The true face of Shakespeare: Dioscorides and the Fourth Man

Mark Griffiths explains in depth why the Fourth Man is not Dioscorides.

Engraved by William Rogers in 1597, the title page of the first edition of John Gerard’s Herball depicts four principal male figures. Although not named on the page, on the face of things, they are Solomon, Adam as a gardener, a great botanist from Antiquity and a poet crowned with laurels and in something akin to Roman military dress. While investigating this engraving, I realised that these figures were also camouflaged portraits – of Lord Burghley, John Gerard, Rembert Dodoens and William Shakespeare. Until I put a name to him, I had called Shakespeare the Fourth Man; I’ll do so again in what follows. I announced these identifications first in an article published in Country Life on May 20.

Reports of my article prompted a few people who comment online on literary matters to search the Internet for botanical title pages. They found two of apparent interest – in Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601) by the Flemish botanist Clusius (Charles de l’Écluse) and in the second edition of Gerard’s Herball (1633) edited by Thomas Johnson. Both featured a man in Roman military dress and captioned him with the same name, Dioscorides. He was the Fourth Man, these commenters declared, not Shakespeare.

I and others responded that their arguments were based on errors of fact and interpretation; that far more was entailed in analysing botanical title pages than assuming that they always imitated one another, or that all Roman-looking figures had to be the same person; and that Gerard himself had indicated that the Fourth Man was a poet, not Dioscorides.

But brawling under blogs is no way to address such matters. They need space, detail, background, unpacking. Here, I explain in depth why the Fourth Man is not Dioscorides.

It needs to be borne in mind that significant aspects of this essay are based on my original research into Gerard conducted over the past decade. For example, standard historical accounts of him state that, ill-versed in Latin, he plagiarised much of The Herball from a translation of Dodoens made by Robert Priest. But contemporary documents and textual analysis prove that this is untrue. Gerard was an able classicist. He had a direct line to Dodoens. He did not use Priest’s translation.

His alleged plagiarism was a vicious slur invented and broadcast by his rival and enemy Matthias de l’Obel. Beyond the scope of this essay, hinterland such as this will be explored in full in my biography of Gerard.


Pedanius or Pedacius Dioscorides (floruit 40–90AD) was a physician and botanist born at Anazarbus in Cilicia (south-eastern Anatolia in modern-day Turkey). He referred to living a soldier’s life and he is thought to have served as a physician in the Roman army for some of the period spanning the reigns of the Emperors Nero and Vespasian. This would explain his extensive travels in Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt and elsewhere. He may also have practiced in Rome.

Between 50AD and 70AD, he wrote a major treatise in Greek, De Materia Medica, to give it the Latin title by which it is usually known. In five volumes, it described the sources of medicinal substances – plants, chiefly (more than 600 kinds).

His text much copied and disseminated, Dioscorides’s pre-eminence as an authority on plants and plant-derived medicines lasted from Imperial Rome through the Renaissance. There were two main manuscript traditions of De Materia Medica – early Christian and Islamic. The oldest and finest example of the former is the beautifully illustrated copy made for Juliana Anicia, daughter of the Western Roman Emperor Olybrius, in Constantinople in about 512AD. Called the Juliana Anicia Codex, Codex Vindobonensis or the Vienna Dioscorides, it was acquired by Maximilian II in 1569 and rehoused in Vienna. Its arrival there gave yet more impetus to an already-flourishing industry.

Many of Dioscorides’s plant descriptions were brief and imprecise. He focused most closely on the aspect of a species that was of medicinal use. He might have much to say about the bulbous root of such-and-such, but only mention in passing that its flowers were lily-like and white or that its leaves were narrow.

Add to this the fact that his nomenclature and concepts of genera and species seldom corresponded exactly with those in later use, and the possibility that he might, in any case, be describing plants unfamiliar to botanists in medieval and early modern Europe, and his text, rather than having all the answers, often seemed to pose hard and potentially life-affecting questions.

By the Renaissance, working out what Dioscorides meant was an important branch of medico-botanical inquiry. In the 16th century, it boomed. Reputations were to be made by publishing interpretations of the master of Anazarbus. One notable pioneer was the physician Pietro Andrea Mattioli, whose Italian version of De Materia Medica and commentaries thereon appeared in 1544 and ran through several editions and translations into other languages. Later in the century, other botanists published expansions of and commentaries on Mattioli’s commentaries on Dioscorides. Some of these amounted to substantial plant encyclopedias offering much that was new or seen anew.

In Renaissance European publications, Dioscorides was portrayed in one of two ways. He was depicted bareheaded and in Classical costume, either a toga or Roman military uniform. More often, he was shown wearing robes and a turban or similarly exotic headgear. This dress was meant to be Arab or, more probably, Turkish; for brevity’s sake, I refer to it below as Oriental, in the old sense of Near Eastern. These two very different treatments descended from illustrations in the manuscript traditions, early Christian and Islamic, in which his work had survived.

They also reflected differences of opinion among early modern botanists as to how Dioscorides should be perceived, which aspect of his life mattered more: he wrote in Greek, had served the Roman Empire and could stand beside Theophrastus and Galen in the Classical medico-botanical pantheon; he was a native of Cilicia, an Ottoman possession by the 16th century, and his work contained much about the flora of the Near East, a subject of increasing interest.

In both guises, he was pictured as a man of seniority and experience, either middle-aged and alert, but lean and care-worn, or an elderly sage. In the front matter of botanical publications, he was depicted carrying his own book. When portrayed as a Graeco-Roman, he was not shown wearing a laurel crown. (He is not the bearded and laurel-crowned Roman military man at top left of the title page of Jean Ruel’s 1529 P. Dioscoridae Pharmacorum Simplicium. This figure is clearly captioned Pompeius, i.e. Pompey the Great, who returned to Rome triumphantly bearing Mithridates’s plant treatises after defeating him and became a patron of medical botany).

Early examples of the Oriental Dioscorides can be seen in the frontispiece of the work variously known as Herbarius zu Teutsch, Gart der Gesundheidt and Hortus Sanitatis (1487; where he appears in a gathering of physicians) and on the title page of Herbarum vivae eicones ad naturae imitationem by Otto von Brunfels (1530; where, holding his book and what appears to be an opium poppy, he stands opposite Apollo). In herbals, he continued to be shown dressed in variants of this style well into the 17th century.

From the 1570s onwards, however, his Graeco-Roman image began to catch up, influenced by his likenesses in the Juliana Anicia Codex, which had not long before travelled from Constantinople to Vienna and the library of its new owner, Emperor Maximilian II. One of this manuscript’s images (Folio 3v, seven physicians) appears to have been the source for an engraved head and shoulders portrait of Dioscorides in Icones veterum aliquot ac recentium medicorum philosophorumque by Joannes Sambucus, published in 1574. A copy of this engraving would appear in the 1598 translation of De Materia Medica by Janus Antonius Saracenus.

Meanwhile, in 1575, André Thevet had offered an alternative Dioscorides in his Cosmographie Universelle – older, more rugged and long-bearded, apparently in modern dress, and scrutinising plants while writing his book. Within a decade, Thevet had rethought this likeness. In his Vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584), he presented a new version, the figure more dignified, his gaze no longer close and intent, but solemn and distant, his robes of distinctly Classical drape and his work-in-progress evidently well under way.


