Walther Ryff, A German Populist

Walther Hermann Ryff. Warhafftige, künstliche und gerechte underweisung und anzeygung, alle Latwergen, Confect, Conserven... (Truthful, artful, and accurate instruction and demonstration all manner of electuaries, confectionary, and conserves...). Strasburg: Balthaser Beck, 1540.

Walther Hermann Ryff (c.1500-c.1548) was a German surgeon and author. While little is known about his life, he probably studied pharmacy in Basel. He served as the city apothecary in the northern German town of Güstrow, then moved on to Strasbourg, where he served as city physician from 1532-1540. He left Strasbourg in 1544 following a legal suit involving plagiarism – one of the defining features of his literary career – and went on to Frankfurt, Mainz, Nuremberg, and Kulmbach. He died in Würzburg.

Ryff was a prolific author, translator, and editor. He wrote on a wide variety of subjects, including anatomy, obstetrics, herbalism, mathematics, and architecture. While he created commentaries and translations of classical and medieval authors such as Vitruvius and Albertus Magnus, he was also aware of the prominent medical texts written by his contemporaries, including those of Leonhard Fuchs and Andreas Vesalius. Ryff copied many of the illustrations originally created for Vesalius, Johannes Dryander, and other prominent anatomists for use in his own work, leading Vesalius to call him, “the Strasbourg plagiarist.”

Ryff wrote for a lay audience. His texts were all published in German, rather than Latin, and many of them appeared in small quarto and octavo formats that would be cheap to purchase. His most popular works were manuals that described how to make laxatives, purgatives, and other home remedies that used common flowers, herbs, and fruits.

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