Enquiring Minds

Fourteen centuries of questions... Fourteen centuries of answers... Keep on asking!

Checklist for "Enquiring Minds"

Curated by Luise Poulton, 2017

Exhibition poster designed by Scott Beadles, 2017

Digital exhibition produced by Lyuba Basin, 2020

Enquiring Minds Exhibition Poster

Enquiring Minds

Humans have been compiling information to answer an infinity of questions for thousands of years. From Ptolemy to Izaak Walton, the best minds have annotated, edited, translated, measured, arranged, and defined what it means to live a life of wonder.

From facsimiles of medieval encyclopedias, almanacs and atlases to first editions of fifteenth through twentieth century dictionaries, manuals, lexicons, compendiums, and directories, Rare Books celebrates questions and the attempts to answer them.

Keep on asking!

What are the medicinal benefits of opium?

Dioskurides spread of plant illustrations

Graz, 1988
R126 D57 1988

This manuscript, possibly produced in Italy sometime in the seventh century, is one of the oldest in the tradition of Materia medica, a pharmacological treatise written by Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in the first century ad.

Dioscorides’ work was used by the medieval world for centuries. In the sixth century it was translated into Latin. By the ninth century it had been translated into Arabic, Syrian and Hebrew. More than four hundred plants are described in this illustrated herbal manual, each illustration identified in red ink.

Li livres dou tresor

Brunetto Latini
Barcelona: M. Moleiro, 2000
PQ1429 L24 L5 2000

Brunetto Latini was a true Italian Renaissance humanist. Florentine politician, poet, historian, philosopher, and teacher and friend to Dante, he wrote this encyclopedia while exiled in France between 1260 and 1267.

The codex consists of three books, each written in French. The first book begins with Biblical history, the history of Troy, and the history of the Middle Ages, followed by a natural history compiled from other astronomical and geographical sources. Animal and bird species are described in detail.

The second book discusses ethics, based upon classical and contemporary philosophers. The third book discusses what, to the author, was the noblest of all sciences, politics and the art of governing.

One hundred and fifteen illuminations of beasts, and characters such as acrobats and musicians, decorate the preface and each chapter. Gold and blue initials, arabesques, and other ornamentation are worked in throughout. The illumination was probably done in a layman’s workshop in Paris. The paper used for this facsimile was handmade to match the thickness, tact, and smell of the original. Edition of nine hundred and eighty-seven copies.

Spread from Tacuinum Sanitatus Medicina

Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, 1986
RS79 T335 1986

This illuminated medical handbook was produced in Northern Italy for a layperson – a woman of the upper aristocracy or of a rich patrician family able to read, and afford, a lavish book. A reference of sorts for the household management of health and healing, this type of book goes back to an Arab source written by the physician Ibn Butlan in the 11th century.

The Arab art and science of healing decisively influenced occidental medicine and enjoyed a long-lived and distinguished reputation. The Latin translation, which made the codex accessible to the educated of the medieval western world, was widely known. Many copies survive. Beginning in the 14th century, the text was placed below an individual image.

This particular copy contains more than two hundred full-page illuminations of all that was considered important with regard to human health and well-being. The illuminations portray the everyday life of late Medieval Italian culture. With a natural style and strong colors, two artists depict plants, animals, food, and drugs. All of the objects are within scenes centered upon a human. The text below each miniature describes both the benefits and shortfalls of the object depicted.

Spread from Das Musterbuch de Giovannino de Grassi

Giovannino de’ Grassi (ca. 1340-1398)
Luzern: Faksimile Verlag Luzern, 1998
NC257 G7315 1998

This late Italian Gothic model book was created by painter, sculptor, and architect Giovannino de Grassi. Model books were indispensable in the artist’s workshop as guides to ornamental elements, calligraphic initials, exotic animals, and the human body in various poses and at specific activities.

Giovannino de Grassi became known as the artist who contributed to the construction and furnishing of the Milan Cathedral. He had contacts to the most famous architects of his time, including Heinrich Parler and Ulrich von Einsinge.

De Grassi’s model book is known for his Gothic alphabet, consisting of human and animal figures. The famous alphabet at the end of the book demonstrates the wit and irony De Grassi used in creating his work.

The model book contains seventy-seven drawings which reflect the Bohemian art of the period. In its day, de Grassi’s model book was well-known among artists and book illuminators all over Europe. All model books influenced the stylistic evolution of art. In the case of this model book, De Grassi strongly influenced Italian art at the beginning of the Renaissance.

