Antonius Castor was a pioneering botanist and pharmacologist of ancient Rome who lived in the first century. He is several times quoted and mentioned by Pliny the Elder, who considered him the greatest authority on his subjects.
Life and identity
By Pliny's account Castor lived more than a hundred years, in perfect health both of body and mind, though he was apparently deceased at the time of Pliny's writing. Some scholars have suggested that the longevity attributed to ancient physicians is merely a literary trope, and that Castor may not have actually lived as long as Pliny says.
Castor possessed a vast botanical garden, which is probably the earliest on record, though there is some debate whether an earlier garden cultivated by Aristotle, and afterwards Theophrastus, at the Lyceum was ordered and scientific enough to be considered "botanical". However it is believed that Antonius Castor remains the earliest known example of the intentional cultivation of plants for medical purposes in Europe (as opposed to the collection of wild plants for this purpose).
This garden was significant in that it allowed Castor and fellow scientists like Pliny to encounter up close what they might have only read about in rare scientific texts, which might be vague in their botanical descriptions, and largely lacked illustration. In the 16th century, German botanist Hieronymus Bock cited Castor as an example of why illustrations in botanical texts were of low value: the pioneers in the field would simply grow their own examples, and only needed illustrations of the very rarest specimens. (Other scholars have suggested that Bock was simply trying to justify omitting illustrations in order to keep the cost of his books down.)
We know of several of Castor's recommendations for herbal remedies. He suggested fennel root (ferula) to improve vision, the root of potamogiton (possibly Hippuris vulgaris) to fight goitre, and one of the two varieties of horehound (Ballota spp. and Marrubium vulgare) for abscesses and dog bites.
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Greenhill, William Alexander (1870). "Antonius". In Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. p. 628.