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  • Contribution à l'étude du paracelsisme en France au XVIe siècle (1560-1580): De la naissance du mouvement aux années de maturité: Le Demosterion de Roche Le Baillif (1578), and: Le Demosterion
  • Yvonne Petry
Hervé Baudry . Contribution à l'étude du paracelsisme en France au XVIe siècle (1560-1580): De la naissance du mouvement aux années de maturité: Le Demosterion de Roche Le Baillif (1578). Études et essais sur la Renaissance LX. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2005. 234 pp. index. bibl. €54. ISBN: 2–7453–1207–3.
Roch Le Baillif . Le Demosterion. Ed. Hervé Baudry. Textes de la Renaissance 93. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2005. 288 pp. index. illus. tbls. bibl. €36. ISBN: 2–7453–1205–7.

Taken together, these two volumes make a useful contribution to the history of Paracelsian medicine in sixteenth-century France. Baudry treats the history of medicine as a form of intellectual history, and his primary concern is with the transmission and reception of Paracelsian concepts rather than with the practice of medicine. The Contribution is a reworking of Baudry's doctoral thesis from 1989 and is therefore not a recent work. In a short preface, Didier Kahn includes references to recent works in the field, but neither Baudry's text nor his bibliography has been updated. As a dissertation, it typifies the careful and detailed scholarship of French academia. Baudry tends to be cautious and refrains from overgeneralizing. For example, he argues that the relationship between Paracelsianism and French Protestantism is more complex than has been sometimes depicted.

Baudry's analysis is organized into three sections. In the first he begins with a general discussion of the diffusion of Paracelsian thought in France after 1560, when the first translations of Paracelsus's writings were made into Latin from the [End Page 934] original German. Baudry provides a brief, but coherent, introduction to the main tenets of Paracelsus's beliefs, including his rejection of humoral theory, and its replacement with a philosophy grounded in alchemy, astrology, and the belief in signatures in nature. Baudry states that Paracelsus attracted attention in the latter half of the sixteenth century because although his ideas were radical and iconoclastic, they conformed to contemporary interests in alchemy and mysticism. He argues that Paracelsus should not be seen as a forerunner of the Scientific Revolution, but rather as a successor to the Renaissance Neoplatonists. Florentine Neoplatonism laid the foundation for Paracelsus's ideas, and also provided the framework into which they could be received by his contemporaries. The appeal of his theories was based on the early modern fascination with secret knowledge and the occult, combined with a desire for practical therapeutics where Galenic remedies had failed.

Baudry also introduces the reader to Roch Le Baillif, whom he considers one of the most important of the French interpreters of Paracelsus. Baudry provides some background information on Le Baillif, but his discussion is limited primarily to an analysis of his intellectual circles, both in his native Normandy and, later, in Brittany. A more extensive biographical discussion would have been helpful for what is, to many, a relatively unknown figure. The same could be said with respect to the story of Le Baillif's arrival in Paris in 1578. Baudry rightly describes it as a turning point in the history of French Paracelsianism, since it was Le Baillif's presence there and the appearance of his book, Le Demosterion, that made the medical establishment aware of the challenge that Paracelsian thought represented. Le Baillif was questioned by the medical faculty of the University of Paris and, when he refused to submit to their censure, was handed over to the parlement and ordered to leave the city. This incident is treated in only a few pages, and a more extensive discussion would certainly have been warranted, given the focus of Baudry's work.

In the second section of the book Baudry examines the Demosterion in detail. By analyzing the number of extant copies, he concludes that it was relatively widely circulated in the late sixteenth century. By a careful comparison to the original works by Paracelsus, he then attempts to reconstruct the manner in which Le Baillif read and...


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