Arnald of Villanova

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


(fourteenth through sixteenth centuries)


The Pseudo-Arnald of Villanova corpus is a set of alchemical works which, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, were usually attributed to the celebrated physician Arnald of Villanova (c. 1240–1311). The present article aims to summarize the history, theoretical content, and influence on science of this group of works.

The conception of an Arnald of Villanova at once physician and alchemist had such staying power that it was still accepted in 1934 by Lynn Thorndike, whose History of Magic and Experimental Science set forth a first account of Arnald’s supposed alchemical writings. After Juan A. Paniagua’s pathbreaking article of 1959, however, the apocryphal character of the whole corpus was accepted as the most persuasive hypothesis, based as it was on the work (later lost) of Jacques Payen who concluded from a scientific examination of one of the main works in the corpus, the Rosarius philosophorum, that its attribution to Arnald was meritless. Subsequent research initiated by Michela Pereira and William R. Newman succeeded in situating the corpus in its historical context. These authors pointed up the relationship between the Pseudo-Arnald corpus and such other alchemical texts as those of Pseudo-Raymond Lull and Pseudo-Geber (Paul de Tarente). These contributions, along with the work of Michael McVaugh, would seem to have established the apocryphal nature of the Pseudo-Arnald corpus beyond doubt.

Formation of the Pseudo-Arnald Corpus . The earliest attributions to Arnald of Villanova date from the mid-fourteenth century (the very first was made after 1323, as the Palermo, Biblioteca Comunale, 4 Qq A 10 attests. They were apparently linked to a legend retailed by the canonist John Andrea (1346), according to which an Arnald of Villanova successfully demonstrated alchemical transmutation to the Roman Curia in 1301. This legend presumably stemmed from the interest of certain cardinals in a distillation process reputed to bestow long life and from their concern with scientific investigation and experiment in general. Furthermore, the claim that Arnald of Villanova had cured Pope Boniface VIII of stones by applying a gold astrological seal did much to reinforce his extraordinary prestige.

The Pseudo-Arnald corpus was built up little by little on the basis of alchemical compilations and correspondencen

addressed to various princes, including Robert of Anjou, king of Naples; Philip IV the Fair of France; and James II of Aragon, with whom Arnald had connections. Many such texts, initially either anonymous or attributed to other, less celebrated individuals, had by the end of the fourteenth century been firmly ascribed to Arnald of Villanova. This is true of the main works of the corpus: the Rosarius philosophorum, the Flos florum, the Epistola super alchimia ad regem Neapolitanum, and the Novum Testamentum. A number of indications suggest that the corpus was formed and developed in places and circles associated with the Catalan physician himself (Sicily, Catalonia, Naples). In sharp contrast to the relationship between the Pseudo-Lull corpus and the actual Ramon Lull (c. 1232–1316), however, no common ground is discernible between the scientific work of Arnald of Villanova and the alchemical texts of which he was said to be the author.

The fifteenth century was the heyday of the Pseudo-Arnald corpus, which expanded continually throughout the period, so that by the next century it comprised no less than twenty-four works (see Vatican Barberini collection, MS 273). Caution is required here, however, for some references correspond either to mere extracts or to abridged versions, even though the title given may suggest a complete work. A careful review of the various titles and texts results in a revision downward to a total of nineteen works, along with approximately ten recipes.

Composition of the Pseudo-Arnald Corpus The corpus is made up, first, of purely alchemical works promoting the “mercury alone” thesis, according to which the transmutation of base metal into gold presupposes the prior elimination of all substances other than the “primal metal,” which is a constituent of all metals. This thesis is related to the “mercury-sulfur theory” of the generation of metals, which posits an ideal mercury containing a pure, red sulfur that gives the alchemical product its gold color. This notion, prevalent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, had its origins in the Summa perfectionis, part of the Pseudo-Geber corpus (late thirteenth century). It was justified in terms of the imitation of nature: the alchemist was said to be reproducing in the laboratory a process of metallic generation that might take as much as a thousand years in nature. The Summa perfectionis also disseminated the idea that the elements and metals were composed of small particles of variable size. Thus impure metal exposed to heat was said to be purified by particles of fire that penetrated it, expelling the bad sulfur and leaving only pure metal. This corpuscular theory, so characteristic of Pseudo-Geber, owes a debt to concepts of medieval physics passed down by scholastic medicine and ultimately derived from Aristotle’s Physics and Meteorologica.

Reference is made in many parts of the corpus to the “mercury alone” thesis, including (to name only the most important) Flos florum,Rosarius philosophorum, De secretis naturae, Quaestiones tam essentiales quam accidentales ad Bonifacium VIII, Epistola super alchimia ad regem Neapolitanum, Phoenix, Speculum alchimiae, and Novum lumen.

Among these works, the Speculum alchimiae and above all the Rosarius philosophorum are seemingly the most consistent with the Summa perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber, for they rehearse its most typical themes: “mercury alone,” corpuscularism, the concept of “three medicines,” and the arguments of the Summa’s didactic preface.

