Astrology and Medicine at the College of Physicians

There is a nice little exhibition on astrology and medicine at College of Physicians of Philadelphia (CPP): “Under the Influence of The Heavens: Astrology in Medicine in the 15th and 16th Centuries.” They selected about a dozen books from their rich and often unexplored collection of early printed books. One case displays some incunabula ranging from relatively well known books.

The College's exhibit:
The CPP’s exhibit: “Under the Influence of The Heavens: Astrology in Medicine in the 15th and 16th Centuries.”

One of the earlier books in the exhibit is the 1496 edition of Marsilio Ficino’s De vita libri tres, replete with annotations:

Marsilio Ficino, De vita libri tres (1489).
An annotated copy of Marsilio Ficino’s De vita libri tres (1496).

Another early text is Giovanni Abiosi’s defense of astrology (for some of Abiosi’s other works, see here):

Giovanni Abiosi, Dialogus in astrologiae defensionem (1494).
Giovanni Abiosi, Dialogus in astrologiae defensionem (1494).

The other case holds sixteenth-century books, including a nice copy of Gregor Reisch’s widely read Margarita philosophica (for more on Reisch’s views on astrology, see this post):

Gregor Reisch's Margarita philosophica (1517).
Gregor Reisch’s Margarita philosophica (1517).

A couple of these later books have elaborate volvelles—sort of paper instruments with moveable wheels that allowed a reader to carry out various operations.

The elaborate volvelles in Giovanni Paduani's Liberalium artium professoris Viridarium Mathematicorum (1563).
The elaborate volvelles in Giovanni Paduani’s Liberalium artium professoris Viridarium Mathematicorum (1563).

These few books don’t begin to scratch the surface of the medico-astrological books at the CPP. Fortunately, many of the early works, at least through the sixteenth century, were identified by Alexandra Waleko, a recent history major Haverford College who interned at the CPP a couple summers ago, thanks to support from the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities at Haverford.

Alex Waleko helped catalog the College of Physician's books on medical astrology.
Alex Waleko helped catalog the College of Physician’s books on medical astrology.

After spending a semester in Granada studying abroad and conducting research in the archives for her thesis, she returned and spent the summer digging through the collection at the CPP looking for early books on astrology and medicine. These provided much of the foundation for her interesting thesis on how astrology served the political agenda of King Alfonso X.

If you are in Philadelphia you should stop by the CPP and look at the exhibit.

One comment

  1. Salvador A. Romero says:

    Excellent! This exhibition shows a little bit of what should have been something very important in those times. I enjoy the glimpse into a way of thinking so different from ours nowadays. Historical perspective renders great fruits in exploring ways our mind work.

    Thanks to the people who made possible the exhibition and thanks to Darin Hayton who passed the word on. The pictures are great!

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