These two aspects of Dioscorides, Oriental and Classical, were reconciled after a fashion by the Nuremberg physician, botanist and horticulturist Joachim Camerarius the Younger. Like Gerard, with whom he exchanged specimens and ideas, Camerarius was fascinated by the symbolic, mythic, poetic and historic resonances of plants, by what they signified of or to humankind or could be read as encoding.

In 1590, this fascination resulted in his Symbolorum et emblematum ex re herbaria, devoted to allegorical images accompanied by mottos, verses and explanatory text. In 1586, he had brought similar ingenuity to the title page of Kreutterbuch, his expanded, German edition of Mattioli’s commentaries. Reflecting Camerarius’ taxonomic discrimination, esoteric symbolism, scientific and religious beliefs, one of his most recently acquired and prized plants, and thus his identity, its design disproves an assumption made by some historians of Renaissance publishing: that title pages were the publisher’s concern and had little, if anything, to do with the author.

Other title pages that followed were demonstrably the brainchildren of the author and not the publisher, among them those of Gerard’s Herball (1597), of Clusius’ Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601) and of Thomas Moffet’s Insectorum Theatrum (1603/4, another Rogers design and left unfinished and unpublished at his death).

The title page of Kreutterbuch set several precedents for Gerard’s – Adam, post-Fall and dressed and equipped as a gardener, is shown opposite Dioscorides who, as ever, is holding his great book; instead of being captioned with his name, each man is associated with a plant that encrypts his identity and says something about him.

These plants also point to Camerarius the author and to Mattioli, his main source and model, something that Gerard would imitate in respect of himself and Dodoens. It may even be that Adam and Dioscorides here were meant as disguised portraits of Camerarius and Mattioli or that Gerard’s belief that they were prompted him to ask for such portraits on his title page.

Dioscorides is holding tulips. In De Materia Medica, he vaguely described Saturion, a reddish plant with lily-like flowers (III. cxxxiii), and he mentioned that some kinds of Narkissos (Narcissus) bore purple-red blooms (IV. clviii). In a contribution to Valerius Cordus’ Annotationes in Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De medica materia (1561, folio 213), Conrad Gesner identified the first of these with a bulbous plant with beautiful red, lily-like flowers that had recently been introduced to European gardens from Constantinople. He illustrated this new exciting new arrival, explaining that it was called ‘Tulipa’ by the Turks because its flower resembled pileolus Dalmaticus, a ‘Dalmatian cap’, most probably meaning a turban in this context.

In Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei de Medica materia (1565, pp. 1240, 1244), Mattioli placed tulips in the genus Narcissus, identifying them with Dioscorides’ purple-flowered Narkissos. In 1586, Camerarius followed suit, illustrating and describing two Tulipa species as Narcissus VI and Narcissus IX in Kreutterbuch (ch. CXLI), and as Narcissus V and Narcissus VIII in its Latin abridgement De Plantis epitome (pp. 955, 958).

In Symbolorum et emblematum (LXXXVIII), Camerarius wrote that, although the tulip was not yet clearly recognised by the ancients, some among them who were more skilled in botany (i.e. Dioscorides) conjectured that it belonged to the Narcissi. Tulips tend to close and nod unless in sunshine – behaviour that prompted Camerarius to treat them in this work as a symbol of the human spirit’s need for divine illumination. The accompanying illustration of the flowers is captioned with the motto Languesco sole latente (‘I droop when the sun is hidden’).

Something of this may be in the tulips on the title page of Kreutterbuch, whose blooms are rearing and expanding: although only dimly perceived by Dioscorides himself, they are now enlightened by modern (and, in Camerarius’ case, overtly Christian) scholarship.

The main point, however, is that Camerarius and other 16th century commentators believed that the tulip, the greatest horticultural novelty of the age, had first been noted long before by Dioscorides: this was his signature flower. In showing him with it in his Kreutterbuch, Camerarius was presenting a startlingly modish link between Antiquity and the new era, and paying implicit tribute to his own and other early modern botanists’ talents in deciphering the ancient master.

Naturally, he wanted to emphasise Dioscorides’s Near Eastern credentials and so, once again, he was portrayed looking Oriental – long-bearded, in flowing robes and wearing a form of turban. But Camerarius, who loved eloquent if elusive detail, also saw to it that Dioscorides’s other side was represented for those who cared to look: beneath his robes, he wears a jerkin with short scalloped sleeves; this was meant to be Roman dress.

Adam the gardener stands before an even greater novelty – Ipomoea quamoclit (syn. I. pennata), as it is now known, a rampant, brilliantly colourful climber from the Tropical and Subtropical Americas. Here, the whole plant is painstakingly captured, from birth to blooming: its uniquely boomerang-shaped seedling leaves appear either side of Adam’s boots. Camerarius described and illustrated this exotic prodigy in Hortus Medicus et Philosophicus (1588, p. 135 and figure XL).

A little while before the 1586 Kreutterbuch title page was designed, Guiseppe Casabona, botanist to Francesco de Medici in Florence, had sent him seeds of it. They germinate fast, and flower within months.

Camerarius titled his 1588 account of this plant Quamoclit, which, he had heard, was its vernacular name in its native lands. Having noted that Andrea Cesalpino called it Iasminum folio Millefolii, he proposed what, he thought, was a more fitting botanical name, Convolvulus tenuifolius. In other words, around the time that Camerarius first grew Quamoclit and had it depicted on the title page of Kreutterbuch, it was thought to be a kind of jasmine.

That idea persisted: this plant’s accepted botanical name is Jasminum Americanum in Curae Posteriores (1611, pp. 8-9), a posthumous supplement to Clusius’s works; and John Parkinson was still taking pains to assert that it was a Convolvulus and not a jasmine in his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629, pp. 358-359).

Although Camerarius would soon dissent from it, the belief that Quamoclit was a supremely special kind of jasmine may well explain his decision to place it with Adam on the 1586 title page. This plant is probably meant to be the Jesse Tree, or Wurzel Jesse (‘Jesse stem or root’), the soaring schematic representation of the genealogy of the House of David, which culminates in Mary and Jesus. In Continental ecclesiastical art, it was often pictured as a writhing vine rather than a straight-trunked tree. Camerarius was an inventor of symbols, alive to the culture of multiple meanings, rebuses and ‘canting’ (i.e. speaking) emblems.

He was also aware of variant vernacular and Latin names for jasmine that would have made it a suitable Wurzel Jesse. He included one, Iesemin, in De Plantis epitome utilissima (1586, pp. 36–37). Conrad Gesner referred to jasmine as Ieseminum (e.g. in Historiae Animalium, 1551, vol. I, p. 792). In The Herball (pp. 746–747), Gerard recorded its names Ieseminum, Gesseminum, Gessemine, and Jesse tout court.

On the title page of Kreutterbuch, the first and fallen Adam is tending the plant that will one day bear his redeemer Christ, the second Adam. At the same time, this species was an astonishing novelty from a new-found flora (it was too new and strange to make it into the text of the book), and one closely associated with Camerarius, who introduced it to Northern European horticulture and who was already forming opinions as to its botanical affinities and naming.

