Benevenutus Grapheus Hierosolymitanus

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BENEVENUTUS GRAPHEUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS (c. 12th century), the most famous medieval non-Arab oculist. Probably Jewish, he practiced and lectured in Southern Europe. His work on ocular diseases was the best-known textbook until well into the 16th century. Twenty-two manuscripts and 18 printed editions are still in existence, differing in length and completeness. According to a Vatican Latin codex, the work was "translated from the Hebrew into Latin." The Latin editio princeps is the Ferrara incunabulum (1474). Benevenutus' knowledge of anatomy and his physiological and pathological conceptions follow closely Galen's teachings. In therapy, however, he reflects ophthalmological knowledge of his own time. His description of seasonal ophthalmia is an indication of his having been a "Hierosolymitanus" (Jerusalemite), since it conforms surprisingly well with the summer and autumn epidemics of conjunctivitis in Ereẓ Israel. His therapy is empirical and free from irrational elements. Among his numerous remedies some carry the adjective "Jerusalem." From his descriptions of couching for cataract, the radical treatment of trichiasis, dacryocystitis, and "scabies" of the eyes (trachoma), Benevenutus must have been an experienced and skillful surgeon. He describes an astonishingly modern method for dealing with ocular injuries; embryos from freshly embryonated eggs, removed and reduced to a pulp, and regularly used as an ointment, "bring about a good consolidation of the wound." Of the many names of Benevenutus, Grapheus seems to be the correct one. It would appear to be a stylized derivation of the Hebrew rofe ("physician"). In the Paris codex he is called "Bien Venu Raffe." The various Christian invocations in his writings were probably later insertions and are not proof that he was not Jewish, nor does the frequently repeated assertion "nos Salernitani" prove that Benevenutus taught in Salerno.


J. Hirschberg, in: A. Graefe-T. Saemisch, Handbuch der gesamten Augenheilkunde, 13 (1908); C.A. Wood (ed.), Beneventus Graffus, De Oculis (Eng., 1929); H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine, 2 (1944), 539–40; Feigenbaum, in: Acta Medica Orientalia, 14 (1955), 26–29, 75–82.

[Aryeh Feigenbaum]