Medico-alchemical texts are the second component of the Pseudo-Arnald corpus. They are three in number, namely Liber de vita philosophorum, Epistola ad Jacobum de Toleto de distillatione sanguinis humani, and De aqua vitae simplici et composita. These texts belong to a tradition distinct from that of Pseudo-Geber. Placed under the supposed patronage of Arnald of Villanova, friend and physician to Pope Boniface VIII, they outlined an alchemy of the elixir of life—bound up with the art of medicine— which excluded such artificial and corrosive materials from its distillations and manipulations and claimed rather to start only from such noble and natural substances as human blood (Epistola ad Jacobum de Toleto de distillatione sanguinis humani), gold (Liber de vita philosophorum), or wine (De aqua vitae simplici et composita). The charge of incoherence leveled at Pseudo-Arnald by Michela Pereira is based in large part on the fact that the corpus contains both texts of a medical nature on distillatory alchemy and texts on the alchemy of transmutation. Only one work in the corpus, the Rosarius philosophorum, may be said to touch on both spheres (after the fashion of Pseudo-Lull’s Testamentum), for it deals not only with alchemical research directly inspired by the Summa perfectionis but also with the definition of the elixir as a sovereign medicine, just as applicable to metals as to the human body.

Although the much greater part of the Pseudo-Arnald of Villanova corpus comprises learned texts dealing in the scholastic manner with both technical and theoretical aspects of alchemy, at least one treatise, certainly of Franciscan origin, is entirely allegorical, namely the Tractatus parabolicus, which had the good fortune to be cited by John of Rupescissa in his Liber lucis (1350). It is possible, furthermore, to discern traces of religious prophesying and Christianity in De secretis naturae and even in some alchemical recipes. One may also cite Defloratio philosophorum, which includes an alchemical tale and various recipes. Such allegorical, even exegetical alchemical texts, which compare the philosopher’s stone to Christ, are harbingers of the spiritual alchemy of the modern period.

This account of the composition of the Pseudo-Arnaldian corpus would be incomplete if no mention were made of translations into the vernacular (into French, Catalan, or Provençal). These emerged very soon, beginning in 1360 (cf. the copy of Rosaire des philosophes in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, MS 2872) and reflect the success quickly encountered by these works and their rapid spread beyond the narrow confines of the academic world.

Posterity of the Pseudo-Arnald Corpus As noted, the allegorical Tractatus parabolicus was invoked by John of Rupescissa, author of De quinta essentia (1351–1352), a work of medical chemistry dealing with the distilling of alcohol in order to produce an elixir of life or quintessence. The Rosarius philosophorum, composed before 1343, may be one of the sources of the Pseudo-Lullian Testamentum (1332), for the close relationship between the two texts is evident; the same may be said of John Dastin’s Rosarius (fourteenth century): both of these treatises invoke the Summa perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber. This gives some measure too of the importance taken on by the Rosarius philosophorum among predominantly medical manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Similarly, the fact that the work was copied as a scientific manuscript—as witness the one in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris as of the early 2000s (MS 2872), which was no doubt commissioned by Charles V—stamps it (like the Testamentum) as a treatise as significant as Aldebrandin de Sienne’s thirteenth-century French work Régime du Corps or as the pseudo-Aristotelian Secret of Secrets. Responding in 1385 to Thomas of Bologna, a partisan of a diversified alchemy (concerned with potable gold, connections with astrology, plants, the quintessence, and so on), Bernard of Trier invoked the Rosarius philosophorum to buttress his defense of an orthodox alchemy of transmutation, roundly reprimanding Thomas for endorsing an alchemical medicine that was nothing but nostrums, unlike the true medicine of metals, as described in the Rosarius. As for Geoffrey Chaucer (1390), Pseudo-Arnald—or specifically the author of the Rosarius—supplied him with a model of the alchemist (see the “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales). Lastly, pseudo-Arnaldian writings exercised a real influence on the search for remedies in times of plague.

During the Renaissance, the transmutational alchemy of Pseudo-Geber at first dominated the publication of medieval alchemical texts in printed form. Its promotion was usually backed up by the works of Pseudo-Arnald and Pseudo-Lull, the latter holding open the door to many possible combinations between transmutational concerns and the medico-alchemical tradition stemming from John of Rupescissa. Subsequently the division in the Pseudo-Arnald corpus between more specifically medico-alchemical works and works of pure alchemy was radically reinforced. Thus the publisher Tommaso Murchi’s edition of Arnald’s Opera omnia (1504) comprised just four works, described as “true alchemy,” or in other words the alchemy of mercury, concerned solely with isolating “primal matter,” or mercury-sulfur. In draconian fashion, Murchi excluded many alchemical texts attributed to the famous physician and retained only those that he deemed the most authentic: Rosarius philosophorum,Novum lumen, Epistola super alchimia ad regem Neapolitanum, and Flos florum. Other works were later included in such large collections as those of Lazarus Zetzner (Strasbourg, 1613) and Jean-Jacques Manget (Geneva, 1702), but the editorial line barely changed, for the new choices too dealt solely with the “truly alchemical” theory of “mercury alone.” Meanwhile such medico-alchemical works of Pseudo-Arnald as that dealing with the distillation of blood—Epistola ad Jacobum de Toleto de distillatione sanguinis humani—were far less widely circulated.

