"A unique and outstanding teacher of medical science" (in physica facultate precipui ac singularis magistri). That is how Bartholomaeus of Salerno is described in this early 13th century copy of his commentary on Theophilus' De Urinis (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz lat. q. 255, fol. 116va). And it is not the only record of the high esteem in which Bartholomaeus was held. In a manuscript written around 1200 (Winchester, Winchester College 24, fol. 108rb), the explicit of Bartholomaeus' commentary on Galen's Art of Medicine reads: "Here ends the commentary on the Tegni which Master Peter (i.e. Petrus Musandinus) put together according to the lectures/dictation (ad locutionem) of Bartholomaeus, supreme theoretician in the art of medicine (phisica)."
Given the goals of this Project, it is hard to resist the temptation to brandish these praises as proof of the exceptional, or even unique significance of our man Bartholomaeus! But maybe we should step back before yielding to this temptation. Bartholomaeus was not the only 12th century Salernitan physician who was lauded in such terms. Copies of Maurus of Salerno's works are just as effusive, calling him "the Salernitan Galen", "more valuable than gold", and "worthy to be venerated by everyone". The necrology of the Cathedral of San Matteo in Salerno delivers a concise and decisive verdict: Maurus was simply optimus fisicus-"the best physicus (i.e. scholar of medical theory and natural science)"(1). Gilles de Corbeil, who studied in Salerno before returnign to Paris in the 1190s, opens his poem ON the Virtues and Praises of Compound Medicines with a lengthy and emotional homage to his Salernitan teachers Petrus Musandinus, Salernus, Platarius, and Maurus(2). Urso of Calabria (d. c. 1225) was hailed by Peter of Eboli as "an outstanding teacher and one who was a friend of piety (egregius doctor et uir pietatis amicus)"(3).
In the later medieval period, it became customary to grant epithets to famous university theologians like Bonaventure (doctor seraphicus) or Duns Scotus (doctor communis), but the praises these Salernitan doctors are more idiosyncratic as well as more florid. Before we can evaluate the import of Bartholomaeus's titles, we need to look into how other teachers of the period -for instance, the masters of Chartres, or the teachers of law in Bologna - were described by their students and copyists. If the custom of hyperbolic praise was not unique to Salerno, was it a novelty in the 12th century? or was it the dying echo of the older, more personal style of master-student relationship documented by Stephen Jaeger in The Envy of Angels?(4) These are questions worth exploring, as we seek to reconstruct the world, the teaching style, and the reputation of Master Bartholomaeus.
1. Morris Harold Safron, Maurus of Salerno. Twelfth-century "Optimus Physicus" with his Commentary on the Prognostics of Hippocrates. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society n.s. 62, 1 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1972), p. 13.
2. Gilles de Corbeil, Liber de uirtutibus et laudibus compositorum medicaminum, ed. Mireille Ausécache (Florence: SISMEL--Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2017), p. 166-67, lines 90 sqq.
3. Urso von Salerno, De commixtionibus elementorum libellus, ed. Wolfgang Stürner (Stuttgart: Klett, 1975), p.8.
4. C. Stephen Jaeger, The Envy of Angels: Cathedral Schools and Social Ideals in Medieval Europe, 950-1200 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).