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PORTA, Giovanni Battista della (1535–1615)

Phytognomonica. Octo libris contenta; in quibus nova, facillimaque affertur methodus, qua plantarum, animalium, metallorum; rerum denique omnium exprima extimae faciei inspectione quiuis abditas vires assequatur. Accedunt ad haec confirmanda infinita propemodum selectoria secreta, . . . Nunc primum ab innumeris mendis, quibus passim Neapolitana editio scatebat, vindicata; cum Rerum & Verborum Indice locupletissimo.
Francofurti, apud Ioannem Wechelum & Petrum Fischerum, 1591.

In his Phytognomonica, first published in Naples, 1588, here in its second edition published in Frankfurt for the North European market, Porta presents the Doctrine of Signatures – the idea that the external form of a plant indicates its medicinal properties. By its likeness to human members the plant indicates which diseases it will heal. Plants were divinely 'signed’ for the treatment of diseases of the organs of the human body that they resemble in shape, colour or general appearance. Plants with similar leaves possess like virtues, as do plants with similar odours. Plants of yellow colour are to be used for jaundice; peaches, lemons, and certain bulbous roots proclaim themselves as remedies for heart troubles because of their resemblance to a heart; plants of dark colour generate melancholy; milky plants are good for the milk; bony plants aid in the generation of beautiful offspring. Herbs growing in the clefts of rocks are suited to break the stone in human bodies; a walnut can cure head ailments as is made evident by its resemblance to the human brain; digitated herbs are good for the fingers; scaly things such as pine cones, thistles, and the overlapping skin on lily bulbs cure scaly conditions of the skin. Porta’s book, which offered a simplified method of selecting appropriate remedies quickly, gained popular acceptance and was also meant to serve the apothecary. The book was popular and re-published several times up to the middle of the seventeenth century. Porta founded the first scientific society, the Academia secretorum, a forerunner to both the Academia dei Lincei (of which Porta was Vice-President and Galilei the most illustrious member) and the Royal Society. The members met in Porta’s house in Naples to discuss and study the secrets of nature. The Society soon roused the suspicions of the Inquisition. After 1592 Porta’s works were prohibited by the Inquisition, a ban lifted in 1598.

Collation: Pp (16), 552. Title printed in red and black with printer’s device. Woodcut portrait of the author on verso of title-leaf, and 32 woodcuts in the text.

Binding: Contemporary limp vellum with three (of four) leather ties.

Provenance: "Biblioth. Grussov. 1731" written in ink on title and two round library stamps (19th cent.).

References: DSB, XI, 95-98; Thorndike, VI, 422-3; Anderson, Herbals, Chapter 25; Ferguson, II, 216; Mortimer, Italian, II, 319 (1588 edition); Hunt, I, 158 (1588 edition); Hagelin, Materia Medica, 116-117; See GM 150. Waller 7568 (1588 edition).

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