In short, although Quamoclit was a proleptic device signifying Man’s redemption, it was also a signature plant for Camerarius. Such likenesses as we have of him are not very helpful, but they show a hooked or broken nose and a ridged eye socket not unlike Adam’s on the title page. It is possible that Camerarius had himself used as the model for the primal plant-namer and gardener, a role, however rustic-looking, that he would no more have disdained than Gerard did a decade later.

Even if not, the resemblance might have been close enough to suggest the idea to his contact Gerard, and especially given Adam’s Quamoclit, a plant linked to Camerarius. And if Gerard thought that, he might also have seen Mattioli in the guise of Dioscorides opposite. Kreutterbuch, after all, was a reworking of Mattioli’s commentaries on Dioscorides, and it was the former who had first identified tulips with the latter’s purple-flowered Narkissos.


The key to Gerard’s 1597 title page lies a little way inside The Herball, in his epistle ‘To the courteous and well-willing Readers’. He terms the investigation, cultivation and appreciation of plants ‘that excellent Arte of Simpling’ (in his parlance, a ‘simple’ was any plant of interest, not just of medicinal value). It is ‘a studie for the wisest, an exercise for the noblest, a pastime for the best. From whence spring flowers, not onely to adorne the garlands of the Muses, to decke the bosoms of the beautifull, to paint the gardens of the curious, to garnish the glorious crownes of Kings; but also such fruit as learned Dioscorides long travelled for; and princely Mithridates reserved as precious in his owne private closet’.

Gerard goes on to name other great botanical scholars from Antiquity, authors of discourses ‘written of the vertues of Herbes’. They represent the first of four kinds of major benefactor or beneficiary of ‘that excellent Arte of Simpling’ mentioned in this epistle and illustrated on the title page of The Herball.

The second kind is exalted patrons and proponents, ‘royall personages’ with ‘princely loves to Herbarisme’. Gerard reels off ‘Iuba, Attalus, Climenus, Achylles, Cyrus, Masynissa, Semyramis, Diocletian’ before coming to the greatest and expatiating on him: ‘King Salomon, excelling all the rest for wisedome, of greater royaltie than they all (though the Lillies of the field outbraved him) he onely (I say) might yeeld hereunto sufficient countenance and commendation, in that his lofty wisdome thought no scorne to stoupe unto the lowly plants.’

Next, Gerard looks to Eden for the first practitioner and archetypal representative of his own vocation as a herbarist – not the same as a ‘herbalist’, but a student, lover, grower and namer of plants. It is, he implies, a calling that retains something of Paradise’s innocent joy: ‘Talke of perfect happinesse or pleasure, and what place was so fit for that, as the garden place where Adam was set, to be the Herbarist?’

Finally, Gerard asks: ‘Whither did the Poets hunt for their syncere delights, but into the gardens of Alcinous, of Adonis, and the orchards of Hesperides? Where did they dreame that heaven should be, but in the pleasant garden of Elysium?’ In this epistle, he has already identified botany with ‘quicke sighted Phoebus’, spoken of flowers that adorn the garlands of the Muses and referred to Hyacinthus who was metamorphosed into ‘that beloved flower of Apollo’. Plants, for him, are inextricable from poetry, as he shows throughout the 1,000-plus pages that follow.

On the 1597 title page, these four classes are personified by figures who, on the face of things and within the iconographic conventions of Gerard’s day, were identifiable as Solomon, Adam, Dioscorides and an Apollonian poet crowned with laurels. But the 16th-century botanical title page was not rule-bound. This was a fast-evolving art form.

The choice and number of persons depicted were by no means fixed. Few conventions were as rigid as the one that said Dioscorides had to be shown holding a book. Designers might influence one another, but there was no artistic or scientific obligation to copy slavishly. On the contrary, there was every incentive to do something different, to make a statement, have an in-joke or give a twist or a sideways glance to earlier title pages, and especially when the design’s presiding genius was an author as clever as Camerarius or Gerard.

The 1597 title page of The Herball was unusual, perhaps unprecedented, in having a framework of four principal figures. That of Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck (1554) had shown six (excluding Flora, Pomona, four satyrs, the three nymphs of the Hesperides, Ladon the dragon and Hercules). More usually, there were just two; for example, Dioscorides and Adam on the title page of Camerarius 1586. Evidently, the number of key players in William Rogers’ design was meant to correspond to the four-class taxonomy of plant people in Gerard’s epistle. So was the choice of personnel.

Despite being held up by Gerard as the supremely wise patron of botany, Solomon had not been a fixture of earlier botanical title pages. But he would become one post-Herball, appearing, for example, in Clusius 1601, Besler 1613, Parkinson 1640, and Chabrier 1666. As the patron deity of medicine as well as poetry, Apollo was a botanical title page regular (e.g. Brunfels 1530; Dodoens 1554, and his translators Clusius, 1557, and Lyte 1578; Lobel 1581; Durante 1585; Tabernaemontanus 1588). But The Herball’s title page appears to have been the first to focus on the god’s lyric art by presenting a poet.

This reflected the importance of poetry to Gerard, as expressed in his epistle and demonstrated in his practice. Although this figure seems to have been an innovation for a botanical title page, his vocation and role would have been apparent from other fields of 16th-century publishing. Poets both from Antiquity and the present were illustrated in Classical garb and with laurel crowns in the front matter of various books, scientific or poetic.

The innovating did not end there. The four figures on the 1597 title page of The Herball are also camouflaged portraits of men who were alive in the 16th century. As I suggested above, Camerarius’ Kreutterbuch may offer a precedent for this, whether actual or imagined by Gerard; so, for all we know, might the title pages of other Renaissance botanical works. The Herball’s, however, is the first where we can be sure of this role-playing, simply because of the precision and ingenuity with which the identities of its four Renaissance men are encrypted.

The parts in which they are cast imply metamorphosis or rebirth, from ancient great to early modern luminary, pay them a large compliment and indicate their relationship to Gerard and his work. The poet is William Shakespeare. Solomon is Lord Burghley. Gerard is Adam the first gardener-taxonomist. Opposite him, the sage holding a book is Rembert Dodoens: he is Dioscorides reborn.

Their true identities are encoded in the plants that accompany them. This is no sub-Dan Brown fantasy on my part, as some online commenters have recently opined. Consider the use of flowers in emblems and identifiers in Tudor England, from red and white roses to Queen Elizabeth’s eglantine and the Williams and Johns (Dianthus varieties) adopted as rebuses by men so named.

Think of the 1562 device of the publisher John Day – a portrait of him bordered with Dianthus (Johns) and Bellis (Daisies). Think of the widespread use of plants as moral signifiers – fennel, for example, which stood for flattery because its flowerheads swarmed with insects. Those are merely standard or straightforward examples.

Think now of Gerard’s ally Camerarius and of the knowledge, ingenuity, aptness and story-telling he compressed into Dioscorides’s tulips and Adam’s strange jessamine and laid out at length in Symbolorum et emblematum. In the 16th century, many plants were conventionally held to communicate something. It’s no surprise that plant experts dreamt up more subtle and sophisticated things for them to say.

