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  • Medicina e scienze della natura alla corte dei papi nel duecento
  • Walton O. Schalick III
Agostino Paravicini Bagliani. Medicina e scienze della natura alla corte dei papi nel duecento. Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino, Biblioteca di Medioevo Latino, no. 4. Spoleto: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 1991. xvii + 488 pp. L 70,000 (paperbound).

While tracing a figure who turned out to be Witelo, the thirteenth-century scholar of optics, Agostino Paravicini Bagliani discovered him in Viterbo with John Peckham, another great optical investigator. Was this a chance encounter, or was there a papal programmatic? Professor Paravicini, of the Université de Lausanne, addressed this question and others by examining curial scientists and physicians through prosopography, textual circulation, translational activity, and the court’s overall interest in matters medical and scientific. Over the last twenty years, he has found some answers. He has published the results in articles, eleven of which are collected here (with some editing) for the first time; he adds two previously unpublished pieces.

Taking advantage of generous archival sources, Paravicini identifies the medicus pape from the beginning of the thirteenth century. These medici enjoyed one of the richest collections of Greek scientific codices extant before the Renaissance. Moreover, the popes appear to have actively guided a program of questioning and research. For example, they were fascinated with means of prolonging life; as Paravicini notes, the Curia became one of the great carrefours for the production and transmission of scientific information regarding the prolongatio vitae.

The first of the new articles includes a prosopographical “dictionary,” bringing together many recently published data on seventy-two papal physicians at the courts of eighteen popes, from Celestine III (1191–98) to Benedict XI (1303–4). It reveals details about living quarters, receipts prescribed, and relations between physicians and their patients. The second article considers “cultural and scientific exchange” between the courts of Frederick II and the popes, finding cultural “interference” between the courts in associations of personnel and the production of translations. The remaining articles, in French, Italian, and English, gather an impressive overview of the medical and scientific activities of the thirteenth-century papal court. They examine the curial associations of individual scholars like Campano da Novara, Witelo, and the translator William of Moerbeke, as well as the more thematic issues of Arabic influence, the rise of anatomy, education and libraries at the courts, and the directed investigations within the milieu of the Curia. The volume includes four indices (manuscripts; personal and place names; notables; and incipits).

This book draws together an important collection of articles by an insightful scholar and shows the strong interconnections of medical-scientific activity and papal court culture from the first decades of the thirteenth century. In toto, it reveals that many of the same issues of early modern court-centered patronage of science and medicine that have recently attracted the attention of historians can be found in certain medieval courts. Paravicini has led the way into an area that demands greater attention.

Walton O. Schalick III
Children’s Hospital, Boston

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