However, the compiler Philipp Ulstad, whose book Coelum philosophorum (1525) introduced Europe to alchemical theories of distillation based on the idea of quintessence, was able to draw a very clear distinction, invoking the authority of Arnald of Villanova, between a noxious alchemy of mercury and a medical alchemy based on natural gold. Moreover, for all those with a passion for alchemy, metallurgy, and miraculous cures, the reference to Pseudo-Arnald remained inevitable. One need only mention Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer, 1494–1555), who, though critical of what he considered a suspect science, nevertheless, in the preface to his De re metallica(1550), placed Arnald of Villanova, along with Lull (and Merlin), among the very few medieval alchemists of real significance. While Andreas Libavius (c.1540–1616), though doubtful about its ascription to Arnald, continued to look upon the Rosarius philosophorum as an essential work of practical alchemy that only a seasoned natural philosopher could understand, followers of Paracelsus such as Adam of Bodenstein (1528–1577) viewed Pseudo-Arnald, and notably the Rosarius, as a foreshadowing of the medical chemistry that they sought to advance under the banner of their master.


Most manuscripts containing pseudo-Arnaldian texts are listed in Lynn Thorndike and Pearl Kibre's Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval Scientific Writings in Latin (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1937; rev. ed., 1963) and in volume 3 of Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science (see below), pp. 654–676. See also Dorothea Waley Singer's Catalogue of Latin and Vernacular Alchemical Manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland, Dating from before the Sixteenth Century (Brussels: Union Académique Internationale, 1928), no. 228, which indicates English

translations where they exist; and James Corbett's Catalogue des manuscrits alchimiques latins: Manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de Paris antérieurs au XVIIe siècle (Brussels: Union Académique Internationale, 1939) and Catalogue des manuscrits alchimiques latins: Manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques des départements français antérieurs au XVIIe siècle (Brussels: Union Académique Internationale, 1951). Note the importance of manuscripts such as those at the Palermo Biblioteca Comunale: 4 Qq A 10 and at the University Library of Bologna: 104 (Latin 138).


Manget, Jean-Jacques. Bibliotheca chemica curiosa seu rerum ad alchemiam pertinentium thesaurus instructissimus. 2 vols. Geneva: Choet, G. de Tournes, Cramer, Perachon, Ritter, and S. de Tournes, 1702; reprint, Bologna: Arnaldo Forni, 1976. Collects major works of the Pseudo-Arnald corpus, including Rosarius philosophorum, Novum lumen, Flos florum, Epistola super alchimia ad regem Neapolitanum,Quaestiones tam essentiales quam accidentales ad Bonifacium VIII, Novum Testamentum, Speculum alchimiae. For the most part these texts are merely versions extracted either from a single manuscript or from an earlier printed publication itself derived from a manuscript; this explains the significant variations between Manget’s printed texts and those of the oldest manuscripts. Any serious study of the texts therefore requires that their content be verified by reference to the original manuscripts.

Calvet, Antoine. “Le De vita philosophorum du pseudo-Arnaud de Villeneuve, texte du manuscrit de Paris, BnF ms. latin 7817.”Chrysopoeia 4 (1990–1991): 35–79.

———. “Le Tractatus parabolicus du pseudo-Arnaud de Villeneuve, présentation, édition et traduction.” Chrysopoeia5 (1997): 145–171.

———. “Le De secretis naturae du pseudo-Arnaud de Villeneuve, présentation, édition et traduction.” Chrysopoeia6 (1997–1999): 155–206.

———. “Quelques versions du Flos florum du pseudo-Arnaud de Villeneuve, textes présentés par A. Calvet et édités par S. Matton.” Chrysopoeia 6 (1997–1999): 207–271.


Calvet, Antoine. “Les alchimica d’Arnaud de Villeneuve à travers la tradition imprimée (XVIe–XVIIe).” In Alchimie: Art, Histoire et Mythes, edited by Didier Kahn and Sylvain Matton, 157–190. Paris: Société d’Étude de l’Histoire de l’Alchimie, 1995. Includes a list of imprints from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century containing pseudo-Arnaldian alchemical works.

Crisciani, Chiara. “Alchemy and Medicine in the Middle Ages:

Recent Studies and Projects for Research.” Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 38 (1996): 9–21.

