Dioscorides Manuscripts and Melicraton

Though a date of about 70 CE is assigned to Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, there is no surviving copy of that Greek text. By the second century there were already several different Greek versions.

The oldest known extant version of Dioscorides’ text is called the Juliana Anicia Codex from about 512 CE, held by the Austrian National Library, made for the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor. This Greek text is well illustrated. It also shows text additions (such as summaries of names for plants in different languages), and has been alphabetized.

Violets from Juliana Anicia Codex – Dioscorides

The first Latin translation known was also in the 6th century. By the 9th -10th century Arabic translations existed. Multiple manuscript versions exist, notably in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. The first printed version was in 1478. The 1516 text being used here was translated into Latin around 1481, but not printed until 1516.

Portrait of Dioscorides, Arabic Manuscript c.1240

Today’s recipe could be argued to not meet the intent of recipe of the week, but for various reasons I am including it. It is the next chapter in the progression. Although it does not in this text contain a specific recipe, it does in other versions. Finally, the commentary shows an interesting reference worthy of note. I do not present a detailed translation because several phrases require additional work.

1516 Baptista/Barolo Book V Melicration DCCCLXVI

Melicration hoc en mel mixtum & aqua mulsa vim habet: quam & mulsum. Decoquitur iis quorum alvos molliri libeat: quomodo & iis: qui venenatum aliquid hauserint. Salutare est oleo addito vomitiones movendo, datur & corporis, animaeque exilibus decoctum. Item in tussi pulmonum vitiis, subitis ti moribus.

The translation of this identifies aqua mulsa, which along with melicraton and hydromel are common Latin names for a plain mead (honey and water). The medical effects are outlined. In some versions of Dioscorides a recipe is given in this chapter, in others in the next chapter. Where we will see it next week.

This week’s story lies in the commentary to the text; in this book presented following the main text rather than interlineated. This commentary again connects melicraton to aqua mulsa, mentions Hippocrates, and indicates that Julius Pollox (a 2nd c CE Greek) equates Melicraton with Oenomel, which seems to be erroneous. But it is the final sentence that intrigues.

1516 Baptista/Barolo Commentary on Book V Melicration DCCCLXVI

Melicraton: & mixtum mel, & aqua mulsa dicitur interim: & dulcis aqua. Rationes aquae mulsae conficiendae plures sunt apud rei rusticate scriptores. Alia res Metaceras apud Hippocratem, quae vox egelidum, sive quod iden en tepidum mixtum significat, hoc en Galactodes Syncrama. Iulius Pollux nescio que recte Melicratum in quit est quod nunc oenomeli vocamus. Caeteri magno haec discrimine separaverit. In aethiopia Troglodytae melicratum e cuiusdam herbae floribus conficiunt proceribus bebendum vini loco, sicut dilutum paliuri populo.”

The final sentence indicates the Troglodytes (cave dwellers) in Ethiopia make melicraton/melicratum into which they mix herbs and flowers, which the local nobles drink as wine and my translation has the people (common?) drinking it diluted with ?hawthorn?

This, on the surface appears to be a (very) early reference to T’ej, the traditional honey-wine drink of Ethiopia, made from honey, water, and gesho, the shiny leaf buckthorn. The stems are boiled in the mead, and are sometimes equated with hops.

Riddle, John Marion. 1980. Dioscorides. North Carolina State University.

Violets from Vienna Dioscorides public domain, Portrait of Dioscorides c.1240 courtesy of the Bodelian Library.

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