Playing Adam in The Herball, Gerard gave himself the Pasque flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, to hold. Both apt for the character and precisely identifying the person playing him, this species illustrates perfectly the multi-purpose symbolism of the signature plants on his title page. Like the Quamoclit Wurzel Jesse on the title page of Kreutterbuch, it anticipates the first Adam’s redemption by the second Adam – not, this time, through Christ’s human lineage and birth, but through the Passion and Resurrection.

Before The Herball, Pulsatilla vulgaris was widely known as Passe (i.e. Passion) flower, a name that, confusingly, it shared with other plants. In Henry Lyte’s A Niewe Herball (1578/9), three different genera are called Passe flower. To give them their current generic epithets, they are Adonis (Lyte, pp. 187–188), Pulsatilla (pp. 417–420), and Anemone (pp. 422–424). Botanically speaking, this homonymy was a disastrous state of affairs, and even more so in view of the fact that Lyte was discussing the medicinal and culinary uses of potentially toxic species.

He captioned Pulsatilla vulgaris (Gerard’s Pasque flower) ‘Pulsatilla/ Mischievous Passe flower’ (p. 417). The ‘Mischievous’ designation was intended to convey that this species was not, in Lyte’s view, a true Passe flower – not that this helped much to put distance between it and its namesakes.

When he came to the Anemone Passe flower, Lyte remarked that the root ‘boyled in wine prepared (called in Latin Passum) and after layd upon the eyes, cleareth the sight, and taketh away webbes and spottes’ (p. 424). In these names and others, ‘Passe’ signifies Easter primarily, but it appears that some 16th-century botanists also linked it to passum, the Classical Latin term, then still current in medicine, for raisin wine.

Finally, to add to the confusion, there was Passevelours, an old name for the unrelated Amaranthus. Gerard does not call this plant Passe flower in his chapter on it in The Herball (pp 253–255), but it is clear that some, less astute than he was, could: the book’s index (which Gerard neither compiled nor corrected) states ‘Passe flower, or Passe velour 254. 255’.

These were all excellent reasons for Gerard’s wishing to give a different name to Pulsatilla vulgaris. To them, we can add the facts that, of the above genera, it was Pulsatilla whose flowers coincided most reliably with Easter and were most consistently the purple that was the mourning and penitential livery of the Passiontide. Despite Lyte’s terming it ‘Mischievous [i.e. bogus] Passe flower’, this was the candidate most worthy of the name.

And so Gerard decided to clear up this mess and to give to Pulsatilla vulgaris the unambiguously Paschal name by which it is known to this day. In The Herball (p. 309), he wrote of it: ‘They flower for the most part about Easter, which hath mooved me to name it Pasque flower, or Easter flower.’ Pasque flower was his nomenclatural innovation and preference, but, in the same chapter, he also refers to this plant as Passe flower, that being its name in earlier English botanical writings.

This was his practice with species that he renamed: even when they were superseded by his own coinages, he kept familiar names in play for his readers’ sake. Ease of reference was one thing, however, and perpetuating error another. Significantly, he omitted the name Passe flower from his chapters on Anemone and Adonis – in his view, they were nothing of the kind.

We can read some emotion into Gerard’s declaration (highly unusual for him) that he was ‘mooved’ to name Pulsatilla vulgaris Pasque flower. He was especially fond of this plant. His description of it, although perfectly accurate, is rhapsodic and inventive. Its finely dissected leaves, he wrote, ‘resemble an holi-water sprinckle’. This, for him, was a hallowed plant – an impression doubtless helped by his visits to Hildersham near Cambridge, where, until 1591, one of its greatest English sites was tended by the Reverend George Fuller, whom Gerard remembered as ‘a very kinde and loving man’.

To return to the title page of The Herball. There, we have Adam, a fact signalled in Gerard’s epistle, where he is described as ‘the Herbarist’, i.e. a student, cultivator and namer of plants. But this Adam, like the other men on the title page, is also a portrait of one of the book’s begetters. This is Gerard the greatest Elizabethan herbarist cast as heir to and reincarnation of the first herbarist.

Aptly, he holds Pulsatilla vulgaris, a plant he admired, named and identified unambiguously with Easter. In 1597, the year this design was engraved, spring had brought not only the resurrection of Christ, the Second Adam, but also of Gerard. He had not long recovered from prolonged and severe malaria. He attributed his unexpected survival not to the many cures tried on him, but to the Almighty.

Beside Gerard’s spade on the title page, a vase contains three flowers. From left to right, they belong to Adonis annua (or perhaps A. aestivalis), to a cultivar of Anemone coronaria he termed Anemone maxima Chalcedonica polyanthos or the Great double Winde flower of Bithynia (Herball, pp. 302–3), and to the cultivar now known as Ranunculus acris Multiplex and which Gerard called Ranunculus maximus multiplex, Double wilde Crowfoote, or Batchelers Buttons (pp. 810–11).

As I mentioned above, both Adonis and Anemone were named Passe flower until Gerard intervened. Moreover, Pulsatilla had been classified among the Crowfoots, effectively considered a kind of Ranunculus (see Lyte, p. 417). On the title page, the primary purpose of these three blooms is to illustrate Gerard’s judicious treatment of Pulsatilla. He is shown elevating his sacred signature plant, taking it to his breast, and so separating it from its namesakes and feigned close cousins. The message reads, ‘genuine Passe flower is neither Anemone nor Adonis, but my Pasque flower; and it certainly does not belong among the buttercups’.

Taxonomic acumen is just one aspect of the herbarism personified by the Adam/Gerard figure on the title page. Another is horticultural connoisseurship, what today we’d call plantsmanship, and especially the discovery of exciting plants and their introduction to gardens. Instead of exemplifying one of his rejected Passe flower candidates with a familiar Anemone species, Gerard chose a spectacular cultivar, ‘a most gallant flower’ not long arrived from Constantinople and treasured in his garden. He was displaying his prowess as a sourcer of plants and as a cultivator capable of making them at home.

Similarly, any buttercup would have done to illustrate the misalliance from which he had extricated the Pasque flower. But he gave us a very special one: Ranunculus acris Multiplex, a prized novelty in the 1590s. Gerard wrote that it ‘hath of late beene brought foorth of Lancashire unto our London Gardens, by a curious gentleman in the serching foorth of Simples Master Thomas Hesketh, who found it growing wilde in the towne fields of a small village called Hesketh, not far from Latham in Lancashire.’

Thomas Hesketh (1560–1613) was Gerard’s junior by 15 years, his botanical and medical protégé, dear friend and collaborator in plant collecting. Along with Gerard’s, his family was one of several closely interconnected clans of gentry and aristocracy who were prominent in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales.

Many of their members adhered to Roman Catholicism, at least when on home territory. Hesketh was certainly a lifelong recusant. Gerard in adulthood was not; he was active in his local church and scornful of Catholic views of nature, which he dismissed as ‘toyes and superstition’. Not that he was an ardent Protestant either: his religion was idiosyncratic, hard to classify let alone name.

