The principal works written by Dioscorides in the second half of the first century are the five books, of his De materia medica, also his Alexipharmaca et theriaca (Remedies against plant and animal poisons) which were edited as books 6 and 7. These and other more apocryphal writings have been republished frequently and in many languages. Among the oldest editions are the Arabic manuscript in the library at Leyden, which possibly was written about the year 940; a very rare Greek edition printed apud Aldum Manutium, Veneti 1499; also a Latin edition by J. Allemannum de Medemblich, printed in Colle 1503. Of the better translations and commentaries the following may be mentioned:
Pedanii Dioscoridis Anazarbensis De materia medica libri quinque. Jano Coronario medico physico interprete. Basiliae 1529.
Valerii Cordi Simesusii Annotationes in Pedanii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De materia medica libros quinque, longe alias quam antea sunt haec sunt emulgatae. Ejusdem historia stirpium libri quatuor, et de artificiosis extrac-tionibus liber etc. Translatio Ruellii. Francofurti ad Moenum 1549. Editio Gessnerii 1561.
Pedanii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De medicinale materia medica libri sex, Joanno Ruellio Suessionensi interprete. Accesserunt priori editioni Valerii Cordi Simesusii Annotationes doctissimi in Dioscoridis de medica materia libros Euricii Cordi judicium de herbis et simplicibus medicinal; ac eorum quae apud medicos controverruntur explicatio. Francofurti 1543.
Petri Andreae Matthioli Opera quae extant omnia. Commentarii in sex libros Pedacei Dioscoridis de materia medica. Veneti 1554.
Dioscoridis Anazarbei Opera quae extant omnia. Ex nova interpretatione. Jani-Antonii Saraceni, Lugduni Medici, Francofurti 1578 and 1598.
A Latin translation of the libri de materia medica of Dioscorides had made its appearance as early as 1478 and a Greek edition appeared at about the same time in Cologne.
Although the Romans were good observers of natural objects and phenomena, and equally good compilers of the knowledge of their own period and of previous periods, they did not, in general, penetrate into the secrets of nature. Neither did they add much to the stock of knowledge handed down to them. The natural sciences and medicine were, therefore, but little advanced by them.
With the decay of Greek and Roman culture and the long night in the history of civilization that followed, many of the earlier achievements in the arts and crafts were lost. At the close of that period which we now designate as antiquity, birth was given to a new civilization. Strange as it may seem the Mohammedans were the forerunners of this new period although they are reported to have destroyed the transmitted treasures of art and literature in the belief that the Koran contained all human wisdom. The Arabians themselves, however, contributed but little to this Mohammedan period of civilization. This had its roots in the Alexandrian school, the spirit of which was imparted to the later conglomerate of Mohammedan peoples through the Syrians and Persians and their languages, also through the Greeks of Asia Minor. This Mohammedan empire, as it were, included practically all of the peoples subjugated during the eighth and ninth centuries. Westward it extended as far as the gates of Hercules, or Strait of Gibraltar; to the East as far as the sea of darkness, as the Arabs called the Indian Ocean. They succeeded in converting the subjugated peoples to the Mohammedan religion. In as much as the Koran was not only the spiritual but also the legal codex, Arabic language and script passed from country to country. Hence it became the language, not only of the faithful, but of the intellectual world, occupying the position held later by the Latin language during the Christian middle age.
A more recent edition of the Materia medica of Dioscorides, which was used in connection with this book, is the one edited by Professor Curtius Sprengel. It appeared in Leipzig in 1829 as a part of the Kuehn Collection, namely the Medicorum graecorum Opera quae extant, of which it constitutes volume 25. Of the two parts the first contains the De Materia medica libri quinque, the second part Liber de venenis eorumque precautione et medicamentione (pp. 1-338) and Commentarius in Dioscoridem (pp. 340-675).
2) Plinii Secundi Naturalis Historiae libri XXXVII. Recognovit atque indicibus instruxit Ludovicus Janus. Lipsias 1859.
Most of the references to Pliny made in this book refer to the two-volume-edition of Littre, Paris 1877.
3) Claudii Galeni Opera omnia. Editio Kuehn, in twenty volumes. Lipsiae 1821 - 1833. Worthy of special mention among these are the De simplicium medicamentorum temperaturis et facultatibus libri XI.
Permeated by the conceptions of the Alexandrian school, the Arabs revived the study of the natural sciences in the ninth century. Mathematics, astronomy and medicine were rapidly developed. With their tendency to faith in the miraculous, alchemy and magic developed with the natural sciences and played an important role in the theory of transmutation of the metals and in medicine. The philosopher's stone and a universal medicine, the faith in which permeated human society for centuries, were to banish all misery and disease from this world.
Above all it was Geber1) (Djabir), one of the most influential and prominent scholars of his time, who developed this theory and established a firm faith in it which lasted for centuries. During the period when Bagdad, Bassora and Damascus were the principal centres of commerce, no people was more skilled and more productive than the Arabians in the arts and trades and also in natural science. Their commercial relations extended to almost all known countries, and the use and knowledge of Eastern spices and aromatics was greatly fostered by them, as was also the practice of medicine.