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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 77.1 (2003) 186-188

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William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton, eds. Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe. Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. 443 pp. Ill. $50.00 (0-262-14075-6).

This volume is a collection of eight essays. After an introductory chapter by the editors, pointing to the importance of the subject, there are two papers on Girolamo Cardano. First, Germana Ernst discusses Cardano's early rejection of Arabic authorities and his desire to return to the work of Ptolemy. This belief in ancient authority is reminiscent of the then-contemporary medical search for an uncorrupted Galen. Considered the greatest astrologer of the sixteenth century, Cardano insisted that astrology and religion were in basic agreement. Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi turn next to Cardano's medical astrology and show that "for the most part, he seems to have viewed astrology and medicine as [End Page 186] separate disciplines with their own theoretical (and practical) bases" (pp. 27-28). Cardano sought to revive Ptolemy's astrology through his extensive commentary on the Tetrabiblos, but his work in this field seems to have concentrated more on the reform of astronomy than on its application to medicine.

Darrel Rutkin examines the dedication by Johann Kepler to Rudolf II in Astronomia nova (1609). In his praise of the Holy Roman Emperor, Kepler employed astrology to associate him with Mars. This is of interest because of recent research on Galileo's similar use of astrology in his dedication of the Sidereus nuncius (1610) to Cosimo II: Rutkin raises the question whether Galileo might have been influenced by Kepler. However, regardless of their use of astrology in their dedications, both authors turned away from astrology in their main texts.

N. H. Clulee's "Astronomia inferior: Legacies of Johannes Trithemius and John Dee" is an important study of Dee's Monas hieroglyphica (1564). In addition to an intensive study of the text itself, Clulee shows its connection with earlier works by Trithemius and Agrippa. He also indicates the later influence of the Monas in works by Sendivogius and one Philipp à Gabella. The work of Gabella has been used by Frances Yates to connect Dee with the background of the Rosicrucian movement, a view that Clulee rejects.

In a paper of more than one hundred pages, "The Rosicrucian Hoax in France (1623-24)," Didier Kahn examines in great detail the famous posting of Rosicrucian placards in Paris in 1623. This event has been known primarily from Gabriel Naudé's Instruction à la France sur la vérité de la histoire des Frères de la Roze-Croix (1623). Kahn shows that the author of these posters was a young man, Étienne Chaume, who aimed them at both the Parisian Lullists and the Rosicrucians. At first little more than a prank, the incident "must be seen as the very first manifestation of the association. . . between Paracelsianism and libertinism" (p. 311).

Lauren Kassell turns next to "'The Food of Angels': Simon Forman's Alchemical Medicine." With relatively little formal education, Forman became notorious through his interests in astrology, medicine, and alchemy. His many writings remain in manuscript form and it is largely for this reason that they have seldom been referred to by historians of science. However, Kassell shows that Forman was aware of much of the recent work in medicine, and that he was influenced specifically by the work of Alexander von Suchten on the medicinal virtues of the preparations of antimony. Like others interested in chemical medicine, Forman attacked the College of Physicians, and he insisted that the truths of chemistry could be traced back to Hermes Trismegistus. His medicine, however, was not based on chemistry alone, since he fused it with astrology and magic. In short, this paper presents Forman as a figure who should be of interest to those working on popular medicine in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England.

Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman contribute a paper...


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