Nonetheless, Gerard retained close ties to Catholics and to Hesketh especially. He chose this double-flowered Ranunculus not only to make a taxonomic point and to illustrate herbarism at its plant-discerning best, but also to pay cryptic homage to its discoverer, a man he cherished, but who fell foul of the law because of his faith. In which vein, Gerard’s reverence for the Pasque flower and very choice of it as an emblem may have been influenced by his own background in Catholicism and continuing feelings for it.

In short, Gerard’s signature plants on the title page do far more than identify him and associate him with Adam. They amount to a botanico-biographical sketch.


In botany, the person who names a plant is known as its author. It is a proprietorial relationship, with the plant and its author becoming identified with one another and their names linked in the literature. In Purgantium aliarumque (1574, pp. 472–473), Dodoens illustrated and briefly described what we would call Fritillaria imperialis or Crown Imperial, then a rare and sensational new introduction from Turkey. Although, as yet, he had only seen a picture of this plant, he thought it merited botanical recognition. He called it Corona Imperialis, so conferring scientific status on an informal name, which, he explained, was being attached to it in Italy.

Soon afterwards, he moved to Vienna and became physician to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and to his successor Rudolf II. There, he saw his Corona Imperialis in the imperial gardens and displayed at Court in April 1576. Dodoens recorded this experience, giving an amplified description and confirming his name for the plant in the last work that he published, Stirpium historiae pemptades sex sive libri XXX, or Pemptades for short and hereafter (1583, p. 202).

Fritillaria imperialis, the most spectacular and prized of all the plants that Dodoens named and described, is an obvious choice of identifier for him on the title page of The Herball. To it, we can add the facts that this figure is a good likeness of Dodoens and that he holds a book and, with the same hand, points to the title of Gerard’s book below. Not only was Pemptades the main botanical source for The Herball, but Dodoens furnished Gerard with revisions that he made to it between its publication and his death in 1585.

These were significant changes and additions, amounting to an English botanical scoop had from the late great Flemish master himself. They would not be published under Dodoens’ own name until the second edition of Pemptades in 1616. On the 1597 title page of Gerard’s Herball, Dodoens’ book-clasping hand points out this indebtedness.

That establishes the top-right figure on Gerard’s title page as Dodoens. But how can we tell that he has been cast in the role of Dioscorides? In terms of appearance, he is sufficiently reminiscent of images of Dioscorides that were current by 1597, most notably the grave, long-bearded savant published in Thevet’s Vrais pourtraits in 1584. He is holding a book, Dioscorides’s inalienable prop when featured on title pages. Like Dioscorides on Camerarius’s 1586 title page, he wears a quasi-Classical jerkin with scalloped sleeves; he is meant to make one think, in part, of Ancient Rome.

There was a view, discussed, among others, by Camerarius (1590, LXXI) and Clusius (1601, p. 129), that Fritillaria imperialis might be the plant called Hemerokallis by Dioscorides (Mat. Med. III. ch. 128). Dodoens did not agree, finding his Corona Imperialis unattested in any ancient source. Rather, he identified Dioscorides’s ephemeral-flowered and lily-like Hemerokallis with the plants that he called Lilium non bulbosum (Pemptades pp. 204–205) and which are now known as Hemerocallis.

Gerard shared Dodoens’s view, discussing Lilium non bulbosum as the Hemerocallis of Dioscorides and inventing for it the English name Day Lillie (Herball, pp. 90–91). Fritillaria imperialis, then, is not deemed a Dioscoridean plant in The Herball or offered as such on its title page. It is, however, analogous to the tulips held by Camerarius’s Dioscorides in that it identifies Dodoens, this species’ first recorder and, in that, it was a recent and exciting arrival from Turkey: Dodoens is the new Dioscorides and Fritillaria imperialis is the new tulip. It also recalls the fact that he was in the medical service of Holy Roman Emperors, not Ancient Roman emperors as in Dioscorides’s case, but a close-enough correspondence.

By contrast, Carlina acaulis, Dodoens’s other signature plant on The Herball’s title page, shouts ‘Dioscorides’. In Pemptades (pp. 714–715), Dodoens argued that this thistle was Dioscorides’s Leukakantha, described in De Materia Medica (III ch. 19). Gerard shared that opinion and made much of it, calling his chapter on this plant, ‘Of white Carline Thistle of Dioscorides’. In the entire Herball, no other genus is so explicitly associated with Dioscorides.

On the title page, it points directly to him at the same time as alluding to Dodoens, who interpreted his Leukakantha as this thistle. It identifies the two botanists, ancient and Renaissance, with one another. Again, there may also be an oblique reference to Dodoens’s service at the Imperial Court in Vienna. In his account of this plant, Gerard explained that its post-Classical botanical name Carlina honoured Charlemagne ‘the first [Holy] Romain Emperor… whose armie (as it is reported) was in times past thorow the benefit of this roote delivered and preserved from the plague’ (Herball, pp. 995–6).

Unlike Mattioli, Dodoens was not primarily an enlarger of and a commenter upon Dioscorides, but he studied the Emperor’s recently acquired Juliana Anicia Codex in Vienna and he used it as the source of several illustrations in Pemptades and for guidance with long-standing problems of plant identification (see, for example, the woodcut of Coronopus ex Codice Caesareo and accompanying text at Pemptades, edition 1, pages 109–110).

More importantly, Dodoens adopted and adapted Dioscorides’s method of arranging plants. As he explained in the preface of Pemptades (p. 3), he would not follow those early medico-botanical masters who classified plants according to use. Nor would he follow Theophrastus, who approached botany in terms of parts – stems, leaves, flowers and so forth – with the result that information about any one species could be scattered in several different places, making study protracted and vexatious.

No, the model, wrote Dodoens, was Dioscorides, who ‘did not divide plants limb-from-limb, and who laboured to join together those that were alike’. Of course, he added, he could not always follow the order of De Materia Medica exactly because so many more plants were now known. Dodoens, even more than Mattioli, was the modern Dioscorides.

This in itself should dispose of the most likely alternative identification for the figure at top right of Gerard’s title page – Theophrastus of Eresus (born in about 370BC), Western botany’s other great patriarch. To it, we can add the facts that, before 1598, Theophrastus was hardly ever to be found on botanical title pages and that, once he began to appear frequently, he was at first visualised as clean-shaven and in modern Greek garb (illustrations of 16th-entury Greek merchants, emissaries and émigrés show them similarly dressed). It was not until the third decade of the 17th century that he was regularly depicted as a long-bearded and aged Ancient Greek. Finally, Gerard does not mention Theophrastus in his epistle, whereas he gives Dioscorides a resounding cue.


Let us turn now to the laurel-crowned Fourth Man on Gerard’s 1597 title page. He, too, holds a Fritillaria species, F. meleagris. On May 19, after my Country Life article was announced, The Times Literary Supplement ran a blog on the subject. Soon afterwards, a comment was posted beneath it by Miriam Jacobson, Associate Professor of English at the University of Georgia. Of the Fourth Man, she remarked: ‘This has to be Dioscorides’; she also described his fritillary as ‘a recent import from Turkey’, i.e. recent in 1597.

