De gvaiaci medicina et morbo gallico liber unus.
Mainz: Johann Schöffer, 1524.
Quarto: 18.5 x 13.7 cm.  p. Collation: A-L4. Sigs. c and d bound out of order. Leaf d4 mis-singed e3; h3 mis-signed g3.
FOURTH EDITION (1st ed. 1519).
Bound in 20th c. green morocco with gilt turn-ins. A fine copy, a.e.g., with a fine woodcut title border, woodcut initials, and occ. contemporary annotations. The title border incorporates Schöffer's coat of arms (see Johnson no. 62 and Pflugk-Harttung no. 52).
Ulrich von Hutten's famous work on the treatment of syphilis, one of the earliest and most important books on the topic. Hutten, who had himself suffered from syphilis since 1508 (and would die of the disease in 1519), describes in detail a therapy using an extract from Guaiacum wood, which is native to the West Indies. It became one of the earliest New World medicinal treatments to be used in Europe. In addition to describing the Guaiacum therapy, Hutten also discusses the transmission of the disease, its symptoms, and other therapies used to treat it, such as the use of mercury (a practice that continued until the early 20th century.) Hutten notes that the disease is spread sexually, with the result that very few children or elderly people become infected; celibate or monogamous people almost never contract the disease.
Hutten describes his own symptoms in gruesome detail, including the classic efflorescences on his face and body, and describes for the first time an apparently new syndrome (later identified syphilitic osteomyelitis) that affects the bones. This was confirmed when Hutten’s skeleton was exhumed in the 1968.
"In the years following Columbus’s return from the New World, European physicians identified a new “pox” and assigned it various names, including the Spanish pox, the French disease, and the literary “syphilis,” alluding to a popular poem by Girolamo Fracastoro. An old principle held that a disease’s place of origin must also harbor its cure. So it was that the woody part of the guaiacum plant was identified early in the sixteenth century as a source of medication and cure for those suffering from the “new” disease." (Dennis Landis, "Drugs from the Colonies")
Hutten “states that guaiacum was brought to Europe from Hispaniola where, he says, all the inhabitants of the island suffer from time to time with the Gallic sickness, and where they use against it no treatment other than guaiacum. He relates that a certain Spanish nobleman, when he was governor in the province and very ill of this disease was shown the remedy by the natives”. (Munger 199)
Guaiacum had been recommended to Hutten by his friend, the doctor Heinrich Stromer but it was the physician Paulus Ricius (d. 1541) who, in 1518 administered the medicine to Hutten. Ricius had obtained the bark on an earlier mission to Spain, where it had been imported from Hispaniola. At the conclusion of the treatise are two letters between Hutten and the Ricius.
Syphilis, called the Morbus Gallicus (‘French Disease’) or the grande verole (the great pox) swept across Europe in the late 15th c., was at the time believed to have originated in the New World (there had been a violent outbreak at the end of the 15th century during the siege of Naples by the mercenary troops of Charles VIII, who numbered among their ranks Spanish soldiers who had returned from the New World.)
“The origins and antiquity of syphilis have long been controversial, resulting in a debated and unresolved problem for the history of medicine. Traditionally, two main hypotheses are accepted: the “Columbian theory,” which asserts that the treponemal infection originated in the New World and was transmitted to Europe by the returning of Columbus from America, and the “pre-Columbian theory,” which claims that the disease was already present in the Old World and evolved into a more virulent form in the 15th century.
The book proved to be one of Hutten's most popular writings. It was translated into several languages and achieved numerous editions, of which this is the third. Hutten dedicated the work to his patron, the Mainz Elector and Archbishop Albert von Brandenburg. The closing note is by the proofreader Wolfgang Angst.
VD16, H-6349; USTC 701572; Benzing, Hutten 106; Roth, Schöffer Nr. 109; For the first ed., see Durling 2509, Wellcome 1.3364, Osler 4974.