Old Italian Recipes of Medical Ointments in Psalter Manuscript Rahlfs 1759

Margherita Matera
November 8, 2022

The Greek manuscript Perugia, Biblioteca comunale Augusta, L 31 (Ra 1759) is a Greek Psalter containing Psalms (1-151) and Odes (1-9). The manuscript, dated between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is written in a minuscule that recalls the so-called Hodegon style. It probably belonged to the humanist Francesco Maturanzio (1443-1518) from Perugia.[i] 

This Greek Psalter preserves in its two final paper flyleaves some fragments from an (apparently) unpublished medical recipe book (or Pharmacopeia), written in Volgare (i.e., Old Italian) in a documentary script probably dated to the 14th/15th centuries.

The fragments had already been reported in the Inventario by Giuseppe Mazzantini (1895) who describes them as medical prescriptions in Old Italian presenting the transcription of the first line of f. II'v: Unguento confortativo et tractabile[ii] (Ointment that gives relief and is malleable).[iii] Likewise, these leaves were also described by Mioni in his Catalogo (1965). [iv]


Pharmacopoeias/Medical recipe books

During the Renaissance, numerous medical recipe books, handbooks of antidotes and Pharmacopoeias were created in Europe.[v] These were collections of ingredients and compounds, accompanied by instructions on producing medicines/remedies to be employed daily and which had to treat various conditions. These texts represent a real treasure because they testify about the pharmacological knowledge of an era whose bases (mainly botanical and chemical) should be sought in previous traditions and authors (such as Dioscorides, Galen, Avicenna etc.). 

In Renaissance Italy, the most famous collection of medical treatments was the Nuovo Ricettario fiorentino [vi] of 1498 (reprinted several times until 1789). This recipe book was drawn up by the Collegio medico di Firenze by the Consoli dell’Arte dei medici e degli speziali and represents the first Pharmacopoeia for public use. [vii]

This manual offered precise practical indications of all drugs and, serving as a pharmaceutical codex, it was useful to doctors and pharmacists, as well as to private citizens who, following the instructions, did not risk poisoning with wrong remedies. [viii]

In the Ricettario, the ingredients and compounds were first described individually and then listed for each medicament, along with the dosages,[ix] the preparation methods, and the necessary tools (mortars, jars, etc.). 

Regarding the Perugia fragments, they consist of a list of ointments (dry or wet) that serve to treat especially wounds and sores. This list presents the substances necessary to realize each lotion and the exact dosages; on f. I'r, lin. 11, a mortar (mortario) [x] is mentioned as a tool for the medicament’s preparation. If on the one hand, the list of the ingredients for the ointment’s composition is very detailed; on the other hand, the instructions about their preparation are few; the two leaves are a sort of vademecum of ingredients and dosages. Compared to the Ricettario, described above, the practical indications are in fact very meagre. 

Since the text of Perugia fragments is unpublished, the Ricettario helps us thanks to its detailed lists and explanations. For this reason, we will refer to it to illustrate the single ingredients, and compounds, present in our leaves (see the table below). 


Perugia Fragments

The two flyleaves of the Perugia manuscript contain 22 lines of text, written in one column, without any trace of a watermark. They are in a poor state of conservation, torn and ruined in several places, and not easy to decipher. Unfortunately, we know nothing about their origin and how these leaves became part of the Greek Psalter.

Due to their poor state of preservation, I offer below the transcription only of what is legible on f. Ir.[xi]


F. I'r

    Unguento [..]i colloro che no(n) hodeno∙ R(ecipe)∙ Elleboro bi-

    ancho Castoro Costo an(a)[xii] ∙3∙1∙ Ruta Nitro Pepe longo 

    an(a) ∙3∙1∙ qua(r)te ∙ij∙ Euforbio ∙3∙1∙ [. . .](r)[. .] suchio di 

   radice damangiare suchio di por(r)i o[lio nard]ino O

5  lio di camomilla∙ Olio damandule amare∙ olio da[ne]

   to∙ olio dimortella, an(a) u(n)c ∙1∙ Chuoacasi i(n)sieme

   che si chosnumino li suchi.

