'Passionarius' by Gariopontus

Medical unity or disparity?

Detail uit de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

Medieval artes manuscripts often appear to be a hodgepodge of unrelated texts, haphazardly bound together for convenience. Even in cases where the texts in a convolute manuscript share a similar subject matter, they seldom demonstrate evidence of a preconceived plan, carefully laid out and uniformly executed. For instance, the texts may have been scribbled down at various times, sometimes even in different centuries, by various hands. The layout of the pages can be seen to change throughout the manuscript, the content will regularly overlap or even directly contradict itself. Several medical manuscripts in the Utrecht University Library follow this pattern. Yet in Hs. 687 we seem to have found an artes manuscript containing but a single text… or have we?

From head to toe

Pagina uit de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

In five chapters, the Passionarius discusses many of the common maladies which can plague the human body. In regular alternation, the disease (passio) is described, followed by its cure (cura). The chapters’ logic traces the arrangement of the human body, successively from head to feet. The text ends with two chapters on fevers (Glaze 2009, 159). This head-to-toe method is consistent with tradition from Antiquity, but part of the Passionarius’ innovation lies in the fact that it placed the ‘fevers’, i.e. diseases which affected the entire body, at the back. Convention dictated a transition from general to specific; here this practice was reversed (Glaze 2011, 66).


Detail uit de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

The Passionarius survives in more than sixty medieval manuscripts, as well as several early printed editions. Medieval copyists and Renaissance printers disagreed in their opinions on the authorship of the Passionarius. Some editions emphasize the antique origins of the contents by ascribing the work to the Greek-Roman physician Galen of Permamon; others credit the Salernitan doctor Gariopontus with its creation, without even mentioning Galen (Glaze 2005, 58-66). What is clear is that the information came from a variety of authoritative medical texts; mostly from Galenic works, supplemented with texts by Caelius AurelianusAlexander of Tralles and Paulus Aegineta. Gariopontus therefore cannot be considered an author in the true sense of the word. However, he was one of the first to integrate this knowledge and completely reorganize it (Glaze 2009, 164). No longer were texts placed adjacent to each other as separate units, instead their contents were detached and disconnected, sorted out and systematically arranged. Information from diverse authorities ended up in a single coherent composition for the first time. And most importantly: the clear organization made the work readily searchable.

Search function

Gariopontus includes a rather amusing prologue to explain to his readers how to utilize the table of contents. Practically waxing lyrical, he describes the twists and turns of the book, and recommends mastering its navigation, for ‘if you are able to remember this, fame will be yours […]’ (Glaze 2005, 74). To us modern readers, who are so adept at toggling the ctrl-F search function on our keyboards (never mind us being astonished by indices and tables of contents), such advice may seem slightly peculiar. Nevertheless, his contemporary audience must have appreciated the text’s transparent structuring. A physician’s reputation apparently hinged not only on their actual healing capabilities, but also on their dexterity in consulting ponderous Latin works (Glaze 2009, 162-163).

Detail uit de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht


Comparatively little is known about Gariopontus himself. Even the spelling of his name is shrouded in obscurity: sources range from Warinpotus to Guarimpotus to Garnipulus. We can confidently say he worked in Salerno in the first half of the eleventh century. Timing is important here, as it’s a mere fifty years before Salerno’s heyday as a renowned medical university town. This is the place which in the twelfth century saw the translation and distribution of important new (Arabic) texts, famous lectures by the great Salernitan doctors, and the principal renaissance of medieval medical education (Green 2001, 3-14; Huizenga 2003, 59-62). The distinction of twelfth century Salerno was such, that historians rarely devote more than half a sentence to Gariopontus and his eleventh-century Passionarius. Yet his text must not be dismissed as antiquated and irrelevant, since the large number of glosses and commentaries clearly demonstrate that his contemporaries considered it very significant. According to Florence Glaze, the importance of this transitional text – between presalernitan and Salernitan traditions – can barely be overstated (Glaze 2009, 169).


Pagina uit de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

At the end of the codex, the text stops abruptly. Most of the second book on fevers has gone missing. The custode at the bottom of the last page indicates that one or more quires must have disappeared, before the surviving quires were bound into a modern binding. It seems probable that the text may originally have been (more) complete. Moreover, a page has clearly been cut away at the beginning of the text. The possibility exists that one of the prologues mentioned by Glaze may have graced this missing folium. 

Warmboldus van Overstege

In the Middle Ages it was relatively commonplace for people to trade in their worldly career for a spiritual one, towards the end of their lives. Literally as well as figuratively, they would bring along the baggage from their former life. This is how the present manuscript ended up in the Utrecht Carthusian Monastery Nova Lux (Nieuwlicht). In the fifteenth century it was part of a small library of medical works, in possession of a certain Werboldus Oversteghe, in medicinis professor and – later in life – a monk in Nova Lux (Scholtens 1952, 119). By then, the codex was already two hundred and fifty years old; whether the marginal notes and other user’s traces can be attributed to him has not been ascertained. Utrecht University Library possesses another one of the books from his estate. More information on this interesting individual can be found in the annotation on Hs. 688.


Irene Meekes-van Toer, April 2017

Initiaal op de titelpagina van de Passionarius uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht