On December 7, 2018, History Ph.D. candidate Jeffrey Doolittle gave a paper entitled “‘Efficassimum est Alexandrinum’: Drugs and Efficacy in Early Medieval Latin Pharmacology” at the “Drugs in the Medieval World, ca. 1050-ca. 1400” conference held at the Strand Campus of King’s College London. This two-day conference, organized by Dionysios Stathakopoulos and Petros Bouras-Vallianatos, featured papers on the transcultural transmission of information about materia medica (medical ingredients) during the middle ages and brought together some of the best scholars working on medical texts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Tibetan sources.
Jeffrey’s paper analyzed the growing connections between drugs, geography and efficacy in a series of related recipe collections in Latin which were extracted from the medical portions of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. Focusing on a set of dental recipes and their subtle changes from manuscript to manuscript, Jeffrey noted that the ninth century marked a dramatic increase in the complexity and precision of new recipes added to older collections. These ninth-century recipe additions also showed a proliferation of the ingredients they required, along with a significant expansion of the medical applications of ingredients sourced from distant regions. These discoveries reflect a subtle rethinking of Pliny’s works along with the spread of new medical assumptions about particular substances and their places of provenance. The papers delivered at the conference are to be published in a forthcoming volume.