Dodoens (Dodonaeus), Rembert

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Dodoens (Dodonaeus), Rembert

(b. Mechelen, Netherlands [now Malines, Belgium], 29 June 1516; d. Leiden, Netherlands, 10 March 1585)

medicine, botany.

Dodoens’ real name was Rembert van Joenckema. He changed it to Dodoens (“son of Dodo”), Dodo being a form of the first name of his father, Denis Van Joenckema, who came from Friesland to Mechelen at the end of the fifteenth century. (The name was latinized into Dodonaeus, from which the French, who were ignorant of its origins, further transformed it into Dodonée.) The year of Dodoens’ birth is generally considered to be 1517, although according to Hunger (1923) 1516 is correct. He was married twice (his wives were Catelyne ’sBruijnen and Marie Saerine) and had five children.

Dodoens studied at the municipal college of Mechelen and went from there to the University of Louvain, where he studied medicine under Arnold Noot, Leonard Willemaer, Jean Heems, and Paul Roels. He graduated as licenciate in medicine in 1535. According to the custom of the time, Dodoens then traveled extensively. Between 1535 and 1546 he was in Italy, Germany, and France, where he visited— among others—Gunther of Andernach in Paris. After these Wanderjahren he returned to Mechelen.

In 1548 Dodoens published a book on cosmography. In the same year he became one of the three municipal physicians of Mechelen, the other two being Joachim Roelandts (to whom Vesalius wrote his famous letter on the chinaroot) and Jacob De Moor. During this time Dodoens composed a treatise on physiology (published later) and began his botanical works.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was still believed that no plants existed other than those described by Dioscorides in his Materia medica of the first century a.d. The great progress of natural sciences in the sixteenth century was helped by the discovery of printing and by the use of wood-block illustrations. In 1530 the Herbarum of Otto Brunfels appeared, followed by those of the men Sprengel called (in addition to Brunfels) the “German fathers of botany,” Jerome Bock (1539) and Leonhard Fuchs (1542). Dodoens was their follower.

Dodoens’ first botanical work—a short treatise on cereals, vegetables, and fodders, De frugum historia (1552)—was followed by an extensive herbarium (1554). In 1553 he published a collection of woodplates with a vocabulary for the use of medical students. Some of the wood-block illustrations were taken from Fuchs’s earlier herbarium. In 1554, Dodoens also published, as Cruydeboek, a Dutch version of his De stirpium historia. This was a national herbarium devoted to species indigenous to the Flemish provinces. The merit of this book was that rather than proceeding by alphabetical order, as Fuchs had done, Dodoens grouped the plants according to their properties and their reciprocal affinities. These earlier works show a tendency toward medical botany; in a later period Dodoens became more inclined toward a more scientific treatment.

In 1557 negotiations were begun in an effort to persuade Dodoens to accept a chair of medicine in Louvain; they were not successful. In 1574 he left Mechelen for Vienna, where he had been appointed physician to the emperor Maximilian II. He remained there in the same capacity in service of Maximilian’s successor, Rudolph II. In Vienna, Dodoens met Charles de l’Écluse (Clusius).

In 1580, wishing to return to his native country, Dodoens left Vienna, but the uncertain conditions prevalent in the Low Countries at that time persuaded him to stop for a year in Cologne. There he published in one volume a dissertation on wine and medical observations (1580; these two texts were later reprinted separately) and synoptic tables on physiology (1581). From Cologne he went to Antwerp, where in 1582 he supervised his friend Plantin’s printing of his Stirpium historiae pemptades sex sive libri XXX (published in full in 1583 and reprinted posthumously in 1616). In this elaborate treatise, Dodoens’ most important scientific work, he divided plants into twentysix groups and introduced many new families, adding a wealth of illustration either original or borrowed from Dioscorides, de l’Éluse, or De Lobel.

In 1582 Dodoens accepted an offer from Leiden University, to which the curators had invited him for the purpose of enhancing the reputation of the Faculty of Medicine by his appointment. He was offered the high salary of 400 florins, with an additional gift of 100 florins and a travel allowance of 50 florins. The conditions of his appointment required his promise not to take part in religious controversies and to limit his activities to scientific questions.

At Leiden, Dodoens was in charge of the lectures on pathology and general therapeutics; there was then no course on botany at Leiden, and the famous botanical garden was not created until 1587. Dodoens remained in Leiden until his death and was buried there in St. Peter’s church. Although he was a renowned physician in his time (first as a Galenist and later as a Hippocratian, as shown by his posthumous Praxis medica), his great fame remains based on his botanical work.