Will I need sunglasses on this trip?

Die Cosmographia des Claudius Ptolemaus

Ptolemy (2nd century)
Zurich: Belser Verlag, 1983
G1005 1983

This manuscript was commissioned about 1472 by the Duke of Urbino. It consists of the eight books by Ptolemy explaining the theoretical concept of geography and mapmaking methods, as well as information on the names of cities, countries, regions; their coordinates; and peoples of the world. It includes an atlas with twenty-seven maps (ten of Europe, four of Africa, twelve of Asia), all ascribed to earlier copies by Ptolemy; and seven new maps and ten townscapes from later sources. More than eight thousand named locations are entered into a table of longitudes and latitudes. The translation from Ptolemy’s original Greek text into Latin was done by Jacob Angelus around 1360-1410.

This copy was transcribed in Florence by Hugues Commineau de Mézières. Pietro del Massaio and Francesco Rosselli, illuminators, who specialized in the manufacture of maps, both with well-known workshops, helped in the production. The embellishment throughout is testament to the craft of these artists. The incipit of the Angelus’ forward is decorated along the edges with gold and colored borders comprised of flowers, putti with candelabra, and medallions – all of which act as ornament for an illumination of the translator presenting the work to Pope Alexander V. The manuscript is a prime example of Renaissance synthesis of Hellenistic culture and emergent scientific methodologies for the representation of the earth.

Facsimile edition of five hundred and fifty copies, fifty hors de commerce. Rare Books copy is no. 402.

When is the next full moon?

Calendarium gif

Johannes Mueller, Regiomontanus (1435-1476)
Venice; Erhard Ratdolt, 1482
CE73 M8 1482

Regiomontanus’ Calendarium was first printed at his own press in Nuremberg in 1474. In 1476, master printer Erhard Ratdolt published it in Venice, the capital of Italian printing, followed by this edition in 1482.

Regiomontanus is one of the great figures in the history of mathematics and astronomy. He was one of the first publishers of astronomical material. The Calendarium represents the first application of modern scientific methods of astronomical calculation and observation to the problems of the lunar calendar, such as Easter, and the accurate prediction of eclipses.

Regiomontanus’ almanacs contained planetary positions for a particular year as calculated from astronomical tables, freeing astronomers from performing the laborious task themselves. The last two leaves are printed on four pages of thick paper pasted together to form astronomical instruments.

This edition also contains verses by J. Sentius in praise of the author, and by Santritter in praise of the printer. Santritter would later become a printer himself.

Breaking with printing tradition, Ratdolt included imprint details – that is, the information which tells us when and by whom the book was printed – at the end of the opening verses on the verso of the title-page, rather than at the end of the book in the colophon as was the usual practice.

What are the sines for this minute?

Instrvmentvm Sinvm

Peter Apian (1495-1552
Nuremberg: Petreius, 1541
QB85 A6 1541

Peter Apian (Peter Bienewitz) was a pioneer in astronomical and geographical instrumentation. He successfully popularized these subjects during the sixteenth century. Born to a shoemaker, his family was relatively well off. He studied mathematics and astronomy at Leipzig and Vienna.

Following the success of his first great work, the Cosmographia, in 1524, Apian was appointed professor of mathematics at Ingolstadt, where he also opened a small print shop which would eventually become known for its high-quality editions of geographic and cartographic books. Charles V admired his work so much that he granted Apian a printing monopoly in 1532 and 1534. The emperor later appointed Apian court mathematician.

In Cosmographia, Apian suggested that lunar distances be used for calculating longitude. He is best known for noting, in 1531, that comet tails point away from the sun. Apian published numerous mathematical and astronomical works and made significant contributions to the growing science of cartography.

The Instumentum Sinuum, first published in 1534, was of great scientific significance. In it, Apian calculated sines for every minute with the radius divided decimally. These were the first such tables ever printed. Instrumentum was Apian’s most important contribution to mathematics itself. There is an index at the beginning of this edition, one of the earliest of these finding aids.

Atlas Universal

Diogo Homem
Barcelona: M. Moleiro Editor, S.A., 2000
G1059 H6 2000

Diogo Homem, one of the most prolific and renowned sixteenth century Portuguese cartographers, drew the charts for this atlas of the Earth around 1565. He used the latest knowledge available. It is reflective of the nautical and cartographic knowledge, interests, and skill of the time.

