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A Philosophical Path for Paracelsian Medicine

The Ideas, Intellectual Context, and Influence of Petrus Severinus (1540-1602)

The great Paracelsian scholar Walter Pagel and the pioneer medical historian Kurt Polycarp Sprengel identified Petrus Severinus’ Idea Medicinæ (1571) as an influential vehicle for the elaboration and diffusion of Paracelsian ideas in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a process that has recently come under renewed scrutiny. Severinus’ conception that diseases grow from living, seed-like entities proved to be an especially important idea, which was recognized by prominent scientific and medical authors from Oswald Croll and Daniel Sennert to Pierre Gassendi and Robert Boyle. But they also formed a useful theoretical model for reconciling ideas about physical causation with certain Christian Platonist concerns in Protestant theology.

A Philosophical Path for Paracelsian Medicine is the first book-length monograph to treat Severinus, a Danish royal physician and contemporary of the great astronomer Tycho Brahe, and to present his ideas in their historical context as well as considering their ramifications for medical and religious theory in the decades prior to the Thirty Years’ War. This book will prove to be a useful tool in the reexamination of the process by which Paracelsian ideas were spread and assimilated and will appeal to all those interested the intellectual background for the work of Tycho Brahe and his students and the role of Paracelsian and Hermetic metaphysical ideas in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.

519 pages


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“All told, this is an excellent piece of scholarship that brings to life the work and influence of a leading theorist in early modern medicine. Shackelford sheds clear light on how the Galenic tradition of medical practice was gradually overthrown in this period, and how chemistry emerged—albeit slowly—as the foundation of a new medical tradition.”

David Boyd Haycock, London School of Economics

“Shackelford’s study cuts across many boundaries. It is, of course, a much-needed account of Severinus and his systhesis of Paracelsian thought. For some readers it will also serve as an introduction to the meaning of Paracelsianism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. However, in addition, the author examines this influence in many national settings, creating a survey of the key figures of European chemical philosophy. Historians of medicine have always had an interest in early modem developments, but Paracelsian studies have been relatively uncommon. This book is a welcome exception and should be considered required reading for anyone interested in that period.”

Allen G. Debus | Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“An excellent study of one of the most important Paracelsians, and much more besides. In writing the first book-length study of Severinus, a Paracelcian expositor who was so successful that his own name came to be used in an adjectival form (Severinian), Jole Shackelford has not only demonstrated the inadequacy of current historiography but also started us off on the way to its revision. Shackelford’s intellectual biography of Severinus places him firmly in his historical context, and in particular has much to say about the contemporary scene in Denmark. . . . Shackelford’s book will prove to be an essential source for scholars interested in Tycho and his context. With regard to Tycho’s alchemy, it has much more to offer than previous biographies devoted entirely to the great Danish astronomer. The rich account of Severinus’s education and career, told alongside those of his close friend, Johannes Pratensis (1543-1576), and of Thycho, will also prove indispensable for those interested in the fortunes of Paracelsianism in the universities of Northern Europe, and in the royal courts. Shackelford’s remit is not confined to Severinus himself and his immediate surroundings, however. It also embraces the nature and extent (in both space and time) of his influence throughout Europe, first of all as a commentator who was able to make sense of Paracelsus’s idiosyncratic teachings, and subsequently as the embodiment of what effectively came to be seen as Severinianism. Here again Shackelford provides a feast of incidental information on other thinkers who drew upon Severinus’s work.”

John Henry | American Historical Review

Table of Contents

Introduction: Petrus Severinus and the Assimilation of Paracelsian Medicine

Part One: Paracelsianism in Tycho Brahe’s Denmark

1. The Education of a Danish Physician

2. Paracelsianism in Sixteenth-century Denmark

3. Petrus Severinus: Personal Physician to the Kings of Denmark

Part Two: A Philosophical Path for Paracelsian Medicine

4. The Ideal of Philosophical Medicine: Vital Anatomy and the Anatomy of Disease and Cure

Part Three: The Influence of the “Idea Medicinæ Philosophicæ”

5. The Reception of Severinus’ Theories in Western Europe

6. The Reception of Severinus’ Theories in England

7. The “Severinian School” in Central Europe

8. The “Severinian School” in Scandinavia

Part Four: Reading the “Idea Medicinæ Philosophicæ”
9. “A Mappe of Medecyne” and Ambrosius Rhodius’ Defense of the “Idea Medicinæ Philosophicæ”

10. William Davidson’s Commentaries on the “Idea Medicinæ Philosophicæ”

Conclusion: Petrus Severinus and the History of Ideas

Table of Abbreviations and Standard Works

Bibliography of Secondary and Primary Sources in Various Languages


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