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The Arabic theory of astral influences in early modern medicine

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Abstract:

Medicine and the occult in the Renaissance were conceptually related. They were both considered as etiological pursuits that investigate the manifest and hidden causes of human conditions. Astrological medicine specifically depends on the notion that the stars are higher causes of human ailments. This notion permeated the medical thought of the Renaissance. But how can astrology be reconciled with medicine? During the Golden Age of Islam, some Arabic astrologers justified the belief in astral influences by composing a theory that explains ‘scientifically’ why the stars above had such a strong influence on the sublunary world and how their influence could be utilized and harnessed for the benefit of man generally and his health specifically. These Arabic astrologers considered medicine and astrology as complementing one another; the former investigates terrestrial causes and the latter the celestial ones which themselves determine the conditions surrounding human beings. During the Western Renaissance, many of the physicians and occultists were acquainted with the works of such Arabic astrologers and appropriated their theory of astral influences to defend their occult thought and practices. In this article, I discuss the impact of the Arabic theory of astral influences on the medicine of Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Jean Fernel (1497–1558).

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2011.00742.x

Affiliations: Birkbeck College

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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