The atlas has double leaf images of nineteen charts. It is decorated with miniatures of heraldry, and the flags of the nations, regions, counties and dukedoms mapped. It also contains illustrations of animals and indigenous peoples. It was used extensively by the experts of its time.

Edition of nine hundred and eighty-seven copies. Rare Books copy is no. 686.

Where do camels live?

Atlas Vallard

Barcelona, Espana: M. Moleiro Editor, S.A., c2010
G1034 V35 2010

The Atlas Vallard was produced anonymously. It is unclear what model was used for its production. Whoever its creator, it is noteworthy for its depictions of European colonization in the 16th century and its illustrations of native populations.

The atlas opens with an essay on the activity of the sun, followed by a calendar. Almost all of the maps are oriented with North at the bottom of the page, a Muslim cartographic habit, rare in Christian Europe. Red and black ink and gold is used for nomenclature. Land masses are outlined in color with islands painted blue, red or gold.

Areas include “Terra Java” (east coast of Australia), “La Jave” (north coast of Australia), East Indies, “Terra Java” (west coast of Australia), Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf, Southern Africa and southwest Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean with the coast of Africa and Brazil, Northwest Africa, Europe and northern Africa, North American and Canada (east coast), West Indies, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, northeastern South America, Southeastern South America, Straits of Magellan, Western Europe and northwestern Africa, Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea.

On the title page, f. 1, under an armillary sphere is written “Nicolas Vallard de Dieppe, 1547.”  Vallard was probably the first owner.

Facsimile edition of 987 copies. University of Utah copy is no. 256.

How do I draw a map of the world?

Geografia Ptolemy

Claudius Ptolemy
Venice, Pedrezano, 1548
G87 P8 G46 1548

Geografia is the only geographical atlas to survive from antiquity.  Preserved by the Arab world, it finally reached Venice in 1477, translated from a Greek manuscript, with new maps showing what was then known of the world.  There were many mistakes in the book, but it encouraged people, including Columbus, to believe that discovery of the unknown was possible. 

Geografia World Map

What does the earth look like to God? 


Peter Apian (1495-1552
Paris: D. Martini, 1551
GA6 A48

Peter Apian, pioneer in the development of astronomical and geographical instruments, was born in Germany and taught at the university in Ingolstadt. A cartographer, astronomer, and mathematician, Apian first published Cosmographia, his greatest work, in 1524.

In this book Apian suggested that lunar distances could be used to measure longitude. Precise calculations for longitude would not be perfected until the eighteenth-century. Illustrations depict globes, spheres, astronomical constellations, instruments with their applications and include maps and diagrams.

Who said, "It is not every question that deserves an answer ?" 

Comicorvm Graecorvm

Henri Estienne (1531-1598
Paris: excudebat Henr. Steph., 1569
PA3469 W8 E8

This collection of aphorisms and proverbs of the classical Greek authors of comedy was translated and annotated by Henri Estienne, who also wrote an essay on the method he used to choose the literary proverbs. Part 2 of the work contains proverbial expressions from the Latin authors of comedy, in particular those drawn from the Roman poet Publius Syrus. These Latin selections were annotated by Erasmus. Most of these aphorisms and proverbs appear in print here for the first time.

Henri Estienne was famous for the care he took in his close translations of the original text. He was noted for his production of original texts with contemporary commentary – inserting the comments following the original text with distinguishing typographical levels, thus clearly discriminating between comment and original text.

How do you say ‘question’ in Hebrew?

spread of Tsemah David

David ben Isaac de Pomis (1525 – ca. 1593
Venetys: Ioannem de Gara, 1587
PJ4835 L3 P6 1587

David de Pomis was a linguist, physician, philosopher and rabbi. He worked as a physician near Rome until Pope Paul IV’s edict in 1555 forbidding Jewish physicians to treat Christians. He settled in Venice, where he published most of his works.

Pope Pius IV gave him permission to attend to Christians, a concession revoked by Pius V and then restored by Sixtus V. De Pomis dedicated this trilingual Hebrew, Latin, and Italian dictionary to Pope Sixtus V. The introduction includes the author’s autobiography and a genealogy. At the back of the book is an index.

What does a palm tree look like ?

