De Medicina (On Medicine)

De Medicina (On Medicine)




Aurelius Cornelius Celsus

(c. 25 BC – c. 50 AD), Amsterdam, 1687

Aurelius Cornelius Celsus was a Roman physician, philosopher and author of De Medicina, one of the books that survived from what is supposed to have been a much larger collection of works on agriculture, rhetoric, military art, etc. There is very little agreement as to where was he born. Some argue he was born in Rome, others think he was from Verona or Narbonne, southern France. He was supposedly active during the reign of Augustus, Tiberius or even Claudius. That would make him active about 100 years before Galen.

The De Medicina, Celsus' only surviving book is divided into sections 1-4 on diet, section 5-6 on pharmacy and 7-8 on surgery. He was an accomplished pharmacist with skills to compound his own medications. He was considered an expert on agriculture and the military art, most likely part of the lost work.

The book we have in our collection is one of 45 editions published on this book in a period of 300 years (1478-1785). There were 4 major revisions to his Latin text. The first seven editions were published between 1478-1524. The next phase between 1528-1639 the volume had seen 22 different editions. The volume we have (a gift of Dr. Andrew I Spielman) was edited by Theodor Jansson van Almeloveen (1657-1712), a Dutch physician, historian, philosopher and professor of medicine at University of Harderwijk, also dubbed II Celsus. He edited the classics including the works of Hippocrates, Celsus and Aurelian. The Almeloveen-edited version was republished 10 times between 1657-1750.

The 1687 edition has an introduction by Dr. Johann Antonides van der Linden (1609-1664) a Dutch physician, botanist and librarian and a friend of the famous Dutch anatomist Jonas Tulp depicted by Rembrandt in one of his paintings (The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp).

De Medicina contains succinct and clear medical advice, including the first description of the four cardinal signs of inflammation: tumor (swelling), rubor (redness), calor (warmth), dolor (pain). On page 139, Chapter X, section 10 of this volume we can read the following: "Notae vero inflammationis sunt quatuor, rubor et tumor, cum calore, et dolore." (Now there are four diagnostic signs of inflammation, redness, and swelling, with heat and pain").

Some other notable quotes found in this book: "Que ars adhibit, naturam plurimum posse" - "Nature can also give great effect to those remedies administered by the art of medicine". Celsus understood that Nature has the power to help the healing art. In a further section, Celsus questions the effectiveness of bloodletting in the case of an abscess that manages to drain by itself: "Quod si in pure quoque aquaque, quae inter cutem est, ita respondet, quanto magis necesseest in sanguine respondeat?" "Therefore if it succeeds in the evacuation of pus from an abscess, or in paracentesis ; how much more necessary is it when applied to the extraction of blood?" He supported the idea of draining an abscess and let Nature take its effect, a considerable departure from the role of supranatural powers in healing patients.

Edititorial notes by Andrew I Spielman.

Digital Versions

Corn Celsi de Medicina libri octo 1687 >>>

Digital Link with Translation (a later edition)

Aurelii Cornelii Celsi Vita Clarissimo Viro >>>