———, and Michela Pereira. “Black Death and Golden Remedies: Some Remarks on Alchemy and the Plague.” In The Regulation of Evil: Social and Cultural Attitudes to Epidemics in the Late Middle Ages, edited by Agostino Paravicini Bagliani and Francesco Santi, 7–39. Florence: Sismel Edizioni del Galluzo, 1998.

McVaugh, Michael. “Chemical Medicine in the Medical Writings of Arnau de Vilanova.” II Trobada Internacional d’Estudis sobre Arnau de Vilanova. Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 23–24: (2004–2005): 239–264. The author explains why it has become difficult to authenticate the medicoalchemical texts attributed to Arnald of Villanova.

Newman, William R. The Summa Perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber. Leyden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1991. Newman provides a critical edition and an English translation of the Summa perfectionis, an important source for the pseudo-Arnaldian alchemical corpus. His introduction offers a detailed study of the questions raised by the text and a discussion of the Pseudo-Geber theory of matter, the historical and philosophical context of the Summa, and its influence.

Paniagua, Juan A. “Notas en torno a los escritos de alquimia atribuidos a Arnau de Vilanova.” In Studia Arnaldiana: Trabajos en torno a la obra médica de Arnau de Vilanova, c. 1240–1311. Barcelona: Fondación Uriach 1838, 1994: 451–464 (XIV: 406–419).

Pereira, Michela. “Arnaldo da Vilanova e l’alchimia. Un’indagine preliminare.” In Actes de la I trobada internacional d’estudis sobre Arnau de Vilanova, vol. 2, edited by Josep Perarnau, 165–174. Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 1995. The author surveys the whole issue, emphasizing the relationship between the quest for longevity and pseudo-Arnaldian alchemy. She appends a list, as exhaustive as possible, of alchemical texts invoking the authority of Arnald of Villanova (pp. 135–149); the bibliography from Latin manuscript 273 in the Vatican’s Barberini collection (pp. 149–151); and transcriptions of the Defloracio philosophorum, the Exempla or Liber propheciarum (Tractatus parabolicus), and the letter on blood (Epistola ad Jacobum de Toleto de distillatione sanguinis humani) (pp. 152–171).

Thorndike, Lynn. A History of Magic and Experimental Science. Vol. 3. New York: Columbia University Press, 1934. See pp. 52–84 and 654–676 for a list of works and manuscripts.

Antoine Calvet

views updated

Arnald of Villanova

(b. Aragon, Spain, ca. 1240; d. at sea off Genoa, Italy, 6 September 1311)

medical sciences.

The family of Arnald of Villanova may originally have been Provencal, but he himself was Catalan by birth, probably from Valencia. We have no information about his parents (except that they may have been converted Jews) and little about his professional education. It is certain only that he was a student at Montpellier ca. 1260; the ascription to him of training under John Casamicciola at the University of Naples between 1267 and 1276 rests on the doubtful authenticity of the Breviarium practice traditionally included among his works. By 1281 Arnald had become physician to Peter III of Aragon, and he subsequently served Peter’s son and heir, Alfonso III, in the same capacity. The death of the latter in 1291 and the succession of his brother as James II brought Arnald further into prominence.

By 1291 Arnald had taken up residence in Montpellier as a medical master at its newly chartered studium generale, but he was repeatedly called back to Spain during the next several years for professional consultations. Moreover, he seems to have been able to win considerable support from the royal family for his developing religious views. While Arnald’s teaching and writings at Montpellier were of the first importance in establishing the content of scholastic medicine there, his own commitment to medicine was gradually being replaced by a concern for theological matters. He studied for six months with the Montpellier Dominicans, but he seems to have been most strongly influenced by the Joachimite Peter John Olivi and the spiritual-Franciscans, a group of rigorists within that order. By 1299 Arnald had completed a number of mystical, prophetic works-notably the De adventu antichristi (begun in 1288), which announced that the world would end and the Antichrist appear in 1378 and insisted upon the need for a drastic reform of the Church. When in 1299 Arnald was sent by James II on a diplomatic mission to Philip IV of France, he took the opportunity to explain his beliefs to the Parisian theologians. The De adventu was condemned, however, and Arnald was spared imprisonment only through the intervention of Philip’s minister, William of Nogaret.

Arnald spent the next five years traveling between Provence and Rome. He continued to write while defending himself against his critics in the Church, Two popes, Boniface VIII and Benedict XI, were willing to tolerate him as a physician but were not receptive to his theology. With the accession in 1305 of Clement V, Arnald’s friend for some time, he finally had both papal and royal patronage and was repeatedly given the opportunity to express his views, in which his concern for Church reform soon became predominant over his interest in eschatology. Then, in 1309, before a large assembly at Avignon, Arnald made statements that called James II’s orthodoxy into question, thereby losing the king’s favor. Thereafter Arnald attached himself to James’s younger brother, Frederick I of Trinacria, a much more willing instrument for Arnald’s plans for the reform of Christian society. He died while on a mission for Frederick.

