Pietro D Abano

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Abano, Pietro D’

(b. Abano, Italy, 1257; d. Padua, Italy, ca. 1315)

medicine, natural history, alchemy, philosophy.

D’Abano completed his early studies in Padua and later took many voyages which focused his attention upon nature studies and ethics. He lived in Constantinople and then, about 1300, went to Paris, where he attended the university and perhaps taught and composed his Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et praecipue medicorum. In 1307 d’Abano returned to Padua, where for several years he taught philosophy and medicine, arousing the apprehension and the perplexity of the academic and ecclesiastical authorities. Although he was acquitted during his lifetime of the charge of heresy—of which he had been accused because of his attempt to interpret the birth and ministry of Christ as other than miraculous—his reputation as a sorcerer persisted. Some forty years after his death his writings were again put on trial; they were found to be heretical, and his bodily remains were disinterred and burned.

In his Conciliator, d’Abano undertook a superb synthetic program: the reconciliation of medicine with philosophy. In this he states 120 questions that give rise to as many controversies between physicians and philosophers. For their solution he adopts the method of didactic demonstration that is characteristic of the period, yet on the whole there are signs of a new intention and a new uncertainty.

The practice of medicine implies the necessity of resolving every problem in a natural manner. D’Abano maintained more or less that “the art of medicine must not consider only things that can be seen and felt.” Hence he possessed a good knowledge of anatomy; he affirmed, in opposition to the authority of Aristotle (who thought the nerves originated in the heart) that the center of all sensation and motion resides in the brain. His notions of the central nervous system are probably derived from direct visualization. According to d’ Abano. the doctor is the symbol of the zealous servant and the collaborator of nature. Considerable importance is attached to the relationship of trust that exists between the doctor and the patient. A good reputation is more useful to the doctor than rare drugs.

These concepts as d’Abano developed them in his work, have considerable importance. The doctor must be free in his reasoning and must have no ties with scholastic authorities. Such ideas imply a revolt against established and wearisome tradition: they prepare for a rupture with the past and indicate a new path for scientific progress. D’Abano’s voice was one of those that, at the dawn of humanism, announced the beginning of a scientific revival.

The Paduan master acknowledged the dependence of every living being and of earthly events on planetary influences. The Conciliator gives an outline of astrology as a two-part science comprising one that deals with the laws of celestial movements(astronomy) and another, more important, that draws from these laws the judgements and predictions concerning the effects of those motions on our world—on all human events, on human conception, and even on religion.

D’Abano has been considered by such scholars as Ferrari and Troilo as the initiator of Latin Averroism in Italy. Others—Theorndike, Nardi and Giacon—have maintained that d’Abano’s thought bears no trace Averroistic these—above all, that dealing with the unity of the intellect, either as an agent or as a possibility.


I. Original Works. The most important work of d’Abano are Additio in librum Joh. Mesue (Venice, 1471); Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et praecipue medicorum (Mantua, 1472); De Venenis (Mantua, 1473) Liber compilationis physignomiae (Padua, 1474); Expositio probelematum Aristotelis (Mantua, 1475); Expositiones in Dioscoridem (Colle [Tuscany], 1478); Quaestiones de febribus (Padua, 1482); Hippocratis libellus de medicorum astrologia (Venice, 1485) and Geomantia (Venice 1549).

SECONDARY LITERATURE. The most important works on d’Abano are M. T. d’Alverny, “Pietro d’Abano et les ‘naturalistes’ a 1’epoque de Dante,” in Leo S. Olschki, Vittore Branca, Giorgio Pedoan, eds., Dante e la cultura veneta (Florence, 1966), pp. 207-219; G. Delta Vedova, Biografia degli scrittori padovani, I (Padua, 1832), 25-33; P. Duhem, Le systeme du monde. Histoires des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon a Copernic, IV (Paris, 1916), 229-263; S. Ferrari, I tempi, la vita, le dottrine di Pietro d’Abano (Genoa, 1900), which contains considerable information on d’Abano, and “Per la biografia e per gli scritti di Pietro d’Abano,” in Atti Regale Accademia Lincei, Memorie Classe Scienzi Morali, Storiche e Filologiche, 5th ser., 15 (1915), 629-725; C. Giacon, “Pietro d’Abano e l’averroismo padovano,” in Atti XXVI riunione S.I P. S. (Rome, 1938), pp. 334-339; B. Nardi, “La teoria dell’anima e la generazione delle forme secondo Pietro d’Abano,” in Rivista filosofica neoscolastica, 4 (1912), 723-737; “Intorno alle dottrine filosofiehe di Pietro d’Abano,” in Nuova rivista storica, 4 (1920), 81-97, and 5 (1921), 300-313; and Dante e Pietro d’Abano, saggi di filosofia dantesca (Milan, 1930), pp. 43-65; L. Norpoth, “Zur Bio-Bibliographie and Wissenschaftslehre des Pietro d’Abano, Mediziners, Philosophen and Astronomen in Padua,” in Kyklos, 3 (1930), 292-353, which contains considerable information on d’Abano; J. H. Randall, Jr., The School of Padua and the Emergence of Modern Science (Padua, 1961); G. Saitta, II pensiero italiano nell’umanesimo (Bologna, 1949), pp. 32-39; L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, II (New York, 1947), 874-947; and E. Troilo, “Averroismo o aristotelismo ’alessandrista’ padovano,” in Rendiconti classe scienze morali, storiche e flologiche, Accademia Nazionale Lincei, 8th ser., 9, nos. 5-6 (1954), 188-244.

Loris Premuda

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Pietro d'Abano

c. 1250-c. 1318

Italian Physician and Philosopher

A professor of medicine at Padua, Italy, Pietro d'Abano (also called Peter of Abano) attempted a synthesis of Arab medicine, Greek philosophy, and the Catholic worldview that prevailed in the Europe of his day. He is remembered for his book Conciliator differentiarium, and for his efforts at making Padua one of the Western world's centers for medical study.

As his name indicates, Pietro was born in the town of Abano, near Padua. During his career, he traveled throughout France and Sardinia, and visited Constantinople. He also met the celebrated traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324), from whom he obtained information about Asia.

In addition to his work at Padua, Pietro practiced medicine in Paris. During his travels, he was said to have discovered and translated a lost work of Aristotle (384-322 b.c.), and this may have influenced his attempt—in the tradition of Ibn Sina (Avicenna; 980-1037) and others—to reconcile Greek thought with revealed religion in Conciliator differentiarium.

Such ideas were still considered dangerous in late medieval Europe; moreover, Pietro's dabblings in mathematics and astrology, and particularly his writings on magic, made him an object of suspicion. He was said to possess crystal vessels through which (to borrow a modern term) he "channeled" seven demons, each of whom gave him special knowledge about one of the seven liberal arts.

As time went on, rumors of Pietro's alleged abilities as a sorcerer became more and more outlandish. He was said to have the power to cause money to return to his purse after he had spent it, and when a neighbor forbade him to drink from a certain spring, he supposedly used his dark powers to divert the stream from the neighbor's property.

The latter claim was sufficient to bring him before the Inquisition, which tried and acquitted him. Later he was brought before the court on the same charges of sorcery, but before the second trial ended, he had died. He was declared guilty posthumously, and the inquisitors ordered that his bones be dug up and burned.