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Searching for Greek Medical Manuscripts: Report of the 2016 Campaign

The 2016 campaign focused on the so-called iatrosofia, that is manuscripts and texts with medical content traditionally considered to have been produced among the Greek populations during the Tourkokratia from the 16th to the 19th century.

In the current state of knowledge, this body of documentation has not been systematically investigated because iatrosofia are usually considered as lacking scientific value. Preparatory research made on printed catalogues of libraries worldwide and available literature allowed to locate ca. 750+ items from the late 16th to the 20th century. A total of 60% of these items is preserved in libraries in Greece. The 2016 campaign was devoted to iatrosofia in Greek libraries. Building on earlier exploratory campaigns (2012, 2013 and 2015), it aimed to:

Close up of a manuscript

  • confirm the presence of the manuscripts in the collections where they were supposed to be;
  • check their call number;
  • identify their most recent catalographic description;
  • describe the manuscripts afresh on the basis of a personal examination;
  • identify their texts.

Over the 7 months of field work (mi-April to mid-November) the campaign made it possible to check a total of 160 manuscripts in the following libraries (alphabetical order of city names and libraries; library names are followed, between parentheses, by the number of manuscripts analyzed in the library):

  • Athens: National Library of Greece (122 items); Library of the Parliament (6 items) 
  • Chortiatis, St Georges Church (1 item)
  • Ithomi, Voulkanou Monastery (1 item)
  • Milies, Public Library (3 items)
  • Samos Island, Library of the Mitropolis (6 items)
  • Chios Island, Korai Library (1 item)
  • Thessaloniki: Aristotle University, Central Library (11 items); Vlatadon Monastery (2 items)
  • Veria, Public Library (1 item)
  • Zagora, Public Library (6 items)

Collected field notes have been edited in the form of catalographic descriptions based on standard practice, and entered into a dedicated database allowing for retrieval of data by manuscripts and texts, and conversely by texts and manuscripts. Digital images of the manuscripts have been acquired from several libraries.

Alain reading a documentThe project to upload them on a dedicated Web site is currently under study. Preliminary contacts have been made with the library of the Simonopetras Monastery at Mount Athos to possibly study the relevant items of the library and, further on, in other Athonite libraries.

The 2016 campaign was generously funded by the Onassis Foundation. Plans are currently in the making for the 2017 campaign. It will focus on iatrosofia in Greek libraries in order to complete research, particularly by analyzing the relevant items in Athens libraries that have not been covered during the 2016 campaign and exploring other collections in the country.

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