In his medical practice Arnald seems to have been remarkable only for his success. There are many striking testimonies to his abilities, two of which are James II’s demand that Arnald come from Montpellier to attend the queen’s second pregnancy (1297) and Boniface VIII’s delight at his relief from the stone (1301). From the various regimens and practical guides composed for such patients--for example, the Regimen sanitatis written for James II in 1307, and the Parabole medicationis dedicated to Philip IV (1300)—it is clear that his methods continued to be those in which he had been trained at Montpellier. His diagnostic and therapeutic principles appear quite conservative, with none of the dependence on uroscopy or extreme polypharmacy that marks the work of some of his colleagues. As a practicing physician, Arnald was evidently committed to experience rather than to theory or to authority.

Yet Arnald was also the principal figure in Montpellier’s fusion of the Western empirical tradition with the systematic medical philosophy of the Greeks and Arabs. He was well placed for this role. Living in Valencia shortly after its reconquest by James I, it was natural for him to learn Arabic, and at the Aragonese court in the 1280’s he translated, from Arabic into Latin, Avicenna’s De viribus cordis, which subsequently proved immensely popular, and Galen’s De rigore; he also translated a work on drugs by Albuzale and one on regimen by Avenzoar. There is very little in the choice of these texts to suggest any interest in the natural-philosophical aspects of medicine, but Arnald’s stay at Montpellier seems to have deepened his medical as well as his theological interests. One indication of this is the unusual number of different Hippocratic and Galenic works on which he is known to have lectured. The classical authors had been commented upon by earlier masters at Montpellier, notably Cardinalis, but apparently not so extensively; they had preferred to pursue the more purely empirical methods of such moderns as Gilbert the Englishman and Walter Agilon. By the fourteenth century, however, Arnald’s approach had become more widespread. The program of the university was unsettled in the 1290’s, and Arnald certainly encouraged its subsequent Scholasticism by his example; moreover, it was his advice that shaped the papal bull of 8 September 1309, which regularized medical education at Montpellier, defining a set of fifteen Greek and Arab texts as the basis for future study at the school.

Arnald himself went beyond commentary to try to develop a coherent, systematic science of medicine on the Galenic foundations. It is possible to trace the development of his ideas in a continuous series of works datable to Montpellier and the 1290’s, bound together by cross-references and a remarkably consistent interest in the philosophical aspects of medicine. In the earlier works (e.g., the De intentione medicorum) he is primarily concerned to defend pragmatically the presence of a rational element in medicine. Against his colleagues, Arnald holds that the physician can and should draw on theory insofar as it is meaningful to his practice; he requires simply that it save the medical phenomena, not that it be absolutely, philosophically true. Arnald repeatedly makes an analogy with the astronomers’ epicycles.

Gradually, however, Arnald became more preoccupied with problems of philosophy apart from any practical applications, and the later Montpellier treatises are highly technical discussions. of sophisticated medical theory. They most often treat the complexio (the set of sensible qualities, principally hot and cold, that characterizes a man’s state of health), which provides Arnald with a basis for both medical practice and theory. In the Aphorismi de gradibus he develops this qualitative medicine most fully: drawing on material from al-Kindi and Averroes, he establishes a mathematical pharmacy upon the empirical law that qualitative intensity increases arithmetically with a geometric increase in the ratio of the opposing forces that produce it. For medicinal qualities, the law would have the form (in modern terms) intensity = log2 hot/cold. The Aphorismi continued in use at Montpellier for over fifty years, and may have provided the stimulus for Bradwardine’s Law, the Merton College dynamic rule that, in local motion, velocity ∼logn force/resistance. But this success was exceptional. For the most part, Arnald’s writings—even his final synthesis of medical theory, the Speculum medicine—were too elaborate and too abstract to have any vogue among professional physicians.

Arnald’s unusual attention to philosophical medicine coincided with the development of his theological position, and one concern may well have inspired the other. Certainly he should not be understood as a simple rationalist in medical matters. Although Boniface VIII once told him, “Occupy yourself with medicine and not with technology and we will honor you,” Arnald did not find it easy to make such a distinction, for to him the two disciplines were continually overlapping in subject matter. The outstanding instance of this is his De esu carnium (1304), a defense of the Carthusians’ abstension from meat, which gave equal weight to citations from Hippocrates and from St. Paul. More profoundly, his epistemology shows the same blurred dualism, for it is the mystical element in Arnald’s thought that restricts his rationalism. He believes that while all physical events may be natural and ordered, their causes are not all easily and directly accessible to the understanding and men wise in these more occult matters will prove to have been guided by chance—or, like himself, by divine illumination. This is the spirit behind his scientific writings on astrology and oneiromancy, as well as his prophetic works; it is also the rationale behind his acceptance of medical intuition as a tool complementary to reason, which was quite in agreement with the view of his more orthodox colleagues that medicine is an art as much as (or more than) a science. The scholastic writings by themselves do not make plain this complexity of his scientific thought, the coexistence in it of rationalism and mysticism.