Prof Jacobson takes the same view of the provenance of Fritillaria meleagris in her book Barbarous Antiquity (2014). There, she states that this species and the tulip ‘entered European markets and gardens in the 16th Century as Turkish imports’ (p. 133). A little later on, she describes the ‘checkered fritillary’ as a Turkish bulb and speaks of its ‘Ottoman origin’; indeed, a significant part of her argument in this chapter of the book (ch. 4, ‘Breeding Fame: Horses and Bulbs in Venus and Adonis’) is based on the premise that this plant was a native of and an export from Turkey.

If Fritillaria meleagris were Turkish, it might conceivably be a symbol for a reborn Dioscorides, but Fritillaria meleagris is not a Turkish native or export. It was first discovered growing wild in the water meadows of the Loire in about 1570 by Noël Caperon, an apothecary from Orléans. Its discovery is documented in letters that he sent to Clusius in 1571 and 1572 and which are now held at Leiden University.

Well aware of its origins, Gerard wrote in The Herball: ‘These rare and beautifull plants grow naturally wilde in the fields about Orleance and Lions in Fraunce, from where they have been brought into the most parts of Europe.’ The first person to publish an account of F. meleagris in English was Henry Lyte in his Niewe Herball (1578/9, pp. 213–214). He, too, was in no doubt as to its origins: it was ‘founde about Aurelia [Orléans] in Fraunce’. All other botanists agreed.

Dodoens, Clusius, Lobel: not one of them claimed it was Turkish, and they were right not to. Fritillaria meleagris has a native distribution that extends from France through Europe and Central Russia to Siberia. The lower limits of its range are the Southern Alps, Western Balkans, Romania and the Altai Mountains. It is also found in Scandinavia and the Baltic States, where, as in England, it may be naturalised rather than native. It inhabits damp grasslands and sparse woods that are often close to rivers and may be subject to flooding.

That some of its Eastern European haunts lay within the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century does not – did not – make this species Turkish. That is not how botanists, gardeners, or even politicians think: to take a later example, the native flora of Colonial America was not described as ‘British’.

Nor was this cool- and moisture-loving bulb transported to Turkey and bulked up there for export. At first, it was collected from the wild in France and then from other Continental locations as they came to light. It was propagated in European gardens and nurseries – an easy matter once it became clear that this species increases swiftly from seed in the right conditions.

Gerard received his specimens from his friend Jean Robin in France: ‘The curious and painfull Herbarist of Paris John Robin, hath sent me many plants thereof for my garden, where they prosper as in their owne native countrey.’

To head off confusion, I should mention the account of Fritillaria meleagris in Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601, p. 153) by Clusius. He refers to Constantinople and to Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, who, while Austria’s ambassador there, sent home bulbs such as tulips and examined the Juliana Anicia Codex, which his imperial master then acquired. At a glance, this could look like a Turkish connection for F. meleagris.

Read this passage, however, and it becomes clear that Clusius means nothing of the kind. Rather, he is recording that Busbecq sent bulbs of F. meleagris to Vienna from Paris during his time as counselor to Elizabeth of Austria, widow of Charles IX of France – i.e. years after his recall from the Ottoman court. In other words, like Gerard’s, these fritillaries were French.

As for his mention of Constantinople, Clusius is simply noting that travellers to the Ottoman capital had observed wild F. meleagris in meadows four days’ journey south of Buda in Hungary – i.e. within this species’ native Continental range. Clusius, who knew Near Eastern bulbs better than any other European botanist, and who knew from Noël Caperon himself the facts of his discovery, knew that F. meleagris was not Turkish.

In Barbarous Antiquity (pp. 135, 137), Prof Jacobson also states that ‘Gerard’s description of the fritillary unwittingly alludes to the bulb’s Ottoman origin in naming the bulb the “Turkie or Ginny-Hen” flower. Though here Gerard clearly means turkey the bird, the word Turkie cannot help but simultaneously conjure up connotations with the country from which the bird takes its English name’.

Really? Does this not entail an error on a par with thinking that Turkey Twizzlers are authentic Turkish cuisine? It is not an error, or a lamely punning link, that Gerard would have made and he ordained the flora of his title page. ‘Turkie flower’ was not even his name of choice for this fritillary.

Gerard knew very well that Fritillaria meleagris had nothing to do with Turkey the country. For ease of reference, in The Herball, he tended to use previously published or familiar plant names as the titles of chapters, but this did not mean that they were his preferences. He would then indicate his preferred nomenclature (often his own and new coinages) in the illustration captions and the body of the text.

His chapter on Fritillaria meleagris (pp. 122–123) is titled ‘Of Turkie or Ginnie-hen flower’. In 1574, Dodoens had proposed the name Meleagris flos for this plant (Purgantium aliarumque, pp. 395, 398). It referred to the guinea fowl, or turkey as the bird was then known in England. As Lyte explained, translating Dodoens in his Niewe Herball, the flowers’ spotting was ‘lyke to the feathers of the Turkie or Ginny hen, which is called Meleagris avis’ (p. 214).

This established a precedent that Gerard felt obliged to reflect, hence the title of his chapter. However, his preferred scientific name for this plant was the one that Caperon, its discoverer, had proposed: Frittillaria [sic]. Meanwhile, his preferred English name was his own coinage, Checkered Daffodill, and it is styled as such in his descriptions and captions.

But there is an even better indication of the English names that Gerard most naturally and habitually gave to plants – the second edition of his garden catalogue (1599). On page 8, we find ‘Frittillaria Checkerd Daffodill.’ This took root as its English name. In his encyclopedia of cultivated plants, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629, p. 40), John Parkinson titled his chapter on it ‘Fritillaria. The checkerd Daffodill’, making allowance, as Gerard had done with ‘Turkie or Ginnie-hen flower’, for the name’s currency, while voicing a preference of his own: ‘The ordinary checkerd Daffodill (as it is usually called, but might more properly be called the small checkerd Lilly)’.

Fritillaria meleagris is not Turkish. ‘Turkie or Ginnie-hen flower’ would not have suggested Turkey the country to Gerard. Anyway, to him, this species went by a different name. He was serious and thoughtful about nomenclature and about plants’ symbolic values. They had to be what he termed ‘proper’. It is inconceivable that he had his Checkered Daffodill illustrated on the title page as an allusion to Turkey.

Had he wanted such an allusion, he would have done it properly, made the Fourth Man’s principal signature plant a tulip or some other genuine Ottoman treasure, or one of the six species in The Herball whose English names are prefixed  ‘Turkie’ or ‘Turkes’ in the sense of that country and its people. We cannot, then, read his fritillary as ‘Turkey = Dioscorides’.

Nor had any botanist suggested that F. meleagris was a Dioscoridean plant. The consensus, rightly, was that it was new to science when it was discovered in France in 1570. It was unattested in any earlier texts. As Gerard says in The Herball: ‘Of the faculties of these pleasant flowers there is nothing set downe in the ancient or later writers.’

Lyte’s comment in A Niewe Herball (p. 214) that it is ‘called of the Grekes and Latines, Flos Meleagris, and Meleagris Flos’ is a mistranslation or misunderstanding of material received from Dodoens. Its other classically derived names were, likewise, all of recent invention. In his account of Fritillaria meleagris in The Herball, Gerard quoted an epigram by Martial that contains fritillus, the Roman term for a dice box. He knew that Caperon had invented the name Fritillaria in the belief that fritillus meant a chessboard. In quoting Martial, Gerard was attempting to determine the correct meaning of fritillus. He was not suggesting that Fritillaria, plant or name, was known in Ancient Rome.

