8 - Latin works translated into Old English: Herbarium and Peri Didaxeon  pp. 59-64

Latin works translated into Old English: <i>Herbarium</i> and <i>Peri Didaxeon</i>

By Malcolm Laurence Cameron

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Therefore it seems better to me – if it seems so to you – that we too should turn into the language that we can all understand certain books which are most necessary for all men to know.

Two Latin works of considerable length which were known to the Anglo-Saxons from fairly early times – the Herbarium of Pseudo-Apuleius and its associated works (the Herbarium complex or Herbarium, for short) and the Petrocellus – were eventually translated into Old English, the latter only in part and at a very late date.


The Herbarium complex contains several works: a group of works giving medicines derived from plants, followed by other, shorter, ones giving medicines derived from animals. The Old English translation of this complex must have met a real need; four copies survive, one of them (London, BL, Harley 6258B, of about 1200) having the herbs arranged in alphabetical order according to their Latin names. There is also evidence that the Latin version was known in England from the eighth century and probably earlier. The oldest surviving manuscript (BL, Harley 585, which also contains Lacnunga) was written about 1000, so that the text may be as much as a century later than Bald's Leechbook, but, as the language shows the characteristics of West Saxon, the translation may belong to the same school which produced the Leechbook.