Pietro d'Abano

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Pietro d'Abano (1257 - 1315) (his date of birth is also given as 1250 and 1246), also known as Petrus de Apono or Aponensis, was an Italian physician, philosopher, and astrologer. He was born in 1257[1] in the Italian town from which he takes his name, now Abano Terme. After studying medicine and philosophy at the University of Paris, he taught medicine at the University of Padua, and his tenure there marked the rise of Padua as a center for medical studies. Pietro d’Abano was instrumental in introducing the works of Averroes, and other Arabian philosophers and physicians, to the West. He attempted to reconcile the Greek medical tradition, which analyzed disease using principles of natural philosophy, and the Arabic tradition, which was based on systematic observation of symptoms and the effects of medical treatments. His method was to organize and systematize all available knowledge in a particular field, in order to make this knowledge applicable to new investigations. He believed that a good physician must also be a philosopher, an alchemist, and an astrologer in order to understand all aspects of medical treatment, and taught that the individual human being must be considered as a single element in an organic, harmonized universe.


D’Abano charged exorbitant fees for his services, and this, along with his unorthodox views on the human soul, his attempts to offer natural explanations for miracles, and his interest in astrology, caused him to be brought to trial twice by the Inquisition. On the first occasion he was acquitted; on the second, he was found guilty after his death and burned in effigy.


Pietro d’Albano was born around 1257, in the Italian town from which he took his name, now Abano Terme. He studied medicineand philosophy at the University of Paris and came to the University of Padua in 1306. Along the way he visited Constantinople, where he studied the works of Galen and Avicenna in their original languages. In Padua, he soon gained a reputation as a great physician, charging his patients exorbitant fees. This, plus his interest in astrology, may have led to his being charged with practicing magic. One of his best known works, Conciliator differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur, promoted the use of astrology to enhance the effectiveness of medical treatments, and suggested natural explanations for some of the miracles in the Bible, particularly the resurrection of the dead. He was brought to trial twice by the Inquisition; he was accused of bringing back into his purse, by the aid of the devil, all the money he paid away, and that he possessed the philosopher's stone. On the first occasion he was acquitted, and he died in 1315, before the second trial was completed. At the second trial he was found guilty, and his body was ordered to be exhumed and burned. However, a friend had secretly removed it, and the Inquisition had therefore to content itself with the public proclamation of its sentence and the burning of Abano in effigy.

Thought and works

Pietro d’Abano was one of the earliest European scholars to lay the foundations for the modern scientific method. His writings introduced the medical and philosophical systems of Averroes and other Arabian writers to the West. During his professorship at the University of Padua, Padua rose to prominence as a center for the study of medicine. Abano gave medicine pre-eminence among the seven areas of knowledge which comprised the curriculum of a medieval classical education, declaring it to be scientia de scientiarum, the "science of sciences." A physician, he claimed, was a philosopher of human nature.

D'Abano developed an Aristotelian cosmology which depicted humans as an integral part of a unified, harmonized whole, governed by the celestial spheres, in which there was almost no place for Divine Providence or free will. He also used Aristotelian logic to support the radical view that the death of Christ, and his subsequent resurrection, were only apparent.

His best known works are the Conciliator differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur (Mantua, 1472; Venice, 1476) and a book on poisons, De venenis eorumque remediis (1472), of which a French translation was published at Lyon, in 1593. Another work, Lucidator dubitabilium astronomiae, attempted to reconcile the views of the Ptolemaics with the Aristotelians, who rejected epicycles and eccentrics, and included two shorter treatises, De motu octavae sphaerae and e Imaginibus, or Astrolabium.

Greek and Arabic medicine

At that time there were two conflicting traditions of medicine, the Greek philosophical tradition, which attempted to analyze diseases and determine treatments according to philosophical principles; and the Arabic tradition, which was based on the systematic observation of symptoms and the effects produced by various remedies. Abano, who had studied the works of Galen, recognized the value of careful observation and systematic organization of knowledge attained through actual experience.

Abano’s best-known work, Conciliator differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur, was an attempt to reconcile Arabic medicine and Greek speculative natural philosophy, and as late as the sixteenth century, was still considered to be authoritative. It maintained that the celestial bodies governed the natural world, and supported the concept of humanity as part of a harmonious whole, regulated by the constellations. Abano also denied the existence of demons or Divine Providence, and offered a natural explanation for certain miracles in the Bible and for the Resurrection.

Systematization of knowledge

Abano’s propensity for collecting, organizing and systematizing all the knowledge in a particular field characterized all of his work. He developed a complex classification of pain into fifteen different types, according to the description provided by a patient: Throbbing, dull, stabbing, distending, pressing, vibrating or shaking, piercing, gnawing, nailing, crushing, grappling, freezing, itching, harsh, or loose. His views on perception and the senses of smell and vision influenced John of Jandun.