Spread of De Plantis Aegypti Liber

Prosper Alpini (1553-1617)

Venice: apud Franciscum de Franciscis Senensem, 1592
First edition
QK403 A4

Prosper Alpini, physician and botanist, was educated in Padua. For three years, beginning in 1580, he traveled through the Greek islands and Egypt. In 1593, he was appointed Chair of Botany at Padua.

Alpini’s works were extremely popular during his lifetime. One of his best known is De plantis Aegypti liber, a description of fifty-seven plants found in Egypt and largely unknown in Europe, written in dialogue form. Alpini was the second European writer to mention the coffee plant in a printed book and the first to illustrate and describe it. Here, he names the plant “bon” and refers to the beverage as “caova.”

The many woodcuts in this printing are more decorative than realistic.

Kitab al-Najah

Avicenna (980-1037
Rome: Medici Printing Press, 1593
B751 N3 1593

Avicenna (Ibn Sina) was an illustrious philosopher, scientist, and medical writer of medieval Islam. He introduced the works of Aristotle to the Arabs. His two most important books, Al-Shifa (Healing of the Soul) and the Canon of Medicine were extremely influential in the development of philosophy and medicine in the East, and, through Latin translation, in the West.

Al-Shifa is an encyclopedic work divided into four principal parts: logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. The selections here were printed in Rome by the famous Medici Press, which used the first Arabic type in the world.

How can I calculate this without my own astrolabe?

Theatro del Mundo GIF

Giovanni Paolo Gallucci
Inpresso en Granada en las casas de autor, por su industria, y a su costa por Sebastian Munoz, impressor de libros ano 1606
QB41 G1818

First published in Venice in 1588 as Theatrum mundi, et temporis, this book presents the forty-eight maps of the Ptolemaic constellations and depicts them as mythologic figures. The star positions are taken from Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbum coelestium.

Giovanni Paolo Gallucci’s Theatrum is considered the first modern celestial atlas because in its maps he used a coordinate system and a trapezoidal system of projection common among geographic cartographers of the time, allowing an exact determination of the star positions. The lively constellation figures overlay very accurate maps of the stars.

Gallucci’s text is an encyclopedia of astronomical knowledge. He describes the Ptolemaic theories of the movement of the planets, the sun, the moon, and eclipses. Tables illustrate the earth, a Dantesque hell, and a forecast of the equinoxes from 1588 to 1800. This edition contains several complex volvelles to aid in calculations.

Where will Mars be a year from now when I look up at the sky?

 Philip Lansberg

Philips van Lansbergen (1561-1632
Middelburgi Zelandiae : apud Zachariam Romanum, 1632 (Lugduni Batavorum, ex. officina typograpica Guillelmi Christiani Anno mdcxxxii
First edition
QB41 L36

Philips van Lansbergen was a Dutch astronomer and Calvinist clergyman. Van Lansbergen supported Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the earth revolving around the sun, although it was controversial in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles. And van Lansbergen was not completely satisfied with Copernicus’ evidence. He believed that only through accurate astronomical observations could a satisfactory theory of the universe be devised.

Both Kepler and Galileo followed the work of van Lansbergen and used his Tabulae, van Lansbergen’s most famous work, which contains coordinates to predict the position of the planets. His « Tabulae perpetuae » were patiently compiled over forty-five years. These are not free from error: mostly because of van Lansbergen’s struggle to accept Kepler’s discovery of elliptical orbits.

Illustrated with an allegorical engraved title-page with portraits of Ptolemy, Aristarchus of Samos, Copernicus, and Brahe, and an engraved portrait of the author. Folding plate (Canon sexagenarium) at the end of part 2.

Why can’t my baby speak Hebrew?

Pseudodoxia Epidemica

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
London: Printed by R.W. for N. Ekins, at the Gun in Paul’s church-yard, 1658
Third, corrected edition
PR3327 A72 1658

In this famous book, the writer and physician from Norwich demonstrated the absurdity of commonly presumed truths. Among the traditions which Browne deposes are the beliefs that “The Elephant hath no joynts, That an Horse hath no Gall, That the Chameleon lives only by Aire, That the Ostridge digesteth Iron; That the forbidden fruit was an Apple; That our Savior never laughed, That a man have one rib lesse than a woman, That there was no Rainbowe before the flood.”

Browne coined 784 new words, most of them in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, including anomalous, antediluvian, ascetic, botanist, circumstantially, considerably, deductive, electricity, fallaciously, hallucination, horizontally and vertically, improbably, incontrovertible, insecurity, invariably, medical, prairie, precarious, presumably, and traditionally.