   Unguento esecchatiuo ine co(r)pi sechi ebuono in

   nelle piaghe co(r)rossiue∙ Recipe∙ Litargiro Corcotar [xiii] Oli

10 [ . .]a arsa,[xiv] Cerusa poluerizza(n)so (sic) octima mente emi-

    schiasi in nel mortario co(n) olio∙ ro∙[xv] et aceto∙

    Unguento da rimuovere leduresse che sono i(n)torno a

    lle ferite ealle piaghe eoctimo mollitiuo∙ Recipe∙

    Diaquilon sensa g(r)ume disoluasi al fuocho epoi ui

15 mec[te]  [a]su(n)gie di riccio [xvi] edanat(r)a e[mer]olle de vitello

   [e]grassa di gallina et di altera con diaquilon∙

   Unguento dalle ferite cassale facte di sopra allo

    diaflama∙ Recipe∙ mele e fallo bollire cu(n) vino biancho

     emessida cu(n) farina dorzo poi uimecte [treme]ntina

20 [u]ncie due et∙ e∙mundifi[catiu]o

    U[nguen]to dig[esti]u[o][xvii] b[. . .]no∙ Recipe∙ [tuor]rla di [ ][xviii] uova

    [. .]o  Trementina ∙u(n)c∙[. .] mischiase [                        ]



F. I'r

   Ointment [for] those who do not hear. Take the White Hellebore

   Beaver oil, Costus in equal amounts 3,1, Rue, Natron, Long pepper

   in equal amounts 3.1 (…), Euphorbium 3.1 (…), Juice of

   the edible root, Leeks’ Juice, Nard Oil,

5  Chamomile Oil, Bitter Almonds Oil, Dill Oil,

    Myrtle Oil, in equal amounts of one Ounce, to cook together 

    until the juices are consumed. 

    Cicatrizant ointment in dry forms and good 

    for sores that damage tissues. Take the Lead monoxide, Iron oxide, Oil

10 (…) burnt, pulverizing excellently White Lead and 

    mixing (all) in the mortar with Rose Oil and vinegar. 

    Ointment to remove the indurations surrounding 

     wounds and sores and excellent emollient. Take the Diachylon[xix]

    without lumps melting on the fire, and then 

15 put suet of hedgehog and duck, and calf bone marrow, 

    and hen fat, and from other (animals) with Diachylon.

    Ointment for fatal wounds made above the

    diaphragm. Take the honey and boil it with white wine 

    and mix with barley flour, then put the turpentine

20 two Ounces, and it is purifying.

    Digestive Ointment (…). Take egg yolks 

    Turpentine, Ounce (…) to mix (…)

Table of ingredients and compounds present in f. I'r.

Name in Volgare 

Botanical/Scientific Name

Name in English 

Elleboro bianco

Veratrum album

White Hellebore



Beaver oil


Costus, Sassurea Lappa

Indian Costus 


Ruta graveolens





Pepe Longo 

Piper longum

Long pepper




Porri (succo di)

Allium porrum


Nardo (olio di)

Nardostachys jatamansi

Indian Spikenard

Camomilla (olio di)

Matricaria chamomilla

Chamomile Oil

Amandule amare (olio di)

Prunus amygdalus (amarus)

Bitter Almonds Oil

Aneto (olio di)

Anethum graveolens

Dill Oil

Mortella (olio di)

Myrtus communis

Myrtle Oil



Lead monoxide (PbO)

Corcotar (=Colcotar)


Iron oxide (FeO) or Red Ochre


(Also known as Biacca)

White Lead

Olio rosato


Rose Oil






Diachylon (also Diachylum or Diaculum)

Orzo (farina d’)

Hordeum vulgare



Resina terebinthina



Table of correspondences between the Perugia fragments and the Ricettario Fiorentino (ed. 1573).[xx]

Perugia, Biblioteca comunale Augusta, L 31 (Ra 1579), f. I'r

Ricettario Fiorentino (ed. 1573)

Elleboro bianco

p. 35


pp. 28-29 (the animal), pp. 242-43 (Beaver Oil)


p. 32


p. 41 (Hermel)


pp. 51-52

Pepe Longo 

p. 58 (on Pepper in general)

Nardo (olio di) 

p. 240

Olio di camomilla

pp. 237-38, 245


pp. 45-46, 80


cf. Della scaglia dei metalli, Della scoria dei metalli, pp. 63-64


cf. Del colorire, p. 97 (Biacca)

Olio rosato 

pp. 236-37, 245


pp. 269-70

Midolle di vitello 

cf. Delle midolle (on bone marrow), p. 60

Sugne di riccio e danatra, grassa di gallina

cf. De grassi, e sugne de gli animali (on animals fats and suet), pp. 41, 97


p. 58 (Ragia)


The ingredients used several times in the Ricettario to produce oils, ointments, and so on are absent in the table above. In the edition of 1573 of the Ricettario, the oils are treated on pp. 98-100, 120-21, 236-47, with the title Degli olii. On the other hand, the ointments are presented on pp. 121-22, 247-59, with the title Degli unguenti, impiastri et cerotti.



