Tutor Quintus Serenus Sammonicus died 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 "The Medical Book"; also known as De medicina praecepta saluberrima ,  probably incomplete in the extant form, as well as many lost works. Works and influence[ edit ] Serenus Sammonicus advocated the use of abracadabra as a literary amulet against fever Serenus was "a typical man of letters in an Age of Archaism  and a worthy successor to Marcus Cornelius 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". The surviving work, De medicina praecepta, in hexameters , contains a number of popular remedies, borrowed from Pliny the Elder and Pedanius 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 Mithridates 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.
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The ancient Greek and Romans could express the most complex scientific and medical notions in poetic form. Thus, many pharmacological recipes in Greek and Latin were cast in verse. These poetic recipes can be divided — very roughly — into two categories: those that are filled with metaphors and riddles that readers must decode; and those that use verse to assist memory through the means of rhythm and uncomplicated poetic imagery.
The verse recipes of Quintus Serenus or Quintus Serenus Sammonicus: very little is known of this author, who lived at the end of the second — beginning of the third century CE fall somewhere between these two categories. These remedies, collected in the Liber Medicinalis Medical Book , include numerous learned references, but do not require advanced riddle-solving skills from their readers. Serenus borrowed most of his recipes from older pharmacological authorities, such as Pliny the Elder first century CE , but added other some material, in particular magical recipes.
Write upon a piece of papyrus the word ABRACADABRA And repeat it more times underneath, but take away the last letter So that more and more individual elements will be missing from the figure, Those which you constantly remove, while you retain the others, Until a single letter remains at the end of a narrow cone. Tie this to the neck with a linen thread; remember that! This is a recipe to treat insomnia in people suffering from fevers: Not only does the most loathsome fever consume wretched patients, It further deprives them of longed-for sleep, Lest they should benefit of the heavenly gift of peaceful sleep.
Therefore inscribe a piece of parchment with random words, Burn it, then drink the ashes in hot water. It is very easy to dismiss such practices as hocus pocus. Certainly, these are real recipes which Serenus collected from various sources, but did Serenus intend his readers actually to prepare them?
This poem is healing because it contains healing recipes, but it is also healing in itself, as a piece of poetry.
The idea that poetry could heal — or at least alleviate pain, or sweeten harsh treatments — was a common one in Roman culture. I would suggest that for Quintus Serenus poetry in itself is healing: listening to mellifluous words can heal, especially when they pertain to pharmacology. Not only can a poem heal; it can be dissected into its basic components — random words and letters — and still retain much of its power.