Arnald’s heterodoxy made a great impression upon the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and during that period his name became associated with a number of alchemical texts. Some of these, notably the Flos florum and the Rosarius philoso phorum, were until recently accepted as genuine. At present the authenticity of all appears doubtful, the more so because Arnald himself considered alchemists “ignorant” and “foolish.” More recently the empirical element in Arnald’s medicine has been emphasized by critics, who cite the Breviarium practice in support. But the authenticity of this work is dubious as well. From internal evidence, it seems that it must have been written in the first years of the fourteenth century, at just the time when Arnald was deeply concerned with medical theory and theology, and there is no hint of these subjects in the Breviarium. The most famous of the medical writings once attributed to him, the Commentum super regimen sanitatis Salernitanum, is now also thought to be apocryphal.


I. Original Works. Virtually all of Arnald’s Latin medical works were collected in various sixteenth-century editions of his Opera (Lyons, 1504, 1509, 1520, 1532; Venice, 1505, 1527; Basel, 1585). In general, the later editions are the more complete, although the collection entitled (Praxis medicinalis (Lyones, 1586) omits his discussions of medical theory. None of these works has been published in a modern edition, but one not printed earlier, De conservatione virus, was published by P. Pansier in Collectio ophtalmologica veterum auctorum, I (Paris, 1903), 1-25.

Arnald’s translations from the Arabic are not included in his Opera. His versions of Aristotle and Galen were included with other writings of the same authors in editions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; his translation of the De medicinis simplicibus attributed to Albuzale or Albumasar (MSS Paris, Univ. 128, 165-168; Erfurt, Amplon, F. 237, 63-66; Q. 395, 138-160) and the translation of the De regimine sanitatis of Avenzoar less certainly ascribed to him (MS Oxford, Corpus Christi 177, 261-265v; cf. MS Paris, Univ, 131, 54v-59v [among others], where it is attributed to Profatius) have not been published. He has also been credited with two translations that are demonstrably not by him: Costa ben Luca’s De physicis ligaturis (which exists in a twelfth-century manuscript, MS Brit. Mus. Add. 22719. fol. 200v) and al-kindi’s treatise De gradibus (for which Arnald’s own Aphorismi de gradibus were mistaken).

A good bibliographical guide to the printed and manuscript sources is Juan Antonio Paniagua Arellano, “La obra médica de Arnau de Vilanova. Estudio I: Introducción y fuentes,” in Estudios y notas sobre Arnau de Vilanova (Madrid, 1962), pp. 1-51, reprinted from Archivo iberoamericano de historia de la medicina y antropologia médica,II (1959), 351-402.

A satisfactory bibliography of Arnald’s theological writings, indicating those that have been published in whole or in part, will be found in Joaquin Carreras y Artau, “Les obres teológiques d’Arnau de Vilanova,” in Analecta sacra Tarraconensia, 12 (1936), 217-231, although this is by now somewhat incomplete. The article by Paniagua cited above lists a number of more recent editions. It might also be mentioned that MSS Vat. Borg. 205 and Vat. Lat. 3824 are collections of Arnald’s theological writings made at his own direction, in 1302 and 1305, respectively; the former manuscript may be annotated in Arnald’s hand (see Anneliese Maier, “Handschriftliches zu Arnaldus de Villanova und Petrus Johannis Olivi,: in Analecta sacra Tarraconensia, 21 [1948], 53-74).

Arnald’s Catalan writings have been edited by Miguel Batllori as Obres catalanes (Barcelona, 1947) in two volumes, the first of which contains religious texts and the second, medical texts.

II. Secondary Literature. The Arnaldian literature up to 1947 is thoroughly covered in the bibliographies of the volumes edited by Batllori, cited above; of this early material, Paul Diepgen’s articles go most deeply into Arnald’s scientific work. Since then a few other important studies of Arnald’s science and medicine have appeared: Michael McVaugh, “Arnald of Villanova and Bradwardine’s Law,” in Isis, 58 (1967), 56-64. Juan Antonio Paniagua Arellano, “La patologia general en la obra de Arnaldo de Vilanova,” in Archivos iberoamericanos de historia de la medicina, 1 (1948), 49-119; Jacques Payen, “Flos florum et Semita semite, deux traités d’alchimie attribués à Arnaud de Villeneuve,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences. 12 (1959), 288-300; René Verrier, Études sur Arnaud de Villeneuve, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1947-1949). The many biographical and theological studies that have appeared since 1947 can best be found by following up the references given in Miguel Batllori, “Dos nous escrits espirituals d’Arnau de Vilanova,” in Analecta sacra Tarraconensia, 28 (1955), 45-70; or in Joaquin Carreras y Artau, Relactiones de Arnau de vilanova con los reyes de la casa de Aragón (Barcelona, 1955).

