Iowa State University has the oldest veterinary college at a state school in the United States, founded in 1879. It is fitting, therefore, to examine the University Library’s oldest book in veterinary medicine, Jean Ruel’s Veterinariae medicinae libri II, published in Paris in 1530.
The work’s title page credits Jean Ruel as the work’s “interpreter,” and indeed, the text is a compilation of ancient Greek texts on veterinary medicine, translated into Latin. Ruel, born in 1474, was a French physician and botanist, and in 1509 he became physician to King Francis I, who commissioned the work. Ruel taught himself Greek and Latin, and he published a number of compilations or translations of classical scientific texts. He is best known for authoring his own treatise on botany, De natura stirpium, published six years after the veterinary medical work.
The work was published by Simon de Colines (c. 1480-1546), a Parisian printer and one of the first of the French Renaissance. Colines was connected to the famous Estienne printing family and likely worked under Henri Estienne. When Estienne died in 1520, he took over his print shop until Estienne’s son Robert took it over in 1526. At that point, Colines had set up his own print shop and printed works for the University of Paris. He printed a number of prominent scientific texts, including Charles Estienne’s De dissection partium corporis humani libris tres (1545), and Ruel’s later publication De natura stirpium (1536).
Today, when we think of nonfiction or scholarly books, we expect to see features that help us navigate these texts, such as tables of contents or indexes. These features did not always exist, however, and Colines made important contributions to the development of these textual structures in early printing. This work includes a table of contents (pictured above), which he labels an “Index.”
The text is organized by malady, beginning with fever in horses, and presents texts on that subject by various classical Greek authors. At the end, Ruel has included a glossary of terms.
The most unique feature of our copy of Veterinariae medicinae is its binding. It is rather inexpertly covered in in three separate pieces of waste manuscript vellum — the spine and the front and back covers. Take a look at the turn-ins (pictured below), or the part of the covering material which is turned over the outer edges of the boards. See how sloppily they are done? A little bit like how I covered my high school text books using an old brown paper grocery bag. A more neatly crafted binding would have mitered corners that come to a point in the corners, rather than this overlapping one, and the turn-ins will usually be neatly covered by the paste-down endpapers.
The waste manuscript material is of interest, too. I plead ignorance of all things manuscript-related, but this does not look to me like a typical medieval manuscript piece. To begin with, I don’t believe this is Latin. It looks like French to me. At least, I clearly see the word “amour” (shown above, circled in red). Is this a love poem? It looks like it could be lines of poetry. It is written in a large hand with a lot of space between lines and fairly wide margins. Do you have a guess what this piece of writing is? Do you recognize the hand, and could you hazard a guess at the time period it was written? If you have any insights please share in the comments section below.
Jean Ruel. Veterinariae medicinae libri II. Parisiis: Simonem Colinaeum, 1530. (Call number SF743 H612v)