Medical treatise ‘Notandum opera mirabilia que fecit altissimus’


Oxford, Bodleian Library, Arch. G e.5

Remarks by the Editor

Description by Ruth Mullett and Nigel F. Palmer (August 2017). 

This description refers to Fragm. I, Arch. G e.5.

For Fragm. II, see F-mltm.

Summary: One bifolium dating to the 13th century (2nd half), in an English cursive book-hand, consisting of the outer leaves of the first quire of an otherwise unattested treatise on ‘physic’ (theoretical medicine) that draws on 12th-century theology and medical theory, including the Practica chirurgica of Roger Frugard. It was originally positioned, in the codex discissus, at the head of a set of medical treatises, mostly taken from the Ars medicina. It is preserved alongside a leaf from an Office lectionary of French origin (Fragm. II, datable c. 1300), and together with fourteen sewing guards which are cuttings from leaves of a 13th-century English school or university manuscript.

General Information

Date of Origin Second half of the 13th century
Script, Hands

Cursiva, not easily legible. The medical treatise is copied in an English cursive book hand (Anglicana), datable to the second half of the thirteenth century, more likely earlier in this period than later (ex inf. R. Thomson). Distinctive features are the very tall double-lobed a, looped d, g with the lower bow expanded and drawn out to the right below the baseline, v-shaped r with a long tail, both round (6-shaped) and straight in initial position, but always straight s in medial and final position, tironian ‘et’ crossed; paraphs, punctus, and punctus elevatus. Frequent abbreviations, indicative of a school or university context. No rubrication. The script of the table of contents (Fragm. I/1 recto) is also an Anglicana, but with ‘box-a’ rising above the line, the simple form of looped d, non-bifurcated looped ascenders on b, h, and l, g with a smaller lower lobe, v-shaped r descending below the baseline, and 6-shaped s in initial position; punctus elevatus.

Original Condition

Number of Columns 2
Number of Lines 44
Ruling None.

Current Condition

More about the Current Condition

Pastedown to upper board and front flyleaf, inserted upside down at the front of the volume, with the result that the original order of the two leaves is reversed, and recto and verso of the endleaves of the host volume correspond to verso and recto of the codex discissus. Folded at the centrefold of the bifolium so that the fold (c.10‒13 mm) could serve as a hook to be placed round the first quire of the incunable Sammelband (visible at fol. 8v/9r ), thus making it possible to sew the endleaves in with the bookblock.

Stained and darkened in places.


  • Content Item
    • Text Language Latin
    • Title Medical treatise ‘Notandum opera mirabilia que fecit altissimus’ (materia medica).
    • Content Description

      Fragm. I, which forms the endleaves at the front of the host volume, inserted with the text upside down, was originally a bifolium and probably the outer leaves of a quire. The two leaves are here designated Fragm. I/1 recto and verso (now the verso and recto of the front flyleaf) and Fragm. I/2 (now the pastedown of the host volume, the reverse of which is pasted to the inner face of the upper board). Our description follows the original ordering of the leaves in the codex discissus from which they derive. References to the incunable Sammelband follow the modern pencil foliation, not the signatures employed by the printers.  

      Fragm. I/1 recto Table of contents to a medical manuscript.

      A list of 15 medical treatises, apparently those contained in the codex discissus from which Fragm. I derives.

      ‘Primo progressus nature a corporacione infantis vsque ad ortum quartum [..]asum [?] mensium et effectum [...]larum

      <2mo./> sententie super alforismos de vrinis

      <3mo./> pars expositionis afforismorum ypocratis

      <4mo./> notule super librum vrinarum  

      5mo./ notule super librum dietarum vniuersalium

      6mo./ sentencie super librum pronosticorum ypocratis  

      7mo./ notule super Johannicium

      8mo./ notule super librum philareti de pulsibus  

      9mo./ tractatus aueroys de substancia orbis

      10mo./ anothomia

      11mo./ questiones magistri petri hyspani./ super regimine acutorum

      12mo./ sentencie et questiones super regimine acutorum ypocratis

      13mo./ notule super librum de pulsibus

      14mo./ sentencie super libros

      15mo./ questiones de theoria medicine et practica’.

      These texts are mostly commentaries on the collection of some 6 medical treatises, known as the Ars medicine, that formed a basis for the study of Galenic and Hippocratic medicine in the medical curriculum of the European schools and universities from the twelfth century onwards; cf. Getz, ‘Faculty of Medicine’ (1992), pp. 374‒75. Also included, as two later additions to the group, are the Hippocratic De regimine acutorum (nos. 11‒12) and the Anatomia (no. 10) generally attributed to Galen or Richardus Anglicus. The ‘Notule super librum dietarum vniuersalium’ (no. 5) was most likely a commentary on the work of that name by Isaac Judaeus. The ‘Questiones de theoria medicine et practica’ (no. 15) may have been a commentary on the first part of the Isagoge ad Tegni Galeni of Johannitius (see also no. 7). For all these works, see O’Boyle, Ars Medicine (1998), pp. i‒xvi. The De substantia orbis of Averroes (no. 9) is a less common addition to the group. For Petrus Hispanus (no. 11), who commented on several texts of the Ars medicine, see Glick et al. (eds), Medieval Science (2015), pp. 389‒92 (J.F. Meirinhos). The first item in the list, which is described as treating the development of the unborn child, is not identifiable.

