Joannitius), the Christian director of the caliph's House of Wisdom, is credited with translating into Arabic more than one hundred Greek writings, the majority by Galen and his Alexandrian commentators. Hunayn abstracted the substance of his library in Questions on Medicine for Scholars. This introduction to Galen's Art came to Latin Christendom, with the author's name suitably baptized, as Isagoge Ioannitii ad Tegni Galieni. It clearly set out the division of medical knowledge into theory and practice, and the classification of learning matter, from the elements as basic building blocks, to uroscopy as the ultimate diagnostic tool. For the twelfth- and thirteenth-century masters of Salerno, the Isagoge of Johannitius was a natural nucleus around which five or six primers coalesced into the foundation of medical education. At the emerging universities, from around 1250, this fundamental "Ars medicine" or "Articella" was at the heart of a growing curriculum, expanded with commentaries, more translations from Greek and Arabic, and, above all, a greater presence of Galen.

Folio 1 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni. The hand written page is has two and three line pen flourished initials in margin, alternating red and blue. There is a historiated initial M in the top left corner of the page. Within the letter 'M' a tonsured master is sitting to the left, he is holding an open book to which he is pointing and commenting on; a tonsured student is sitting on the right, holding a notebook.

Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi, 809?-873 (known as Joannitius). Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni.
Oxford, 13th century.
(DeRicci NLM [78].) This beautiful manuscript from England contains a model "Articella," decorated with 12 miniature illustrations depicting medical consultation, examination, and instruction. On the page displayed, within the letter M, a master is instructing a student.


A historiated initial O from folio 32 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni. A physician consulting a book at his patient's bedside.
Letter O: A physician consulting a book at his patient's bedside.
Fol. 32r
A historiated initial T from folio 61 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni. A tonsured teacher on elaborate chair speaking to three tonsured students.
Letter T: A master instructing students.
Fol. 61r
A historiated initial M from folio 61 verso from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni.  A tonsured teacher with two tonsured students.
Letter M: A master with two students.
Fol. 61v

A historiated initial U from folio 43 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni.  A physician displaying a flask of urine to a student.
Letter U: A physician displaying a flask of urine to a student.
Fol. 43r
A historiated initial U from folio 19 verso from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni.  A physician reading a book.
Letter U: A physician reading a book.
Fol. 19v
A historiated initial P from folio 21 verso from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni.  A pregnant woman.
Letter P: A pregnant woman.
Fol. 21v

A historiated initial D from folio 42 verso from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge Johannitii in Tegni Galeni. A physician with a flask of urine, possibly comparing it to pictures or descriptions of variously colored urine in a book.
Letter D: A physician with a flask of urine, possibly comparing it to pictures or descriptions of variously colored urine in a book.
Fol. 42v


Folio 2 recto from Hippocrates' Aphorismi. 15th century. There are two olumns of 28 lines, ruled in dry point. The text is written in humanistic cursive book script and the paragraphs begin with a capital letter either in red or blue ink.

Hippocrates. Aphorismi. 15th century.
(DeRicci NLM 26; Schullian 510)

Each one of Hippocrates' brief observations or "aphorisms" was treated as a precept, usually numbered and "rubricated," that is, marked by a red or blue initial letter.


Folio 1 recto from Hippocrates' Aphorismi which begins a section titled Sacratissimi ypocratis liber Amphorismorum incipit. The year and the title are written in red ink while the main portion of the text is a faded brown ink. In the upper left corner is a letter V in blue on gold. At the bottom is a modern stamp of 1 in the right corner and the Surgeon General's Library stamp in the bottom center margin. Folio 49 recto from Hippocrates' Aphorismi which shows  the beginning of of Galen's Tegne or Tegni. The title is written in red ink while the main portion of the text is a brown ink. In the upper left corner is a letter T in blue on gold. At the bottom is a modern stamp of 1 in the right corner.
Hippocrates. Aphorismi. Armeno [Italy], 1485-Oct. 25, 1486.
(DeRicci NLM 2. Schullian 511)

This small manuscript, containing works of Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, was probably meant to be carried around by the physician, to be referred to at the bedside. The page displayed shows the beginning of of Galen's Tegne or Tegni, as Galen's summary of the Hippocratic works was known in the Middle Ages.


Folio 1 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge ad Tegni Galieni. The title is printed with notaions above and continuing to beneath it. There are three stamps on the center of the folio. Two Surgeon General's Office Library and one other stamp stating not to be loaned. Folio 2 recto from Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi's Isagoge ad Tegni Galieni. The page is printed.
Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi, 809?-873 (known as Joannitius). Isagoge ad Tegni Galieni.
Leipzig : Wolfgang Stockel, May 27, 1497.

An early printed edition of Hunayn's Isagoge [i.e. treatise], a didactic introduction to Galen's Tegne, which was the catalyst for the coalescence of a few texts into the "Articella," the core the medieval medical curriculum.


The title page from Articella, seu, Opus artis medicinae with flower decorations surrounding the title. The Surgeon General's Office Library amp and another stamp stating not to be loaned are in the center below the title. Faint writing is at the bottom of the page. Folio 1 recto from Articella, seu, Opus artis medicinae. The page is printed in two columns with a hand-colored initial letter m at the top of the page and and marginal decoration. The start of every paragrah has a hand written capital letter alternating in red and blue ink.
Articella, seu, Opus artis medicinae.
Venice : Bonetus Locatellus for Octavius Scotus, Dec. 20, 1493.
(Schullian 62.)

The Articella continued in use well into the age of the printed book. This 1493 Venetian edition, with its hand-colored initial letters and marginal decoration, illustrates the attempts of the first printers to make the printed book look like the more familiar manuscript.


Folio 2 recto from Hippocrates. Aphorismi, sive sententiae. The printer has left space for a hand-written, decorative initial letter of the first Aphorism ([V]ita brevis, ars aut[em] longa), but the letter 'V' was never added.

Hippocrates. Aphorismi, sive sententiae.
Nuremberg : Caspar Hochfeder, after April 1496.

The "Aphorisms" retained their venerability well into the age of printing. Here, the printer has left space for a hand-written, decorative initial letter of the first Aphorism ([V]ita brevis, ars aut[em] longa), but the letter "V" was never added.