|Absinthe Books XII - Incunabula & Early Herbals
Although absinthe is briefly mentioned several times in the Bible (perhaps most notably in the Revelation of
St John, Chapter 8 Verse 11), the first detailed description of its use and therapeutic properties is in Pliny
the Elder's great compendium of the knowledge of the ancient world, "Historia Naturalis". The editio
princeps was printed by Johannes de Spira in Venice, in 1469.This copy was printed 12 years later in
1481, by Andreas Portilia, the second printer in Parma, and is closely modelled on the typography of the
great Venetian printer Nicolaus Jenson, who produced several editions in the 1470's.
Absinthe is mentioned several times peripherally in the text, but there is an in depth description in Book
XXVII, devoted to medicinal herbs. This was first cited by Edmond Couleru in his seminal 1908 "Au Pays
de l'Absinthe", but he incorrectly identified the passage as coming from Book XXXVII. Subsequent
authors tend to repeat Couleru's mistake.
"There are several kinds of absinthe: that called Santonic from a city of Gaul, the Pontic from Pontus,
where cattle grow fat on it and because of it are found without gall; there is none finer than this: the
Italian is far more bitter, while the pith of the Pontic is sweet. About its use all agree, for it is a plant very
easy to find and among the most useful; moreover it is honoured uniquely in the rites of the Roman people
in that at the Latin festival when four-horsed chariots race on the Capitol the victor drinks absinthe,
because, I believe, our ancestors thought that it was an honourable reward to be given health...."
|Click on the thumbnails below, to view enlarged images.
Rembert Dodoens' great herbal - the Stirpium Historiae - was printed by
Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, in 1583. It contains a comprehensive section
on absinthe with, for the time, unusually accurate botanical illustrations.
Click on the thumbnails to see larger images.
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