      Fragm. I/1 verso and 1/2 recto Medical treatise ‘Notandum opera mirabilia que fecit altissimus’ [[incipit: ‘Notandum opera mirabilia que fecit altissimus’]]

      ‘(Fragm. I/1 verso, col. a) N[otandum] [?] opera mirabilia que fecit. altissimus in exordio totius creatur[e] dignitas. humane scire ipsam diuinam potentiam. sapientiam et bonitatem laudandi et glorificandi ... (col. b) fluida et resolubilia nec non et alterabilia prius quelibet in hiis modis excedentibus et sibi[’.

      ‘(Fragm. I/2, col. a) ][..] sciencia et quicquid est in anima et corporale ut omne actus [...] cor[.]bus existit agregantur in ipso ... (col. b) in opere solercia in causarum disc\v/ssione [corrected from: discissione] et omnib[’.

      Although the reverse of Fragm. I/2 cannot be inspected, it is evident that the text continues on this page.

      The medical treatise ‘Notandum opera mirabilia que fecit altissimus’, which as far as we know is not otherwise attested, draws on the theological traditions and ‘physic’ (theoretical medicine) of the 12th century in order to describe how God (always designated ‘altissimus’) created man such that he could perceive the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Trinity, combining celestial and earthly nature. As the microcosm, man is made in the image of the ‘maior mundus’, and his body is constituted from the four humours, held in balance through their qualities and quantities, an imbalance of which leads to ill temper and wickedness. ‘Altissimus’ is praised for the perfection of his creation, endowing man with the free will that led to the disaster of the Fall and was thus the cause of ill health, weariness, poverty, and a host of sins and vices. On the second leaf of the bifolium these themes are continued, praising God for bestowing man with self-knowledge and extolling the nobility of the healthy body, for it was through loss of this health at the time of the Fall that man lost his wisdom: virtue is dependent on the health of the body. The account of the benefits of good health leads on to praise of medicine, the most excellent and noble of the arts. In the final section, the qualities of a good physician are listed. A section near the beginning, heralded by the introduction to a new paragraph at Fragm. I/1 recto, column a, line 11, ‘et quoniam post mundi fabricam et ipsius decorem’, and extending over lines 9‒21 of column b, corresponds exactly in its wording to a passage in the preface (inc.: ‘Post mundi fabricam eiusque decorem’) to a widely circulated handbook on surgery, the Practica chirurgiae of the late 12th-century North Italian physician Roger Frugard (also known as Roger of Parma), composed probably c.1180 under the direction of Guido d’Arezzo the Younger; Thorndike and Kibre, Incipits (1963), no. 1064. See the editions by Sudhoff, Beiträge, vol. 2 (1918), pp. 156‒236, here p. 156, and Goehl, Guido d’Arezzo (1984), vol. 1, pp. 145‒47. For the Practica chirurgiae and its complex transmission, see Pazzini, Ruggero di Giovanni Frugardo (1966); Keil, ‘Roger Frugardi’ (1992); Hunt, Anglo-Norman Medicine (1994), pp. 5‒8. Whereas the Practica chirurgiae was translated early on into Anglo-Norman, and also into Middle English, we know of no evidence that it was consulted in an Oxford university context until John Gaddesden in the early 14th century. For the texts used for the study of ‘physic’ at Oxford, see Getz, ‘Faculty of Medicine’ (1992), especially pp. 374‒75, 390‒91, 403.

    • Glosses and Additions Fragm. I/1 verso has notes in the lower margin extending over 7 lines, in a contemporary hand, with information relating to the seasons of the year and times of the day. Fragm. I/1 recto / verso and I/2 all contain inscriptions relating to the ownership of the host volume (see below under Provenance). An inscription on the hook between fols 8 and 9 of the incunable Sammelband, originally the inner margin of Fragm. 1/2 verso, is contemporary with the text hand and reads ‘ii.4.5 [?]’.
    • Remarks

      Layout: The presentation of the text in a 2-column, small-format manuscript with narrow margins, with no rubrication, and without an initial of any kind at the beginning of the text (Fragm. I/1 verso), contrasts with the usual ‘folio’ format hosting the main text and a marginal commentary or glosses, such as is favoured in the manuscripts of the Ars medicine listed by O’Boyle, Ars medicine (1998). This may have been a manuscript originally intended for personal use by an individual scholar or physician. 

