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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Project description

‘Aristotelianism and Medicine: a History of Intertwinements?’

The Medieval and Renaissance reception of Aristotle’s Parva Naturalia, De Motu animalium, and De generatione animalium and the rise of the early modern medical discourse

Research subject

This research project stands at the intersection between Medical History, Intellectual History, and the history of the Classical Tradition, as it aims at mapping and illuminating the mutual influences between medicine and Aristotelianism in the late Medieval and the Early Modern Age. I will take into account an aspect of the Aristotelian tradition which has been not very much explored so far, that is the reception of Aristotle’s physiological and embryological doctrines as they were expounded in the De generatione animalium, the De motu animalium as well as in some of the treatises collected under the title of Parva naturalia (De somno et vigilia, De longitudine et brevitate vitae, De iuventute et senectute, De vita et morte, De respiratione).

Scholarly background

In spite of a vast amount of scholarship having been produced for the last decades on what the well-known historian of medicine M. Grmek has defined as the ‘first biological revolution’ of the seventeenth century, much work is still to be done by intellectual and medical historians as well as by historians of science and of the classical tradition in order for them to develop a full understanding of the processes through which early modern medicine took shape. Yet, it is still open to dispute whether the early modern medical discourse was essentially built on a generalized rupture with the past that concerned the rhetorical, theoretical and methodological aspects of the ancient doctrines, or whether, in its rush for modernity, medical thought incorporated and reshaped significant parts of the traditional body of knowledge and especially of the Aristotelian natural philosophy, by combining strategies of refutation and of assimilation, reorientation, expropriation, reinvention, and contamination. Scholars are therefore still very far from saying the last word on how medicine embodied the early modern ideal of ‘science’. Also, it is an open question how this ideal, some elements of which started forming already between the end of the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, oriented the selection, the transmission, and ultimately the understanding of the traditional body of medical knowledge.

Research aim

My research on Aristotelianism and Medical History is concerned with a specific aspect of this more general question. By taking into account the tradition of commentaries, translations and compendia of Aristotle’s works as well as a number of other texts of medical subject, I shall try to determine whether and how being acquainted with Aristotle and the Aristotelian tradition and, in some cases, taking an active part in the transmission, discussion, and interpretation of Aristotle’s doctrines served as a theoretical, linguistic and methodological laboratory for those authors who preceded and, in many ways, paved the way for the biological revolution of the seventeenth century. Among these authors a special attention will be paid to Andrea Cesalpino, Realdo Colombo, Gabriele Falloppio, Hieronymus Fabricius d’Acquapendente, Santorio Santorio, and William Harvey.