I'm trying to decipher the text in a paragraph from an old Latin book (De facultatibus partium animalium, Basileae, 1544) and it's very difficult.

This is my result of the first line and I would like to know if it's correct or not (then according to that line I will be able to do it with the rest of this the paragraph)

Pupae caro cft aufrera, & in pulucre citis eft uirtus iuuatiuk cotra

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  • By the way, here is the full page (584) - here: manuscriptorium.com/apps/… Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 5:51
  • It is a passage describing the miraculous properties of the hoopoe. The preen secretions of hoopoes have strong antimicrobial qualities and were used extensively in medieval medicine. As the bird has a noxious reputation for defecating in its nest to avoid predators, this is probably the origin of its antibiotic properties. Although there are numerous quackeries that originate in Pliny's Historia Naturalis, in this case there may be some truth to this remedy, as crab bites are prone to infection. Antibiotics were rare and precious in the ancient world. The tounge of the hoopoe was valued ... Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 4:38
  • [Continued, by Abdias] ... for this bird emanates stunning vocalizations that add to its reputation as a messenger, it is known for its cleverness. In the bible it told Soloman of the queen of Sheba's coming. Medieval Doctors believed in hidden sympathies between like substances, and many the uses described in the passage, such as the use of its tounge to bring back lost memeories have this origin.The flesh as described in the bible tastes terrible which is why it is forbidden for jews to consume. To add to what has been said above, also remember that ligatures are common in blackletter. ...
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 17:25
  • [Idem] ... Ligatures link letters together that have similar strokes, and can confuse orthography.
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 17:25

2 Answers 2


Here is a better photocopy of the text in question from Google Books

It is a pseudo-medical discussion of the healing properties of a hoopoe (Latin: upupa, -ae], which is a type of bird. I am not familiar with the source text, but it definitely straddles the domain of quackery.

Here is the first sentence:

Upupae caro est austera, et in pulvere eius est virtus iuvativa contra morsum cancri, decollatur et scinditur et fit ex eis emplastrum super locum.

Rough translation: (Comments welcome...the Latin is a little strange.)

The flesh of the hoopoe is harsh[-tasting], and it has a healing power against crab bites when it is ground up into powder: The head is removed, it is cut in two, and from these parts a bandage can be made over the place of the bite.

The rest in Latin:

Lingua upupae suspensa super obliviosum reducit ad memoriam ea, quae oblitus est. Quando suffumigatur quis cum penna eius, expelluntur vermes. Si suspendatur oculus eius supra leprosum, cessat lepra. Corium upupae positum super eum qui patitur dolorem capitis, sedat dolorem. Dixerunt, si suspendatur dens hominis et ala upupae dextra, et suspendatur capiti hominis dormientis, non excitabitur, donec auferatur.

I'll resist providing a translation for now, but suffice it to say that it is "rich."

A few comments about your attempt:

  • You forgot the big initial "U."
  • In most documents printed at this time, "s" was printed almost like an "f" without the cross. In addition, it is often combined by ligature to the next letter, as in "st."
  • A line over a vowel (as in cotra) indicates an omitted n or m.

The rest of your errors probably are unavoidable without some knowledge of Latin vocabulary, especially in a low resolution copy like yours. "Iuvativa" would definitely be hard to guess if you didn't already know it was a word.

  • 1
    Great answer! you really have an impressing knowledge of medieval Latin literature. Actually I'm in Latin course which for now focuses more on grammar rather than vocabulary, but the important thing that I concluded from your things is that there are differences between the Latin letters of the medival time and the later Latin. i.e. 1) the letter V in Latin is U 2) the letter S was written in different day than in our days in Latin. (all of these things we didn't study...) 3) they use & for "et". Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 3:36
  • Thanks to your link to the better photocopy I can see the slightly differences between the U and V. it's almost invisible... and If you didn't say it to me I would not be aware of that. Regarding to the big initial big U (that actually written as V) I attentively omitted it because it didn't make sense to me to think that it belongs to the word Pupae which starts with a capital letter by itself. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 3:46
  • @Industrious: there aren't actually any differences between "u/v" as a consonant and as a vowel at this time... if you see slight differences, they are just random, not meaningful.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 4:54
  • Really? so then the use both of them randomly? Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 4:58
  • 2
    @Industrious Note that is not "medieval Latin": this is a Renaissance reprinting and is very tame compared to actual paleography. English text printed at the same time would be similar. Concering your points: (1) The u/v distinction is not observed in Latin at all: some texts print the consonantal "u" as "v," but the letter is the same, (2) (3) Yes, this is often the case.
    – brianpck
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 15:45

Just to add to Brian's answer:The work in question is the treatise "de facultatibus partium animalium" by the famous medical writer Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (alias Rhazes; 10th century), here appended to the text of his medical encyclopaedia al-Kitāb al-Manṣūrī in the Latin translation by Gerald of Cremona (12th century). This is extant also in the Arabic original. A bit more about it here: https://www.wdl.org/en/item/4276/

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