Exploring Collections: Johannes Ganivet’s Amicus medicorum at the College of Physicians
Posted by Darin Hayton on 07/18 at 10:41 PM
According to Lynn Thorndike in “the field of astrological medicine, probably the most influential treatise composed in Europe during the fifteenth century was the Friend of Physicians (Amicus medicorum) written by Jean Ganivet in 1431.”1 Ganivet’s text was first printed in 1496 and was reprinted in 1508, 1550, 1596, and 1614. In The Historical Medical Library at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia there is a copy of each of the first three editions of Ganivet’s Amicus medicorum. Interestingly, each of these first three editions is consecutively smaller.
Ganivet states clearly in his preface his intentions:
Here begins a brief treatise to guide physicians in the practice of medicine with reference to the influence of the heavens both in time of epidemic and at other times of the year so that the physicians may themselves know the hours and times when they should give medicines….2
The text is divided into four sections,, differentiae, each with seven chapters. The first presents the basic structure of the heavens—the number of heavenly spheres and their movers. The second discusses the zodiacal constellations and the primum mobile, the dignities of the planets, their accidental virtues, and detriments. The third differentia presents the causes of plague and death. He illustrates this section with three horoscopes for sicknesses on different dates: 24 August 1418, 29 June 1420, and 7 August 1431. The last example was a horoscope cast to determine whether or not the dean of Vienne would regain his health or die. Ganivet had been asked by Henry Amicus of Brussels to predict the outcome of the dean’s illness.
After a detailed analysis of this chart, Ganivet concluded that the dean would die—the dean died two days later.
The last section of the work presents different ways to preserve health, how to expel diseases, and to use astrological influences to fortify medicines. Ganivet’s text includes two other tracts, Coeli enarrant and a redaction of Ibn Ezra’s treatise on critical days.
This fist edition is quite nice, but shows no signs of readership or use. The other two copies at the College of Physicians, by contrast, show considerable use.
Some early reader marked up this copy of Ganivet’s text, underlining important passages and scribbling reminders in the margins:
The same annotator covered the back pages with notes culled from different parts of the text:
Likewise, the 1550 edition is annotated. Here a reader was particularly interested in the stars in the constellations and makes passing reference to previous astrologers who had noted the importance of these stars:
The 1508 and 1550 editions also have a new prefatory letter by Gondisalvus of Toledo. He had written a short dedicatory letter for the 1496 edition. By 1508 he clearly felt that the need to rewrite his letter, this time making it a defense of astrology, “Epistola astrologie defensiva” (the first text listed on the title page of the 1508 edition). This letter was largely an argument from authority in which Gondisalvus collected references to previous authors who had endorsed astrology.3
Despite Thorndike’s claim about the importance of Ganivet’s work, there seems to be little work on him or his text. The five different editions of the Amicus medicorum suggest that it found a market. It would be nice to know who was reading Ganivet, and in what contexts. The three copies in The Historical Medical Library at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia could be the start of an interesting project.
1Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. 4 (1934), 134.⇑
2Joh. Ganivet, Amicus medicorum (1496), fol. Aii-recto.⇑
3Gondislavus’s epistola is still in the 1614 edition, see the copy in the BSB.⇑