The Fourth Man is also holding Zea mays, or Turkie Corne as Gerard called it. That name does refer to ‘the Turkes Dominions’. However, it does not work as an allusion to the Cilician Dioscorides: unlike other Classical authors, such as Pliny, he did not describe a cereal that was later misconstrued as Zea mays. And, as the Fourth Man’s key identifier the fritillary does not say ‘Dioscorides’, why would his Turkie Corne? No, the maize is leading us somewhere quite different, as I shall explain in a later article.

The Fourth Man’s plants do not identify him as Dioscorides or as anyone whom Gerard might have regarded as his 16th-century successor. His fritillary also excludes all other ancient authors, Pliny among them. Within the conventions of the period, there is nothing about the Fourth Man’s appearance that would have identified him as Dioscorides.

He is too young and not nearly grave enough. Unlike actual portrayals of Dioscorides on Renaissance botanical title pages, he is crowned with laurels and he does not hold that all-important book. That he wears a version of Roman military dress does not mean that he has to be Dioscorides, who, on 16th-century title pages, was more often shown in Oriental dress with, perhaps, a subtle nod to Rome.

If he were Dioscorides in full-blown Roman army fig, he would be wearing a paludamentum, images of which William Rogers could readily have sourced. But, with its flamboyant shoulder bow, his cloak is not an accurately depicted paludamentum. It is, rather, what passed for one on the Elizabethan stage; it is also close to what Apollo wears on the title page of Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck (1554 and later editions). No – to Gerard and his audience, the Fourth Man’s clothing and laurels would have signified ‘quicke sighted Phoebus’ and the poets he inspired.

A Niewe Herball (1578), Henry Lyte’s translation of Dodoens, used the same title page design as Cruydeboeck where Apollo is portrayed in Classical dress and buskins. Gerard consulted both of these works closely, likewise the 1588 edition of Neuw Kreuterbuch by Tabernaemontanus, whose title page features the god laurel-crowned and in Roman military garb with one hand on his lyre and the other holding Paeonia (Paiōn being an epithet attached to him in respect of medicine).

As for poets, ancient and modern, by 1597, they had been appearing wearing laurels and Roman dress in the front matter of a range of publications; to take four very different examples: Virgil and Horace on the title page of the Latin translation of the works of Apollonius of Perga published in Venice in 1537; the portrait of Pierre Ronsard in the 1567 Paris edition of his collected works; the portrait of Ovid in Metamorphoses, argumentis brevioribus ex Luctantio Grammatico collectis expositae, published in Antwerp in 1590 and 1591; and Torquato Tasso portrayed on the title page of his Di Gerusalemme Conquistata libri xxiiii, published in Rome in 1593.

Again in the hope of heading off confusion, I should mention the title page of Matthias de l’Obel’s Kruydtboeck (1581). Like those of Dodoens (1554) and Tabernaemontanus (1588), it shows Apollo opposite his son Aesculapius, god of healing. The latter is crowned with laurels and bears his signature snake-entwined staff. These props are not grounds for imagining that he and the Fourth Man are the same.

The Fourth Man’s plants do not signify Aesculapius; they were not associated with healing. In 1597, Fritillaria meleagris was not yet known by what is today its most familiar English name, snake’s head fritillary nor was it likened to a snake by Gerard and other botanical writers. Although a cock was Aesculapius’ main identifier after the snake and staff, the Fourth Man’s Turkie Corne would be a poor symbol for turkey the bird (involving the same category mistake as discussed above in relation to Turkie flower and Turkey the country). And Turkie or Ginnie-hen flower would be a needlessly weak stand-in for a cock when Gerard had plants such as Cocks foote grasse, Crus Galli and Cocks heads at his disposal.

In any case, the men on Gerard’s title page are disguised portraits and there was no youngish medical practitioner in his life whom he would have cast so prominently in the role of Aesculapius (Thomas Hesketh included). As explained, the part of the great proponent of physic (Aesculapius’s role) is played by Dodoens/Dioscorides, who stands above the Fourth Man, at top right on the title page.

Finally, Gerard has indicated in his epistle that poets comprise one of his four kinds of champions of the Arte of Simpling: with princely patrons (Solomon), herbarists (Adam) and medico-botanical scholars (Dioscorides) accounted for, this means that the Fourth Man must represent poetry.


The second half of 1598 saw the publication of Caspar Bauhin’s edition of Mattioli’s commentaries. Its title page borrowed and modified the oval garden and figure of Flora from Rogers’ 1597 design for Gerard’s Herball, and the tulip-holding Dioscorides from Camerarius’s 1586 Kreutterbuch. There was an innovation, however – Theophrastus in contemporary Greek dress. As here, he would appear opposite Dioscorides on numerous title pages in the century head, the twin pillars of Western medical botany.

Similarly garbed, Theophrastus features on the title page of Clusius’s Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601). Above him are Adam (naked and spade-less) and Solomon. Opposite Theophrastus is Dioscorides. All four are captioned with their names. Dioscorides’s armoured knee is doubtless intended to suggest the Roman military. Although hardly authentic, his hat is probably meant to conjure Turkish headgear in much the same way as the petals of tulips and Turk’s cap lilies were thought to.

The idea is well illustrated by a remark on tulips from Gerard in The Herball: ‘the points and brims of the flower turne backward, like a Dalmatian or Turkes cap, called Tulipan, Tolepan, Turban, and Tursan, whereof it tooke his name.’ Another such name was Martagon, from the Turkish for a type of turban, but attached by Renaissance botanists to Lilium species whose strongly recurved petals resemble Dioscorides’s hat on Clusius’s title page.

The title page of Rariorum Plantarum Historia was designed (but possibly not engraved) by Jacques de Gheyn II (b. 1565), who both designed and engraved the portrait of Clusius included in the same volume. He fell under the botanist’s influence after moving to Leiden in 1596. It was a fruitful collaboration, summarised by Walter A. Liedtke in Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2007, vol. 1, p. 212): ‘Around 1600, De Gheyn started making faithful drawings of flowers and insects, inspired partly by his association with the famous Leiden botanist Carolus Clusius (for whose book of 1601, Rariorum Plantarum Historia, the artist designed a title page and a portrait in an emblematic frame).’

Other Dutch art experts say much the same and provide compelling evidence, as do bibliographers and historians of botany. But one has only to compare this design’s depiction of Adam with De Gheyn’s engraved portrait Stamvader Benjamin, and its plants with those in De Gheyn’s early-17th-century output, to see that this 1601 title page is his work, and his mature work. I labour this point for a reason.

Soon after my Country Life article appeared on May 20, James Wallace, an actor and stage director, announced online that he had learned from a website that this 1601 title frame was originally designed for, and had appeared in, the first edition of Dodoens’ Pemptades (1583). As that work was Gerard’s main source, Mr Wallace argued, it stood to reason that The Herball’s title page copied its scheme and personnel. Therefore Gerard’s Fourth Man had to be Dioscorides, who, clearly captioned, occupies the same position on the 1601 Clusius title page, and who is also dressed as a Roman soldier.