Michael McVaugh

views updated


(b. Aragon, Spain, c. 1240; d. at sea off Genoa, Italy, 6 September 1311),

medical sciences. For the original article on Arnald of Villanova see DSB, vol. 1.

The continuing publication of Arnald’s medical works, a series not even begun when the original DSB was published, has thrown much new light on the details of his thought and its relation to developments in medicine at the end of the thirteenth century, as well as on the sequence and dating of his writings. De intentione medicorum, composed at the beginning of his Montpellier teaching, put forward a consistent medical philosophy, derived from Avicenna, that Arnald maintained to the end of his career, a medical instrumentalism that distinguished between absolute philosophical truth and a medical “truth” whose only test was its sufficiency to bring about a patient’s health. And by the end of the 1290s Arnald had become an active figure in the European assimilation of what has been called the “new Galen”; he was particularly enthusiastic about the promise of Galen’s De interioribus to orient the practitioner in diagnostics and pathology, and he prepared an epitome of its first two books for his students to master.

Finally, his Aphorismi de gradibus, Medicationis parabole, and commentary on the first Hippocratic aphorism, all as of 2007 datable to the years around 1300, reveal his enthusiasm for another new pedagogical technique of the day, the presentation of medical knowledge in aphoristic and tabular form. While this period of scientific maturity coincides with Arnald’s growing commitment to theological investigation, it remains an open question whether he kept these two aspects of his thought separate or whether they formed an integrated whole.

Arnald’s mission to Paris in 1300 (not 1299, as stated in the earlier DSB article) brought his teaching career to an end, but his medical writing continued, now, however, intended to win the support of patrons rather than to educate students and colleagues. Works from this period include the Regimen sanitatis, which he composed for Jaume II of Aragon; the Speculum medicine, which the

same king was avidly seeking in 1308; the military Regimen, which Arnald prepared for the king’s army during its attack on Almeria in 1309; and the Practica summaria, which he seems to have drawn up for Pope Clement V. Two other works ascribed to Arnald, an Antidotarium and a work on poisons, may have been assembled from notes after his death by a medical disciple, Petrus Cellerarius. In combination with other evidence, they hint at Arnald’s possible activity at the court of Robert of Naples in the last two years of his life and at his interest in the new chemical medicine of the day, which could perhaps have encouraged the attribution of alchemical works to him after his death, but there is now little doubt that all the “Arnaldian” alchemical work is apocryphal.



Arnaldi de Villanova Opera medica omnia. Vol. 2, Aphorismi de gradibus, edited by M. R. McVaugh (1975); Vol. 3, Tractatus de amore heroico;Epistola de dosi tyriacalium medicinarum, edited by M. R. McVaugh (1985); Vol. 4, Tractatus de consideracionibus operis medicine sive de flebotomia, edited by

P. Gil-Sotres and L. Demaitre (1988); Vol. 5.1, Tractatus de intentione medicorum, edited by M. R. McVaugh (2000); Vol. 6.1,Medicationis parabole, edited by J. A. Paniagua; Pirqé Arnau de Vilanova, edited by L. Ferre and E. Feliu (1990); Vol. 6.2, Commentum in quasdam parabolas et alias aphorismorum series: Aphorismi particulares, Aphorismi de memoria, Aphorismi extravaganates, edited by J. A. Paniagua and P. Gil-Sotres (1993); Vol. 7.1, Epistola de reprobacione nigromantice ficcionis (De improbatione maleficiorum), edited by S. Giralt (2005); Vol. 10.1, Regimen sanitatis ad regem Aragonum, edited by L. García-Ballester and M. R. McVaugh (1996); Vol. 10.2, Regimen Almarie (Regimen castra sequentium), edited by L. Cifuentes and M. R. McVaugh (1998); Vol. 11, De esu carnium, edited by D. M. Bazell (1999); Vo.l. 15, Commentum supra tractatum Galieni de malicia complexionis diverse, edited by L. García Ballester and E. Sánchez Salor; Doctrina Galieni de interioribus, edited by R. J. Durling (1985); Vol. 16, Translatio libri Galieni de rigore et tremore et iectigatione et spasmo, edited by M. R. McVaugh (1981); Vol. 17, Translatio libri Albuzale de medicinis simplicibus, edited by J. Martínez Gázquez and M. R. McVaugh; Abu-l- Salt Umayya, Kitab al-adwiya almufrada, edited by A. Labarta; Llibre d’Albumesar de simples medecines, edited by L. Cifuentes (2004). Barcelona: University of Barcelona Press. A continuing series of critical editions with historical introductions.

Opera theologica omnia. Vol. 3. Barcelona, 2004. Contains editions of Arnald’s commentary on De semine scripturarum and his Allocutio super tetragrammaton.


