Tractatus de Herbis - Sloane 4016

Tractatus de Herbis - Sloane 4016 f. 28r: Sweet chestnuts; castoreum

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f. 28r: Sweet chestnuts; castoreum

Beavers and musk deers were sought after for castoreum and musk, respectively. The secretions from their anal glands (sometimes confused with their testicles) were used in medicine as well as in cosmetics. Ancient legend had it that when the beaver sensed he was about to be captured in a hunt, he would voluntarily castrate himself to elude capture. It is this story which this illustration in f. 28r tries to render. This representation is not based on observation nor is it copied from an earlier manuscript. The animal has none of the characteristic features of a beaver starting from its body shape and legs and down to and including its hooves with two fingers resembling rather the cloven hooves of a deer.

Alain Touwaide
Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions and Smithsonian Institution
(from the commentary volume Tractatus de Herbis)


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