Mr Wallace’s information was wrong, however. No such design had appeared on the title page of the first edition of Pemptades, which is adorned only with the device of its publisher Christophe Plantin. Certainly, this very design, with new wording, was used in the second edition of Pemptades (1616). But, as outlined above, it was originally created by De Gheyn in about 1600 expressly for Clusius’s Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601). Engraved in 1597, Gerard’s title page was not and could not have been based upon it.

Although his design for Clusius was novel in many respects (not least its gravitas and godliness), De Gheyn was aware, it seems, of recent title pages. His conception of Theophrastus is not dissimilar to the one first seen on the title page of Caspar Bauhin’s 1598 edition of Mattioli. The Herball may have influenced his adoption of a four-man scheme and inclusion of Solomon. But it does not follow that the personnel on the title pages of Gerard 1597 and Clusius 1601 correspond exactly. Clearly, they do not – where is Theophrastus on Gerard’s?

Nor are they alike in method. De Gheyn’s places Tulipa centre stage, a genus with which Clusius was identified. But there are no speaking plants that relate to his four men. Clusius would have been loath to have the title page of Rariorum Plantarum Historia closely modelled on The Herball’s. By now, false reports from his correspondent Matthias de l’Obel had alienated him from Gerard. In any case, The Herball’s design would have been too eccentric, playful, clever-clever for Clusius’ tastes: he wanted straightforward solemnity, grandeur, and more than a touch of piety.

The apothecary Thomas Johnson had even less respect for Gerard than Clusius did. He made that clear throughout the second edition of The Herball (1633), with ruinous consequences for Gerard’s posthumous reputation. Johnson saw himself as a scourge of ‘our author’s’ ignorance and fancifulness. In revising the book, he purged it of various of the original poetic translations and discarded the Rogers title page. The latter he replaced with a wit- and soul-less design by John Payne.

Johnson was a toddler and Payne a decade unborn when the first edition was published. In the intervening years, the book had gone from being acclaimed under Queen Elizabeth to effectively outlawed under King James. Gerard had been dead for 20 years when the second edition was assembled. Its new title page contained no ingenious plant symbolism or camouflaged portraits. It depicted just two men from Antiquity, both captioned – Theophrastus (now an ancient Ancient Greek) and Dioscorides (now in full Roman military dress). Ill-adapted from Rogers’ 1598 frontispiece portrait, Gerard appeared below and between them.

Come May 20 this year, this 1633 design was posted online by literary commenters who objected to my identification of the Fourth Man. Their point was that, belonging as it did to the second edition of The Herball, this title page had to echo and therefore explain that of the first edition. As it depicted a man in Roman dress captioned ‘Dioscorides’, the man in Roman dress on the title page of the first edition also had to be Dioscorides.

But the second edition’s title page is wholly unlike the first’s and bears no debt to it. The Fourth Man is not a precedent for the 1633 Dioscorides. And they certainly do not look the same, as one or two of these online commenters have bizarrely insisted. The 1633 figure is older, graver and more rugged, in keeping with conventional perceptions of Dioscorides and influenced perhaps by the images of him in Thevet’s works. His Roman dress is accurately depicted, paludamentum included. As in other title page portrayals of Dioscorides, he carries a book and he wears no laurel wreath.

None of this is true of the Fourth Man. There is no read-across from one to the other. Yes, both wear Roman military costume of sorts, but so does Apollo on the title pages of Dodoens 1554 and Tabernaemontanus 1588, and so Dioscorides does not on numerous title pages, including several from the 17th century, among them Prospero Alpini’s De Plantis Exoticis (1629), the 1630 edition of Hieronymus Bock’s Kräutterbuch, and the 1644 Amsterdam edition of Theophrastus’ De Historia Plantarum. Roman dress is not uniquely the property of Dioscorides, and often not his at all.

If one must seek a precedent for this 1633 figure in the four men seen on The Herball’s 1597 title page, Dodoens/Dioscorides would be more fruitful, with his book and pointing finger. But I wouldn’t make too much of it: Payne’s design reflects an entirely different ethos, which, alas, is just what Johnson wanted.

Later in the 17th century, as Neo-Classicism proliferated, eminent modern botanists began to be portrayed in Greek or Roman garb, perhaps cast in some divine or heroic role and crowned with bays for academic achievement. For example, Theodor Zwinger III (b. 1658) appears as a laureate statue of Aesculapius on the title page of his Theatrum Botanicum, das ist: Vollkommenes Kräuter-Buch (1696).

But laurel crown and Roman dress convey something quite different and specific on the title page of Johann Bauhin’s Historia Plantarum Universalis (1650), where they are worn by a caricature of Mattioli at bottom left. He is shown beside Melchior Guilandinus and Amatus Lusitanus, who had disagreed with him and come off the worse for it. Here, first and foremost, Mattioli’s laurels signify his victory in these scientific controversies, and secondarily (if at all) his continuing the great Classical tradition.

He is not in the guise of Dioscorides or meant to bring him to mind, for Dioscorides himself is illustrated and captioned at top right on the same page and he is dressed not as a laureate Roman but once again as a turbaned Turk.



1. Thomas Hesketh, Gerard’s friend and protégé, was the son of Sir Thomas Hesketh of Rufford and Martholme. By his will dated August 3, 1581, another Lancashire landowner Alexander Hoghton bequeathed to Sir Thomas musical instruments, ‘playe clothes’ and safekeeping of his servant William Shakeshafte, whose duties appear to have included performing. Some scholars believe that this Shakeshafte was the young William Shakespeare. If he was, then Gerard might well have met him at Rufford in the early 1580s.

In my full-scale work on Gerard, I go into the Shakeshafte = Shakespeare hypothesis at length. For want of conclusive evidence, however, I remain non-committal. My associating of Gerard with Shakespeare certainly does not depend on the latter’s being one and the same as Hoghton’s servant Shakeshafte.

That said, Shakespeare did have demonstrable links to this north-western network in the persons of John Cottom, Lord Strange, Thomas Savage, Sir John Salusbury, and, as we now know, John Gerard.

2. Sources and acknowledgement. The edition of Dioscorides cited in this paper is Pedanii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De Materia Medica, edited by Kurt Sprengel and Carolus Gottlob Kühn, Leipzig 1829. English translations are my own. I am grateful to Kasper van Ommen, Coordinator of the Scaliger Institute at Leiden University, for his thoughts on the title page of Rariorum Plantarum Historia. For more on this title page, see Jacques de Gheyn: Three Generations by I.Q. Van Regteren Altena (Vol. 1, pp. 66, 68; Martinus Nijhoff, 1983); Hof van Den Hag en hof van Brussel (1590-1630) by Annemie de Vos (p. 208, Bulletin KNOB, 1999 – 5/6); and The Exotic World of Carolus Clusius edited by Kasper van Ommen (p. 16-17, 38-39, Leiden University, 2009).

© Mark Griffiths 2015


Shakespeare: Apollo reborn

Could the Fourth Man be Dioscorides or Apollo and not Shakespeare? Edward Wilson, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, thinks