Rare Books copy gift of Brooke Hopkins.

Lexicon Tetraglotton

James Howell (1594? – 1666)
London: Printed by J.G. for Samuel Thompson, 1660
First and only edition
PE1635 A2 H68 1660

James Howell began his literary career in 1640 with the political allegory, Dendrologia: Dodona’s Grove, or, The Vocall Forest, an account representing the history of England and Europe through the framework of a typology of trees. He wrote political tracts throughout the 1640s and 1650s, drawing material from Aristotle, Machiavelli, and others. Howell befriended many literary figures, including Ben Jonson.

He wrote Instructions for Forreine Travel in 1642, a book of useful information about safe travel in France, Spain, and Italy. Traveling in his own country proved to be hazardous, however. On a visit to London in 1643, he was arrested and imprisoned for eight years. He spent this time writing. Released from prison at the Restoration of Charles to the throne, he was made Historiographer Royal in 1661.

Howell possessed a mastery of modern romance languages. Lexicon is a dictionary but also contains epistles and poems on lexicography, characterizations of most letters of the alphabet, and vocabulary lists organized by topics such as anatomy, chemistry, alchemy, horsemanship, hunting, architecture, and libraries. Howell collected proverbs in English, Italian, Spanish and French. Lexicon is bound with Howell’s Proverbs, or, Old Sayed Savves & Adages (1659). Benjamin Franklin used this book as a reference for his Poor Richard’s Almanac.

In the frontispiece, engraved by William Faithorne (1616-1691), four female figures, emblematic of England, France, Spain and Italy, stand among trees with a helmeted figure to the right standing guard. This copy contains a later state of the engraving with initials identifying the countries represented. Rare Books copy gift of Anonymous, for whose generosity and friendship we are ever grateful.

Who put the horse before the cart?

Adagorium D. Erasmi Roterodami Epitome

Desiderius Erasmus (d. 1546)
Amsteldomi: Ex officina Elzeviriana, sumptibus societatis, mdclxiii (1663)
Editio novissima, ab infinitis fere mendis, quibus caeterae scatebant, repurgata; nonnullisque in locis adaucta, uti praefatio ad lectorem indicat, cum triplici indica, authorum, locorum & proverbiorum locopletissimo
PN6410 E84 1663

Erasmus’s Adagia is a collection of Latin and Greek sayings arranged by topic, with the author’s references in the margins.

Elzevir Press was known for its well-printed but inexpensive books, published especially for students. The title-page of this edition is printed in red and black with a woodcut device of a woman and an owl under a tree, probably a representation of Minerva.

Rare Books copy from the Kenneth Lieurance Ott Collection donated to the Okanogan County Museum, Washington.

How far apart should I plant my cherry trees?

Planters Manual

Charles Cotton (1630-1687)
London: Printed for Henry Brome, 1675
First edition of first English translation
SB356 C67

Robert Triquet’s classic treatise on stone and pome fruits – with lists of varietals, their uses and how best to grow them – also included grafting and espaliering techniques.

Charles Cotton, an ardent outdoorsman and naturalist, was best known as a poet and for his friendship with Izaak Walton, to whose Compleat Angler he added a second part. Cotton was well-skilled in horticulture. The Planters Manual give practical information in a plain and easy writing style, for which Cotton takes much of the credit. 

Cotton, in his preface to his translation of The Planters Manual from the French, complains about French “effeminate manners, luxurious kickshaws, and fantastic fashions” and the transference of such abominations into England.

What does a hippopotamus really look like?

Museum Regalis Societatis, table

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712)
London: Printed by W. Rawlins, for the author, 1681
First edition
Q41 L848 1681

Nehemiah Grew, best known for his studies in plant anatomy, is considered one of the most distinguished scientists of the 17th century. This work is a catalog of some of early collections of the Royal Society, which received its charter in 1662.

Grew focused upon the more exotic specimens donated by the Society's membership. Some of the oddities Grew included are an Egyptian mummy, a sloth, a calf with two heads, a crocodile, an air pump, a reflecting telescope, a canoe, a cider press, currency from Virginia, a hammock, gloves from Iceland, and a snowshoe from Greenland.

The catalog is illustrated with thirty-one full-page engraved plates of curiosities like a hippopotamus skull, tortoise shells, a skeleton of a crocodile, a sea unicorn, a coconut and more.

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