Garcia-Ballester, Luis. “The ‘new Galen’: A challenge to Latin Galenism in Thirteenth-Century Montpellier.” In Text and Tradition: Studies in Ancient Medicine and Its Transmission: Presented to Jutta Kollesch, edited by Klaus-Dietrich Fischer, Diethard Nickel, and Paul Potter. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998. A seminal study that discusses the new appreciation of Galen in medical faculties c. 1300.

Giralt, Sebastià. Arnau de Vilanova en la impremta renaixentista. Manresa, Spain: Publicacions de l’Arxiu Històric de Ciències de la Salut, 2002.

McVaugh, Michael. “Further Documents for the Biography of Arnau de Vilanova.” Dynamis 2 (1982): 363–372. ———.Medicine Before the Plague: Patients and Practitioners in the Crown of Aragon, 1285–1335. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Attempts in part to situate Arnald in the wider social context of western European medical practice.

Mensa i Valls, Jaume, and Sebastià Giralt. “Bibliografia Arnaldiana (1994–2003).” Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 22 (2003): 665–734. Annual bibliographies in this journal continue to cover scholarship having to do with both Arnald’s scientific and theological interests.

Perarnau, Josep, ed. Actes de la I trobada internacional d’estudis sobre Arnau de Vilanova, in Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 14 (1995);Actes de la II trobada internacional d’estudis sobre Arnau de Vilanova, in Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 23–24 (2004–2005). Collections of fundamental papers laying out the state of current scholarship and directions for research.

Ziegler, Joseph. Medicine and Religion, c. 1300: The Case of Arnau de Vilanova. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Michael McVaugh

views updated

Arnaldus de Villanova (ca. 1235-1311)

Famous early alchemist who was also an astrologer, diplomat, and social reformer. He was regarded as a great authority on alchemy and is cited in many histories of the subject. Born in a Catalan family near Valencia, he was educated by Dominicans and studied medicine at Naples. His medical skill brought him a great reputation, and he treated kings, popes, and other famous people, which gave him reason to travel widely in Spain, France, Italy, and North Africa. He studied languages and was fluent in Arabic, Greek, and Latin. He became a favorite physician of James II, king of Aragon, and in 1285 he attended King Peter III of Aragon and was rewarded with the professorial chair of the University of Montpellier and a castle in Tarragona. However, his frank criticisms of the clergy of his time made many enemies in the church, and in 1299, during a diplomatic mission to Paris on behalf of James II of Aragon, he was arrested by order of the Holy Office and charged with heresy in his book on the Antichrist. After strong protests on his behalf to the King of France and Pope Boniface VIII, he was released in 1301.

He wrote many books on medicine and alchemy, although some works ascribed to him are probably wrongly attributed. During a visit to Naples, he met the famous alchemist Ramon Lully. In addition to his writings on alchemy, Arnaldus conducted some practical experiments. He died on a voyage from Sicily to Avignon, where he had been summoned to attend Pope Clement V, who was ill. Arnaldus was buried in Genoa.

His major work on alchemy, The Treasure of Treasures, Rosary of the Philosophers, was published in Italian and Latin. There is a lengthy account on Arnaldus in Histoire littéraire de la France by J. B. Hauréau, 1881.


Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1970.

views updated

De Villanova, Arnold (or Arnuldus) (d. ca. 1313)

Arnold de Villanova was a physician by profession and is reported to have been a theologian and a skilled alchemist. His place of birth has never been determined, but Catalonia (Spain), Milan, and Montpellier (France) have been suggested; the approximate date was the middle of the thirteenth century.

De Villanova studied medicine for many years at the Sorbonne in Paris, which in medieval times was the principal European school training physicians. Thereafter he traveled extensively in Italy and Spain.

In Spain he heard that a friend was in the hands of the dreaded Inquisition, and, fearing that he might be arrested, de Villanova quickly returned to Italy. He lived in Naples for a long period, enjoying the friendly patronage of the Neapolitan sovereign and spending his time compiling various scientific treatises. Later he was appointed physician in ordinary to Pope Clement V, so presumably the rest of his life was spent in Rome, or possibly in Avignon.

His interest in alchemy became widely known. Many people declared that his skill was derived from communication with the devil, and the physician deserved nothing less than burning at the stake. He also attracted particular enmity from the clergy by sneering openly at the monastic regime and declaring bold-ly that works of charity are more acceptable to God than the repetition of paternosters.

Thanks to papal favor, de Villanova remained unscathed by his enemies. However, soon after his death, about the year 1313, the Inquisition decided that they had dealt too leniently with him and ordered certain of his writings burned publicly at Tarragona.

De Villanova was acquainted with the preparation of oil of turpentine and oil of rosemary, while the marcasite frequently mentioned by him is said to be identical to the element bismuth. His most important treatises are Thesaurus Thesaurorum, Rosarium Philosophorum, Speculam Alchemiae and Perfectum Magisterum, while two others of some importance are his Testamentum and Scientia Scientiae. A collected edition of his works was issued in 1520, and several of his writings are included in the Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa of Mangetus, published in 1702.