On f. Ir, remedies (Unguenti: Ointments) for five different pathologies are mentioned, namely: 


Ointment for those who do not hear (colloro che non hodeno): Since it is specified that the ointment was created to heal “those who do not hear”, the disorder to be treated concerns the ears it could therefore be otitis or tinnitus.  

In fact, in the Libro della cura delle malattie of 1863 (a modern Italian translation of the famous medical treatise of the Italian physician Aldonbrandin of Siena (died 1296/1299?), published by Giuseppe Manuzzi), a part is dedicated to deafness. Chapter two of this section, Del suono e sufulamento delle orecchie (about the noises and whistles of the ears), describes the preparation of an ointment “che vale a gravezza dell’udire, e a suono e a tutto sufulamento” (which serves to cure hearing problems, sounds and all kinds of whistles). The ingredients for this ointment are the same as our fragments.[xxi]


Cicatrizant ointment for sores that damage tissues (piaghe corrossiue): The adjective Corrosiuo (literally Corrosive) refers to a sore that seriously damages and compromises the tissues. It is possible that this ointment was used to treat fistulas or ulcerations of various kinds.[xxii]


Ointment to treat the indutartions surrounding wounds and sores, and emollient for the tissues (da rimuovere leduresse che sono i(n)torno alle ferite ealle piaghe eoctimo mollitiuo):

This ointment was used to treat the tumefactions or edemas (Durezza, cf. TLIO) around the wounds. 
More technically, a treatment for problematic scars (i.e., hypertrophic and keloid scars).



Ointment for fatal wounds made above the diaphragm (ferite cassale facte di sopra allo diaflama): This is a remedy to heal deep wounds, which could lead to death (Cassale, cf. TLIO), located above the diaphragm, and therefore on the chest (Diaflagma/Diaframma, cf. TLIO). 


Digestive Ointment (?). 

Line 21 of f. I'r is very damaged and difficult to read. The second word, of which we read dig[ ]u[], could be digestiuo, namely digestive. The function of this balm, however, is not entirely clear since the term could concern digestive problems (Digestiuo, cf. TLIO), but it could also be an ointment that was used to treat certain types of sores and wounds. The Latin verb Digero, from which the adjective derives, in its medical connotation, has the meaning of purging and dissolving the materiam morbidam (cf. TLL, c. 116, 2).

A digestive ointment used to treat certain types of wounds is also found in some medical treatises of the 15th c.[xxiv] The main ingredients of this ointment were often Egg yolk, Rose oil and Turpentine, which are also found in f. Ir. of the Perugia manuscript.[xxv]


The list of ointments continues on ff. I'v-II'v, of the Perugia Greek Psalter. On f. II'v, lin.1, for example, we read Unguento buono dalla postema etc., which means ointment for the treatment of abscesses and suppurations (Apostema/Apostemazione, cf. TLIO).


The Language

From what I have been able to read, the language is not always correct, and there are some misspellings made by the scribe, such as: Corcotar instead of Colcotar.

We report the presence of double consonants in Corrossivo instead of Corrosivo (cf. TLIO) and the transformation of the double zeta (-zz) into double es (-ss) in Duresse instead of Durezze (cf. TLIO).

Others are the cases in which the double consonants are made simple:

Cerusa instead of Cerussa; Esecchativo instead of Essiccativo; Suchio, Suchi instead of Succhio, Succhi.

Unfortunately, the state of conservation of our flyleaves does not allow us to read and decipher them in full. These fragments, of whose history we know nothing, are, however, interesting because they testify about the scientific knowledge of that time.

A more elaborated version of this article, with the transcription of both the leaves (I-II), will be published soon. 


Thanks to Prof. Dr. Guido Mensching (Professur für Romanische Sprachwissenschaft, Georg-August universität Göttingen) for his kind help in the revision of the text in Volgare and his suggestions.

Thanks to Sebastian Lauschus and Luca Refrigeri (Seminar für Romanische Philologie, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) for all the integrations to the transcription and helpful suggestions.


[i] Hoffmann, P. : “La collection de manuscrits grecs de Francesco Maturanzio, érudit pérugin (ca. 1443–1518)”, Mélanges de l'Ecole française de Rome. Moyen–Age, Temps modernes 95 (1983), 89–147. 

