Ruel, Jean Also Known as Ruellius

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(b. Soissons, France, 1474; d. Paris, France, 24 September 1537)

medicine, botany.

According to some biographers, Ruel (sometimes spelled du Ruel or de la Ruelle, on account of confusion with the fifteenth-century engraver Jean des Ruelles) was born in 1479 (Georges Gibault thinks that 1479 is the wrong date, probably the result of a typographical error).

Ruel was self-taught and fluent in Greek and Latin. Although very few details of his life are available, it is known that he studied medicine and that he received the M.D. in 1508. The following year he became physician to Francis I. Thoroughly absorbed in his own works, Ruel refused to follow the court on its frequent travels. He married and was a devoted father, but when his wife died he entered holy orders so that he could devote himself entirely to study. Étienne Porcher, bishop of Paris, obtained for Ruel a canonry at the cathedral of Notre-Dame: Ruel was thus freed of material concerns. He died of a stroke, which was probably brought on by overexertion after too sedentary a life. He was buried in Notre-Dame.

Although Ruel’s works are compilations of the works of earlier authors, they are notable examples of the first attempts to popularize botany. Ruel’s De natura stirpium (Paris, 1536) is elegantly written and furnishes many vernacular plant names. The work begins with general elements of botany borrowed from Theophrastus, whom Ruel considered the father of botany. Instead of a botanical classification, Ruel used alphabetical order, which rendered the book of great practical value. In each chapter, only one subject is discussed: for example, stalk, leaves, bark, flowers, germination, grafting, vegetables, cereals, and medicinal properties. He also provided information on the odors and tastes of plants. Unfortunately, the information on etymology is not very reliable, since it was copied from the ancients. De natura stirpium was dedicated to Ruel’s patron, Francis I, who paid the cost of printing. Only a few copies of the work can still be found: the rarity of the book is attested by its absence from the libraries of Jussieu and Joseph Decaisne (according to Georges Gibault), both of whom were informed bibliophiles. Undertaking extensive research to find the best manuscripts, Ruel–whom Guillaume Budé called the “eagle of interpreters”–produced a number of excellent translations. In 1530 Ruel published in Paris De medicina veterinaria. a Latin compilation of everything on veterinary medicine that had been written in Greek. In 1516 he published his translation of Dioscorides’ De materia medica. Several other editions were published, some posthumously, among which the 1549 edition is perhaps the best. Ruellia, an ornamental plant of the family Acanthaceae, was named by Plumier in honor of Ruel.


I. Original Works. Ruel’s works include De natura stirpium libri tres (Paris, 1536: Basel, 1537, 1543): Prima (-secunda) pars de natura stirpium libri tres, 3 vols. (Venice, 1538): In Ruellium de stirpibus epitome. cui accesserunt volatilium, gressibilium. piscium & placentarum magis frequentium apud Gallias nomina. per Leodegarium a Quercu (Paris, 1539, 1542, 1543, 1544: Rouen, 1539): Veterinariae medicinae libri II, Johanne Ruellio, interprete (Paris, 1530): Veterinariae medicinae libri duo, a Johanne Ruellio … olim quidem latinitate donati, nunc vero iidem sua, hoc est graeca, lingua primum in lucem aediti (Basel, 1537): and In P. Virg. Maronis Moretum scholia ex prestantissimis quibusque scriptoribus, maxime ex Jo. Ruelli lucubrationibus huc transposita. per H. Sussannaeum (Paris, 1542).

Ruel translated the following works: Dioscorides, De medicinali materia libri quinque (Paris, 1516): Libri octo gracea & zlatine, Jacobus Goupy, ed. (Paris, 1549): Johannes Actuarius, De medicamentorum compositione (Paris. 1539): Operum tomus II. De medicamentorum compositions (Lyons, 1556): and Pollidore Vergile, Le hystoriographe (dont le bibliographe Brunet se demande s’il faut vraiment l’attribuer à Ruel) (Paris, 1544).

Ruel supervised the reprint of Scribonius largus. De compositionibus medicamentorum liber unus (Paris, 1528): Scribonius largus: De compositione medicamentorum liber (Basel, 1529): and Celse (Aurelius Cornelius). De re medica libri octo (Paris, 1529).

II. Secondary Literature. On Ruel and his work, see Henri Ernest Baillon, Dictionnaire de botanique; Nicolas François Joseph Eloy, Dictionnaire historique de la médecine contenant son origine, ses progrès, ses révolutions, ses sectes. et son état chez différens peuples, ce que l’on a dit des Dieux on héros anciens de cette science, l’histoire des plus célèbres médecins … et le catalogue de leurs principaux outrages, IV (LiègeFrankfurt am Main, 1755), 132–133: Georges Gibault, “Notice biographique sur Jean Ruel médecin et botaniste au XVIe siècle,” in Bulletin de la Société archéologique, historique et scientifique de Soissons, 15 (1908), 1001– 1001. with portrait: Michaud. Biographie universelle; and Scévole 1 er de Sainte-Marthe, Virorum doctrina illustrium qui hoc seculo in Gallia floruerunt, elogia, authore Scaevola Sammarthano. Augustoriti Pictonum (Poitiers, 1598).

Paul Jovet

J. C. Mallet