1. Original Works. Dodoens’ writings are Cosmographica in astronomiam et geographiam Isagoge (Antwerp, 1548), of which a second edition is De sphaera sive de astronomiae et geographiae principiis cosmographica isagoge (Antwerp-Leiden, 1584); De frugum historia, liber unus. Ejusdem epistolae duae, una de Fare, Chondro, Trago, Ptisana, Crimno et Alica; altera de Zytho et Cerevisia (Antwerp, 1552); Trium priorum de stirpium historia commentariorum imagines ad vivum expressae. Una cum indicibus graeca, latina, officinarum, germanica, brabantica, gallicaque nomina complectentibus (Antwerp, 1553); Posteriorum trium... de stirpium historia commentariorum imagines ad vivum artificiosissime expressa; una cum marginalibus annotationibus. Item ejusdem annotationes in aliquot prioris tomi imagines, qui trium priorum librorum figuras complectitur (Antwerp, 1554), which was repr. in two vols. as Commentariorum de stirpium historia imaginum... et stirpium herbarumque complures imagines novae...(Antwerp, 1559); Cruydeboeck in den welcken de gheheele historie, dot es’t gheslacht, ’t fatsoen, naem, nature, cracht ende werckinghe, van den cruyden, niet alleen hier te lande wassende, maer oock van den anderen vremden in der medecynen oorboorlyck met grooter neersticheyt begrepen ende verclaert es, med derzelver cruyden natuerlick naer datleren conterfeytsel daer by gestelt (Antwerp, 1554, 1563), French trans. by Charles de l’Écluse as Histoire des plantes (Antwerp, 1557), and English trans. by Henry Lyte (1578, 1586, 1595, 1600,1619); Historia frumentorum, leguminum, palustrium et aquatilium herbarum, ac eorum quae pertinent.... Additae sunt imagines vivae, exactissimae, jam recens non absque haud vulgari diligentia et fide artificiosissime expressae... (Antwerp, 1565, 1566, 1569); Florum et coronariorum odoratarumque nonnullarum herbarum historia (Antwerp, 1568, 1569); Purgantium aliarumque eo facientium, tam et radicum, convolvulorum ac deletariarum herbarum historiae libri IIII.... Accessit appendix variarum et quidem rarissimarum nonnullarum stirpium, ac florum quorumdam peregrinorum elegantissimorumque icones omnino novas nec antea editas, singulorumque breves descriptiones continens...(Antwerp, 1574, 1576); Historia vitis vinique et stirpium nonnullarum aliarum: item medicinalium observationum exempla rara (Cologne, 1580, 1583, 1585, 1621); Physiologiae medicinae partis tabulae expeditae (Cologne, 1581; Antwerp, 1581, 1585); Remberti Dodonoei medici caesarei medicinalium observationum exempla rara. Accessere et alia quaedam quorum elenchum pagina post praefationem exhibet: Antonii Beniveni Florentini medici ac philosophi...exempla rara ex libris de curandis hominum morbis Valesci Tharantani et Alexandri Benedicti. Historia gestationis foetus mortui in utero, Mathiae Cornacis, Egidii Hertoghii et Achillis Pirminii Gassari (Cologne, 1581; Harderwijk, 1584; Antwerp-Leiden, 1585; Antwerp, 1586), and rev. and enlarged ed. of text as second part of Historia vitis vinique et stirpium...(Harderwijk. 1621): Stirpium historiae pemptades sex sive libri XXX(Antwerp, 1583,1616), Dutch trans, as Herbarius, seu Cruydeboeck van Rembertus Dodonoeus... by Françoys van Ravelingen (Leiden, 1608, 1618; Antwerp, 1644); Praxis medica (Amsterdam, 1616), further ed. and annotated by Nicolai Fontani (Amsterdam, 1640), and Dutch trans. with notes by S. Egbertz and Wassenaar (1624); “Remberti Dodonoei consilium medicinale in melancholia per essentiam,” in Opera Laur. Scholzii (Basel, 1546); and “Remberti Dodonoei ad Balduinum Ronssaeum Epistola de Zytho, Cormi et Cerevisia,” in Balduini Ronssaei medici celeberrimi opuscula medica (Leiden, 1590).

II. Secondary Literature. On Dodoens and his work, see F. W. T. Hunger, “Dodonée comme botaniste,” in Janus, 22 (1917), 151–162; “Over het geboortejaar van Rembertus Dodonaeus,” in Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis der geneeskunde, 3 (1923), 116–121; “Een tot dusver onuigegeven brief van Rembertus Dodonaeus,” ibid., 306–307; P. C. Molhuysen, Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Leidische universiteit, 1e part. 1574–1610 (The Hague, 1913); M. A. Van Andel, “Rembertus Dodoens and his Influence on Flemish and Dutch Folk-Medicine,” in Janus. 22 (1917), 163; E. C. Van Leersum, “Rembert Dodoens (29 juin 1517–10 mars 1585),” ibid., 141–152; P. J. Van Meerbeeck, Recherches historiques et critiques sur la vie et les ouvrages de Rembert Dodoens (Dodonaeus) (Mechelen, 1841); and E. Varenbergh, in Biographie nationale publiée par l’Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, IV (Brussels, 1878), cols. 85–112.

Marcel Florkin

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