[ii] For the terms in Volgare, here and in the transcription, consult the online dictionary Tesoro della lingua Italiana delle Origini, hereinafter TLIO:

[iii]Mazzatinti, G.: Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia, vol. V, Forlì 1895, 195.

[iv] Mioni, E.: Catalogo di manoscritti greci esistenti nelle biblioteche italiane, vol. II, Rome 1965, 323.

[v] In this regard, see: Corradi, A: Le prime farmacopee italiane ed in particolare: Dei ricettari fiorentini. Memoria, Milano 1887 (Ars Medica Antiqua, 1).; Fittipaldi, O.: Il Nuovo Ricettario Fiorentino (1498). Testo e lingua, Università di Torino, relatore A. Vitale-Brovarone, a.a. 2004–2005; Lacanale, M.: “Le ricette per gli occhi nel ms.1408 della Biblioteca Statale di Lucca”, Carte Romanze 8/2 (2020), 287–309: 287–88. Another important examples of medical recipe books are the so called Herbarium Carrarense, British Library, Egerton 2020, dated to 1390, which contains an Italian translation of the medical treatise in Arabic by Serapion the Younger (Ibn Sarabi, probably in the 12th century), made by Jacopo Filippo (available online:; the Opera of Johannes Mesue (1492?), Incunabulum Accademia della Crusca, INC.7 ( ).

[vi] Hereinafter Ricettario

[vii]Corradi (1887), p. 3; Fittipaldi (2005), p. 3. 

[viii] “i medicamenti da tenersi nelle officine farmaceutiche e ordina le regole da seguirsi nel preparali, formando così una specie di Codice, che mentre tutela la salute pubblica serve da guida e ai medici e ai farmacisti”, Corradi (1887), p. 3

[ix] According to the time measurement system: Ounces, Pounds, etc.

[x] Mortaio, cf. TLIO.

[xi] We thank the Biblioteca comunale Augusta of Perugia for providing us with color images of these leaves. 

[xii] Adverb. This specific formula of the recipe books indicates that the substances must be used in equal amounts, cf. TLIO.

[xiii] Colcotar, cf. TLIO. “colcotar cioe uetriolo” (Metallic sulphate. Cf. TLIO, entry Vetriuolo), Meuse, Accademia della Crusca, INC.7, f. 93r, lin. 1 ( ).

[xiv] Assa = Assa fetida/Assafètida, cf. TLIO. 

[xv] Maybe ro. here is the abbreviation for Rosato. The Ricettario Fiorentino (see the table below) reports, among the Oils, also the recipe for the Olio Rosato, namely the Rose Oil. 

[xvi] The word riccio creates some difficulties since in Old Italian, as well as in Modern Italian, Riccio means: Chestnut husk, Hedgehog and Sea urchin. The hedgehog was likely meant here, the flesh of which seems to have healing properties. Cf. TLIO under the entry Riccio/Riccio terreno.


[xvii] Cf. below, Diseas.


[xviii]  In the manuscript, you can see a sign similar to -/-, which perhaps indicated a measurement unit (e.g., ½).


[xix] Drug based on olive oil, lead protoxide and water, cf. TLIO, entry Diaquilon. Cf. Meuse, Accademia della Crusca, INC.7, f. 96r ( ).


[xx] Here we refer to the edition of 1573 which is available online: 


[xxi]Libro della cura delle malattie: testo del buon secolo della lingua allegato nel vocabolario della Crusca, ora per la prima volta messo in luce dal cav. abate Giuseppe Manuzzi, Firenze 1863, pp. 14-16. 


[xxii] Cf. Meuse, Accademia della Crusca, INC.7, ff. 92v-93r ( 


[xxiii] See also Meuse, Accademia della Crusca, INC.7, f. 96r, lin. 13 “Impiastro diaquilon” ( ).


[xxiv]See for instance the Giovanni di Vico’s La pratica universale in cirugia (1585). La pratica universale in cirugia di M. Giovanni di Vico genovese. Di nuovo riformata, & dal latino ridotta a la sua vera lettura […], in Venetia, Appresso Domenico de Imberti, 1585, pp. 99, 104, 452


[xxv]About the Unguento digestivo cf. Spada, P.: La medicina degli eserciti in Italia (secoli XII-XVI), PhD Thesis, Università degli Studi di Firenze Scuola di Dottorato in Storia Dottorato di ricerca in Storia medievale, XXIII ciclo, 2010, pp. 155, 168, 170-71.