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Pietro d’Abano

(Abano, c. 1250 – Padova, c. 1315)

Son of a notary, Pietro d’Abano was born in the city of the same name, just a short distance from Padua, in the 1250s.
He studied medicine in Padua and then, between 1270 and 1290, he went on numerous trips, including a stay in Constantinople. There, he learned Arabic and Greek and was therefore able to read original works by ancient doctors and philosophers. This knowledge allowed him to translate and comment on works by Averroes and Aristotle, launching the tradition of Aristotelian studies.

He began teaching medicine at the University of Paris in 1300. He was condemned by the Dominicans for having cast doubt on the existence of demons and on the truth behind some miracles. He underwent his first trial for heresy but was released thanks to the Pope’s intervention. In 1306, he returned to the University of Padova where he was dedicated to teaching medicine, philosophy and astrology. Shortly after his return to Padua, the Dominicans once again accused him of heresy and he had to stand trial not once, but twice. He died before the end of his last trial and it is believed that his bones were dug up and burned.

From the XVI century onwards, Pietro was identified as being the author of various magic spells, which were actually apocryphal, making him famous as a powerful necromancer. His works include the “Astrolabium planum“, whose content probably provided inspiration for the astrological images inside Padua’s Palazzo della Ragione, one of the greatest monuments to medieval art in Europe. At the time, knowledge of celestial bodies, from both an astronomical and astrological point of view, was thought to be essential in order to practise medicine. Doctors had to have a masterful command of astrology, which Pietro d’Abano turned into a real science, in order to be able to treat patients at the most suitable moment in time as clearly indicated by the stars, administering a specific medicine or carrying out a well-established surgical procedure.

A partire dal XVI secolo Pietro fu identificato come l’autore di diversi testi di magia, in realtà apocrifi, guadagnandosi la fama di potente negromante. Tra i suoi testi si trova l’Astrolabium planum, al cui contenuto probabilmente ci si ispirò per le raffigurazioni a carattere astrologico del Palazzo della Ragione di Padova, uno dei maggiori monumenti di arte medievale europea. La conoscenza dei corpi celesti, sia da un punto di vista astronomico che astrologico, era a quel tempo ritenuta indispensabile per praticare la medicina; il medico doveva necessariamente aver padronanza dell’astrologia, elevata da Pietro d’Abano al grado di vera e propria scienza, al fine di poter intervenire, nel momento più opportuno scandito ed indicato dagli astri, con la somministrazione di un determinato medicamento o con una stabilita terapia chirurgica.

Pietro d'Abano

Pietro d’Abano