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The Survival of Pliny in Padua. The Botanical Renaissance and the Transformation of Classical Scholarship

‘The Survival of Pliny in Padua. The Botanical Renaissance and the Transformation of Classical Scholarship’ in: Transformations of the Classics via Early Modern Commentaries, ed. by K.A.E. Enenkel. Intersections 29 (Leiden/Boston: Brill, forthcoming autumn 2013), pp. 327-62.

Author
Dr. S.T.M. (Susanna) de Beer
Date
01 October 2013

In the past few decades we have learned that despite the remarkable innovations in Renaissance medical botany, the role of ancient texts was by no means played out. On the contrary, they appear to have played a crucial role in the development of the new discipline and its methods. At the same time scholars with botanical expertise started to challenge, correct and supplement the ancient botanical texts with new knowledge. However, we still do not know exactly how this transformation of classical scholarship worked in practice, which roles disappeared and which remained. This article gives a first answer to these questions by tracing the changed attitudes to reading ancient botanical texts in a number of humanist commentaries on Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and Dioscorides’ De materia medica. It is argued that the role of ancient texts was transformed in such a way that it could still meet the requirements of the botanical discipline, its practitioners and its beneficiaries, by providing the organizational principle of botanical knowledge and lending authorization to medical botany as an autonomous discipline in general, and to the related scholarly competences and commercial benefits in particular.

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