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New Acquisition for the McKellops Collection

The Becker Medical Library has recently acquired a copy of Niccoló Leonico Tomeo’s Opuscula nuper in lucem aedita quorum nomina proxima habentur pagella, published in 1525 in Venice.  Tomeo (1456-1531) was born in Venice to a Greek father, and studied in Padua, Florence, and Milan before receiving his doctorate from the University of Padua in 1485.  He began teaching at the university in 1497, where he became the first to lecture on the original Greek texts of Aristotle, rather than Latin translations. 

The Opuscula contains Tomeo’s commentaries on Aristotle’s zoological works De progressu animalium (On the Progression of Animals) and De motu animalium (On the Movement of Animals).  It also contains his translation of the pseudo-Aristotelian text Quaestiones Mechanicae (Questions of Mechanics).  This translation – which also included his commentary, the first one published on this particular work – became standard throughout the sixteenth century.

The Mechanics is particularly interesting from the standpoint of the history of dentistry because it raises questions regarding the use of dental forceps:

"Why do doctors extract teeth more easily by adding the weight of the dental forceps than by using the hand only?  Can it be said that this occurs because the tooth escapes from the hand more easily than the forceps? …. The dental forceps is formed by two levers, acting in contrary sense and having a single fulcrum represented by the commissure of the instrument.  By means of this double lever it is much easier to move the tooth…."

Included with this discussion is an illustration of the forceps themselves.  This is a very early depiction of the tool.  The library’s 1532 edition of the Zene Artzney, which the Garrison-Morton medical bibliography lists as the oldest monograph dedicated to dentistry, does not mention the Mechanics, or include any illustrations.   

Our copy has some very nice features.  That title page has a beautiful woodcut border, and the title itself is printed in red ink.  It also has lovely decorated initials.  Moreover, several pages of errata are present after the main text block.  These were corrections to the text issued after the main text block was already printed.  The corrections here are fairly small – mainly incorrect or missing letters – but sometimes these corrections could consist of several paragraphs.  

Biographical information from Margaret L. King’s Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 433.

Translation of Aristotle from Vincenzo Guerini’s History of Dentistry From the Most Ancient Times Until the End of the Eighteenth Century (Philadelphia & New York: Lea & Febiger, 1909), 64.

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