  • Content Item



(Host volume)

1. John Grene OFM (fl.1483‒1521); ‘1483 Frater Johannes Grene emit hunc librum Oxon' elemosinis amicorum suorum’ (written in red on the front flyleaf), a distinctively Franciscan formulation. The colophon inscribed in red on the last page of item 1 is in the same hand. The friar John Grene, who was evidently the first person to have use of the bound volume containing all three items, is plausibly identifiable as the Franciscan John Grene of Bedford who at a much later date, in 1521 (when he was a doctor of theology), donated Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 176 to his home community. Compare the similar ownership mark of John Grene, dated 1489, possibly in the same hand, and giving him the title ‘M(agister)’, in a printed copy of Boethius, De consolatione Philosophiae in Cambridge, Emmanuel College, MSS. 4.1.14 (listed in MLGB3). For a further book belonging to John Grene, see Binding. See also Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, p. 2871. For the book provision and libraries of the Franciscan convents in Bedford and Oxford, with which Grene may be presumed to have been associated, see Ker, MLGB (1964), pp. 8 and 141‒42; Ker, MLGB Supplement (1987), pp. 3 and 52; Humphreys, The Friars’ Libraries (1990), pp. 224‒29 (Oxford); Parkes, ‘The provision of books’ (1992); MLGB3 (see below), under ‘Bedford Franciscans’.

2. Henry Strachyn of Bedford (?) (15th/16th century); ‘Henricus Strachyn scripsit suum librum bedfordie’, the reading of the name uncertain (inscription on the front flyleaf recto). See Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, p. 2921, where the name is given as ‘Strach[]’.

3. John Uncle (early 16th century). See Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, p. 2927.

4. Robert Hontor (16th century); inscription on item 1, fol. 1v. See Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, p. 2878.

5. Thomas Goldsmith and Henry Stave (16th century); ‘His Freind and Thomas G[ou]ldsmith having [s][?] unto you and [...] house per C [...] per me Henry Stave' (inscription on item 1, fol. 1r). See Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, pp. 2870 and 2920.

6. Thomas Thomson (1768‒1852), at whose sale the volume was acquired for the Bodleian in 1866. See Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. VI, p. 2924. For further details of these owners, see Bod-Inc. (2005), vol. I, pp. 58‒59 (Bod-Inc. A-021 (3)). The early provenance history points to Oxford University in the period around, or shortly after, 1480 and to the specific interests of a friar whose home community was Bedford, but who went on to become an Oxford doctor. This is also the most likely context for the dismemberment of 13th-century manuscripts for use in a binding.

Host Volume

Title Latin school texts.
Date of Origin/Publication Printed c.1476/1477‒83, bound c.1483.
Place of Origin/Publication Printed in Oxford and Louvain, bound in England (most likely Oxford or Bedford).
Shelfmark Arch G e.5

Information on host volume from the description in Bod-Inc. vol. 1, pp. 58-59 (A-021) with additions.

Contents: Three incunable editions in chancery quarto, the first an elementary school text, the second a humanistically orientated educational treatise, the third a standard textbook on physics.

1. Publius Terentius Afer, Vulgaria. [English and Latin]. Oxford: Theodericus Rood, [not after 1483]. 32 fols. (Bod-Inc. T‑053 (3); ISTC: it00110900; GW M45617). The author of this elementary collection of phrases excerpted from the plays of Terence was John Anwykyll, from about 1481 headmaster of the grammar school attached to Magdalen College, Oxford (see Cobban, ‘Colleges and halls’ (1992), pp. 613‒14; Orme, ‘John Anwykyl’ (2004)).The date of printing ‘not after 1483’, as also for Rood’s edition of the Compendium totius gramatice, which is attributed to Anwykyll and has continuous quire signatures to the Terence, is based on John Grene’s ownership inscription in this copy (see below).

2. Petrus Paulus Vergerius, De ingenuis moribus ac liberalibus studiis. [Louvain]: Johannes de Westfalia, [between 8 Apr. 1476 and Nov. 1477]. 44 fols. (Bod-Inc. V‑065; ISTC iv00131000; GW M49630).

3. Adelardus Bathoniensis, Quaestiones naturales. [Louvain]: Johannes de Westfalia, [between 8 Apr. 1476 and Nov. 1477]. 42 fols. Wanting e11 and e12. (Bod-Inc. A-021 (3); ISTC ia00049000; GW 218).

The two imported editions, items 2 and 3, are illuminated with red initials and distinctive pen-flourishing, by a single hand. Item 2 contains marginal notes by two hands, not identical with that of John Grene’s colophon to item 1 (illustrated as figure 12.1 in Wakelin, ‘Humanism and Printing’ (2014), p. 232). Some of these notes mention schoolboys (‘juvenes’, fols 47r and 50r), suggesting that the glosses were either the work of, or intended for the use of a schoolmaster.