Abano considered the systematic study of alchemy and astrology essential to the study of medicine; alchemy in order to learn how to compound medicines, and astrology in order to determine the most auspicious moment to administer treatments and cures, and the optimal times to gather medicinal herbs. He believed that astrology influenced the cosmos and human life, the transformation of natural elements, and the course of individual human lives. He also recommended the use of incantations to strengthen the healing properties of medicines. Abano considered the astrological sign of the scorpion to be of particular importance to physicians, in dealing with the health of the human body and the manipulation of poisons and conferring success on their efforts.

Abano also emphasized physiognomy, the concept that various diseases and organic malfunctions were manifested in the external appearance of a patient, and wrote a number of aphorisms to be followed when making a diagnosis. For example, smooth and supple flesh over the lower back was said to indicate healthy kidneys. A large belly (venter), he said, denotes a lustful person with large appetites, and he praised Albertus Magnus’s addition that he who has a large belly is careless (indiscretus), stupid (stolidus), vain (superbus), and lustful.

Virtue and the human soul

Peter of Abano's treatise, Expositio Problematum (1310), set forth the view that all states of the human soul were closely connected to physiological states of the body. He went beyond the ordinary bounds of medical doctrine by suggesting that not only irrational and spontaneous states of the soul, but the states dependent on the rational and conscious mind, resulted from purely physical causes, stating that, “The faculties of the soul follow the temperament of the body.”

In Conciliator differentiarum, Abano recalled that Pythagoras called the harmonic conjunction of the soul with the body “human music.” Abano tried to define the harmonic ratio between the body and soul by identifying the causes of life; the universal causes were light and the heavens, the mean causes were represented by masculinity and femininity, and the particular causes were the prime qualities and their ratios to each other. Life was favored by the abundant presence of heat and humidity, and the power of the active qualities (for example, heat) over the passive (humidity). In an individual, the predisposition for a long or short life depended on the various relationships between these indicators and the prime qualities.

Geomancy and astrology

Abano is also thought to be the author of a grimoire called the Heptameron, a concise book of ritual magical rites concerned with conjuring specific angels for the seven days of the week, hence the title. (This work should not be confused with the Heptameron of Marguerite of Navarre.) This work is closely related to the Key of Solomon.

He also wrote a work on geomancy, Geomanzia (translated from Latin and published in 1544), describing sixteen geomantic symbols derived from the four cardinal points and the four elements, earth, water, wind, and fire. This work is still used as a reference, and the original manuscript can be found in the Trivulziana Library of Milan.


  1. Loris Premuda, "Abano, Pietro D'" in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970).


  • Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius. 1978. Henry Cornelius Agrippa, his Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy ; Of Geomancy. Magical Elements of Peter de Abano. Astronomical Geomancy. London: Askin. ISBN 0950387673
  • Benedicenti, Alberico. 1949. Pietro d'Abano (1250-1316): il trattato "De venenis". Biblioteca della Rivista di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali, 2. Firenze: Olschki.
  • Curry, Patrick. 1987. Astrology, Science, and Society: Historical Essays. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN 085115459X
  • Olivieri, Luigi. 1988. Pietro d'Abano e il pensiero neolatino: filosofia, scienza e ricerca dell'Aristotele greco tra i secoli XIII e XIV. Padova: Antenore.
  • Petrus, Ezio Riondato and Luigi Olivieri. 1985. Conciliator. I Filosofi veneti, 1. Padova: Antenore.
  • Pietro, and Graziella Federici Vescovini. 1992. Pietro d'Abano: trattati di astronomia : lucidator dubitabilium astronomiae, De motu octavae sphaerae e altre opere. Il mito e la storia, 3. Padova: Programma.
  • "Pietro d'Abano of Padua (1250-1315) translator and scholiast." 1967. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association. 202 (6):541.
  • Premuda, Loris. 1970. "Abano, Pietro D'." in Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Thompson, C. J. S. 1993. Poisons and Poisoners: With Historical Accounts of Some Famous Mysteries in Ancient and Modern Times. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 1566192110
  • Thorndike, Lynn. 1944. Manuscripts of the Writings of Peter of Abano. Bibliographies. Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 15:201-219.
  • Wallace, William A. 1995. Circularity and the Paduan Regressus: From Pietro d'Abano to Galileo Galilei. Vivarium. 33 (1):76-97.
  • Ziegler, Joseph. 2002. "The Medieval Kidney." American Journal of Nephrology. 22 (2-3):152-159.

External links

All links retrieved July 24, 2013.

General philosophy sources


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