Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World

MS. Arab. d. 138 (Bodleian Library, Oxford University)

Oriental Manuscripts


Summary of Contents: An illustrated copy of Iṣṭafan ibn Bāsil's Arabic translation of Books III-V of Dioscorides' Materia Medica.
Incipit: بسم الله … المقاله الثالثه لديسقوريدس اما في المقالتين اللتين قبل هذا المقاله ايها الحبيب اريوس فانا اخبرنا ((احرنا)) عن الافاويه والادهان الطيبه التى ليست بطيبه …
Explicit: وقد رايت ايها الحبيب اريوس هذا المقدآر من الطول لكتابنا هذا وجمعت فيه من مادة العلاج مقدار كافي
Colophon: تمت مقالات ديسقوريدس الحكيم الذى كان من اهل عين زربه في هيولى علاج الطب وهو اخر الكتاب وكتب العبد المحتاج الى رحمه الله تعالى الحسن بن احمد بن محمد النشوى في خامس وعشرين ذى الحجه في المدرسه النطاميه رحم الله بانيها وابد مبانيها الى يوم الدين في سنه سبع وثلثين وستمايه وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد النبى وعلى آله الطيبين الطاهرين وسلم

Dioscorides’ Greek treatise on materia medica (Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς), composed of five books, was translated several times into Arabic. The version most widely circulated was that by Iṣṭafān ibn Bāsil and slightly revised by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (d. 260/873 or 264/877). In the fourth/tenth century an interpretation of the Greek terms left unexplained in the Iṣṭafān/Ḥunayn version was undertaken in Spain, while in Iran (or possibly Samarqand), the Iṣṭafān translation was revised by al-Ḥusayn ibn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Ḥasan al-Khurshīd al-Ṭabarī al-Nātilī about 374/985. In the sixth/twelfth century, another translation was prepared by Mihrān ibn Manṣūr ibn Mihrān (fl. c. 545/1150) working in Diyārbakr from a Syriac version made in the third/ninth century by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq.

Contains a depiction of Dioscorides and 289 illustrations of medicinal plants.

Language(s): Arabic


NCAM-1, entry 14, pp. 44-71.
GAL S I 370 8a.
GAS iii, 59.
BQR V, 52,53 (where date 1239).
Şeşen et al., Medical Manuscripts, 235−6.
Ullmann, Medizin, 259 n. 1.
Manfred Ullmann, Untersuchungen zur arabischen Überlieferung der Materia medica des Dioskurides (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009)
An older, anonymous, translation is partially preserved in Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Ayasofya MS 3704.
A copy in the New York Public Library preserves the Arabic translation by Mihrān ibn Manṣūr ibn Mihrān made from the Syriac version of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, copied and illustrated in 1307/1889−90 by Mīrzā Bāqir for Nāṣir al-Dīn Shāh; see Schmitz, NYPL, 13−42.
The Real Academia de la Historia de Madrid (Colección Gayangos) has a Maghribī copy said to be copied from an exemplar dated Safar 338 (= August 949); see E. Terés, ‘Los códices árabes de la ‘Colección Gayangos’, Al-Andalus, 40 (1974), 1−52 esp. 22 and 44, and ‘Un nouveau manuscrit de la version arabe de la “Materia Medica” de Dioscoride’, in Graeco-Arabica: Fourth International Congress on Graeco-Oriental and Graeco-African Studies (Athens, 1993), v. 243−9.
The Persian Art of the Book, Robinson, B. W., 9,10
The Arabic Materia Medica of Dioscorides, Sadek, M. M., 18
[K91] [revd. by Beeston]
"The Story of Osler's first four Arabic manuscript acquisitions" in Osler Library Newsletter, no. 106 (2006), 1-8
La Materia Medica de Dioscorides, Dubler, C. E.; and Teres, E., vol. 2, introduction and pp. 237-242

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: The smooth, semi-glossy yellow-beige paper has a thickness of 0.15–0.22 mm and an opaqueness factor of 4 to 5. It is slightly fibrous, with horizontal sagging laid lines (sometimes indistinct) but no chain lines.
Extent: 211 ff.
Dimensions (leaf): 24.6 × 16.6 cm.
Dimensions (written): 16.8 × 10.8 cm.


The paper is water-stained in the gutter and at the edges; in places the surface of the paper has lifted slightly from damp. It is lightly soiled through thumbing and the edges have been trimmed from the original size. Folios 2–11 and 18–19, and 210 are guarded, and the edges of folios 2–17, 180, and 210 have been repaired; a repair has been made to the centre of folio 162, with some of the text rewritten.


Written in one column throughout; 15 lines per page; the text area has been frame-ruled.


Script: The text is written in a medium-large professional and consistent Naskh with occasional vocalization, with dark-brown ink and headings in red. The letters ḥāʾ and ʿayn frequently have minuscule letters underneath. Háčeks occur frequently over the letter rāʾ and occasionally over sīn; the letter ﻫ, when an attached pronoun, frequently has a minuscule letter over it. Scribe: al-Ḥasan ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Nashawī.

  • Marginalia: There are scattered marginalia, mostly written in the same hands as annotated many of the illustrations. The fifth book (maqālah) also has a separate numbering of the individual leaves written in red ink in the upper left corner. On Folio 1a there are later pious statements and invocations written near the illuminated roundel.
  • Catchwords: There are no catchwords.


The volume is bound in a European restored binding incorporating older pasteboard covers. The older covers are covered with dark-red leather, having a blind, oval medallion (floral arabesques and scalloped edges), with pendants; the design on each cover is framed by two gilt fillets enclosing a gilt braid. Part of the original fore-edge flap remains on one of the covers; the envelope flap is now missing. The edges and spine are of recent dark-brown leather. The doublures are of plain brown leather with two gilt frames, and the endpapers are modern.


Good condition.


Origin: Copied in al-Madrasah al-Niẓāmīyah, Baghdad?; 25th Dhū al-Ḥijjah 637. AH; 17th July 1240. CE

Provenance and Acquisition

On folio 1a there are one obliterated owner’s stamp and two owners' notes, now illegible or obliterated except for the date on one of Rabīʿ I 867 (Nov.−Dec. 1462).

Sir William Osler, whose ex libris occurs on folio 1, purchased the manuscript in 1912 through the agency of J. H. Bill, British Consul in Shiraz.

The volume entered the collections of the Bodleian Library on 26th August 1926 as a bequest of Sir William Osler (d. 1919).

Record Sources

Manuscript description based on NCAM-1 = Emilie Savage-Smith, A New Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Volume I: Medicine, University of Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.


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