Binding: Contemporary English binding (c.1483), most likely Oxford or Bedford (see under Provenance); ruled calf over wooden boards (fillets on upper and lower board). It is suggested in MLGB3 (for which see below) that the binding may be from the same workshop as that of a copy of Albertus de Eyb, Margarita poetica (Paris: An Soufflet Vert, 1477), originally purchased by John Grene in Oxford, later at St Albans School, and now privately owned by Mr N. J. Barker of London.


  • Cambridge, Emmanuel College, MSS 4.1.14.

  • London, private ownership of N. J. Barker: Albertus de Eyb, Margarita poetica (1477).

  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 176.

  • Alan Coates and Kristian Jensen, ‘The Bodleian Library’s acquisition of incunabula with English and Scottish medieval monastic provenances’, in: Books and Collectors 12001700: Essays presented to Andrew Watson, ed. James P. Carley and Colin G. C. Tite (London, 1997), pp. 237‒59 (p. 257).

  • Bod-Inc. Alan Coates et al., A Catalogue of Books printed in the Fifteenth Century now in the Bodleian Library, 6 vols (Oxford, 2005), vol. I, p. 58 (A-021 (3)). 

  • Breviarium Romanum, Ex decreto Sacrosancti Concilij Tridentini restitutum (Antwerp, 1580).

  • Alan B. Cobban, ‘Colleges and halls 1380‒1500’, in: The History of the University of Oxford, vol. II: Late Medieval Oxford, ed. J. I. Catto and Ralph Evans (Oxford, 1992), pp. 581‒633.

  • Duke Humfrey’s Library & the Divinity School 14881988: An Exhibition at the Bodleian Library June-August 1988 (Oxford, 1988), no. 120.

  • Fay M. Getz, ‘The Faculty of Medicine before 1500’, in: The History of the University of Oxford, vol. II: Late Medieval Oxford, ed. J. I. Catto and Ralph Evans (Oxford, 1992), pp. 373‒405.

  • Thomas F. Glick, Steven Livesey, and Faith Wallis (eds), Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine. An Encyclopaedia, (New York/London, 2015).

  • Konrad Goehl, Guido d’Arezzo der Jüngere und sein ‘Liber mitis’, 2 vols, Würzburger medizinhistorische Forschungen 32 (Pattensen/Han., 1984).

  • Andrew Hughes, Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office: A Guide to their Organisation and Terminology (Toronto [etc.], 1982).

  • K. W. Humphreys, The Friars’ Libraries (London, 1990).

  • Tony Hunt, Anglo-Norman Medicine. I. Roger Frugard’s Chirurgia and the Practica brevis of Platearius (Cambridge, 1994).

  • Kristian Jensen, ‘Text-books in the universities: The evidence from the books’, in: The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, ed. Lotte Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 354‒79 (pp. 374‒75).

  • Gundolf Keil, ‘Roger Frugardi’, in: Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon, ed. Kurt Ruh et al., vol. 8 (Berlin/New York, 1992), cols 140‒53.

  • N. R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain [MLGB], 2nd edn, (London, 1964).

  • N. R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain [MLGB], a List of Surviving Books. Supplement to the Second Edition, edited by Andrew G. Watson (London, 1987).

  • William Dunn Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library Oxford with a Notice of the Earlier Library of the University, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1890, repr. 1984), p. 159.

  • MLGB3: Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (online database) <> last consulted 16 July 2016.
  • Cornelius O’Boyle, Thirteenth- and fourteenth-century copies of the Ars Medicine: A Checklist and Contents Description of the Manuscripts (Cambridge, 1998).

  • Nicholas Orme, ‘John Anwykyll’, in: The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Years to the Year 2000, ed. H. C. G. Matthew et al., vol. 2 (Oxford, 2004), p. 294.

  • M. B. Parkes, ‘The provision of books’, in: The History of the University of Oxford, vol. II: Late Medieval Oxford, ed. J. I. Catto and Ralph Evans (Oxford, 1992), pp. 407‒83.

  • Adalberto Pazzini, Ruggero di Giovanni Frugardo, maestro di chirurgia a Parma, e l’opera sua, Pagina di Storia della Medicina 13 (Rome, 1966).

  • Karl Sudhoff, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Chirurgie im Mittelalter: Graphische und textliche Untersuchungen in mittelalterlichen Handschriften, vols 1‒2, Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin 10, 11/12 (Leipzig, 1914‒18).

  • Lynn Thorndike and Pearl Kibre, A Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval Scientific Writings in Latin (Cambridge, Mass., 1963).

  • Daniel Wakelin, ‘Humanism and Printing’, in: A Companion to the Early Printed Book in Britain 14761558, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Susan Powell (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 227‒64 (pp. 231‒33).