Serenus Sammonicus

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Quintus Serenus Sammonicus (died 212) was a roman savant and tutor to Geta and Caracalla who became fatally involved in politics; he was also author of a didactic medical poem, Liber Medicinalis[1] (also known as De medicina praecepta saluberrima), probably incomplete in the extant form, as well as many lost works. He was "a typical man of letters in an Age of Archaism[2] and a worthy successor to Fronto and Aulus Gellius, one whose social rank and position is intimately bound up with the prevailing passion for grammar and a mastery of ancient lore".[3] According to Macrobius, who plundered his work for his Saturnalia, he was "the learned man of his age".[4] Servius and Arnobius[5] both employed his erudition to their own ends.[6]He possessed a library of 60,000 volumes.[7]

His most quoted work was Res reconditae, in at least five books, of which fragments only are preserved in quotations. The surviving work, De medicina praecepta, in 1115 hexameters, contains a number of popular remedies, borrowed from Pliny and Dioscorides, and various magic formulae, amongst others the famous Abracadabra, as a cure for fever and ague. It concludes with a description of the famous antidote of Mithradates VI of Pontus.

It was much used in the Middle Ages, and is of value for the ancient history of popular medicine. The syntax and metre are remarkably correct. According to the unreliable Historia Augusta[8] he was a famous physician and polymath, who was put to death with other friends of Geta in December 212, at a banquet to which he had been invited by Caracalla shortly after the assassination of his brother.[9]

The first printed edition of De medicina praecepta was edited by Johannes Sulpitius Verulanus, before 1484.[10]


  1. ^ Vollmer, Friedrich, Quinti Sereni Liber Medicinalis Leipzig, Teubner, 1916; Kai Brodersen, Quintus Serenus, Medizinischer Rat (Liber medicinalis), Latin/German, Berlin and Boston 2016. ISBN 978-3-11-052712-4
  2. ^ For the antiquarianism, see R. Marache, La critique littéraire de langue latine et le développement du goût archaïsant au IIe siècle de notre ère (1951).
  3. ^ Edward Champlin, "Serenus Sammonicus" Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 85 (1981:189-212) p. 193.
  4. ^ "vir saeculo suo doctus". quoted by Edward Champlin 1981, p. 189.
  5. ^ Arnobius repeats the derivation of the placename Capitolium from an ancient tomb there of one Olus Vulcentanus, of whom the head was recovered, as Caput Oli (noted by Champlin 1981:193, who remarks, p. 194, "One other characteristic distinguishes Serenus Sammonicus: he is exceptionally silly.").
  6. ^ Champlin 1981:289.
  7. ^ A son, to whom he bequeathed his library, who then gave it to Gordian II, has been demonstrated to be one of many imaginary creations of the Historia Augusta, by Sir Ronald Syme, Emperors and Biography: Studies in the Historia Augusta. (Oxford, 1971:10, 184).
  8. ^ "A source which immediately engenders caution in the reader," as Champlin remarks.
  9. ^ Champlin 1981:289.
  10. ^ Further editions include that by J.G. Ackermann (Leipzig, 1786), and E. Behrens, in Poetae Latini minores, iii.