A Lexical Analysis of an Obscure Pharmaceutical Term from a Fifteenth Century Spanish Apothecaries' Manual: "Secaniabin"

Clara Grace Miller-Broomfield


The Compendio delos boticarios is an apothecaries’ manual that was translated into Spanish by Alonso Rodriguez de Tudela in 1515 from Saladino d’Ascoli’s original Latin. It contains many words that no longer exist in the Spanish lexicon, and I am creating a glossary of those words in order to aid modern readers in its comprehension. Composing this glossary has led to the location of several terms that are deserving of further recognition and analysis, and the purpose of analysing and researching them will be to determine - using lexicology as a vehicle - what evidence the text holds of the exchange of scientific knowledge that was taking place among the diverse cultures of the sixteenth-century Mediterranean. One such word is elefanginas, an adjective used in the document to describe a type of pill. Elefanginas is as yet undefined in any of the primary Spanish dictionaries or lexical resources of the field, but Girolamo Calestani’s 1562 Osservationi nel comporre gli antidoti - an Italian apothecaries’ manual - uses the word several times to describe medicines that were aromatic with a base of aloe and used to treat ailments of the brain, heart, stomach, and liver. Its presence in the Compendio delos boticarios highlights the sharing of knowledge, culture, and thus (to an extent) language that characterized the Mediterranean of the early sixteenth century. Another example is the word secaniabin, which similarly lacks documentation in any well-known Spanish dictionary or text. This word is defined, however, in Joannis Mesue’s In Antidotarium - one of medieval Europe’s most well-known pharmaceutical treatises and a source heavily relied upon by Saladino d’Ascoli in the Aromatariorum compendium (the Latin version of the Compendio delos boticarios). Secaniabin refers to a syrup made with vinegar, honey, and at times wine (among various other substances) that was used by the apothecaries of the day primarily due to its resolvative and subtiliative effects. Surprisingly, the Persian word sekanjabin is also used in modern-day Iran to refer to a drink made with honey, vinegar, and often mint and cucumber - consumed for refreshment but also for the medicinal and healing properties that many believe it to have. The examples given here represent two of the many opportunities for lexical and etymological analysis found in the Compendio delos boticarios. The document is rich with loan-words from Latin, Italian, Greek, and Arabic, and the contributions of physicians, philosophers, and apothecaries from diverse areas of the Mediterranean are frequently cited. These facts - as evidence for the aforementioned intellectual exchange - are underscored and given specific detail by the lexical analyses proposed in this study.


Secaniabin; Medieval; Spanish; Saladino d'Ascoli; Lexical; Apothecaries

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