Approaches to the Critical Days in Late Medieval and Renaissance Thinkers

In: Early Science and Medicine
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  • 1 Brigham Young University

Galen’s astrological doctrine of the critical days, as found in his De diebus decretoriis (Critical Days), Book III, was at the center of a long discussion in the Latin West about the relationship between astrology and medicine. The main problem was that Galen’s views could not be made to square with the prevailing cosmology, which derived both from Aristotle and Abū Maʿshar. The views of selected Latin thinkers concerning the critical days, from Pietro d’Abano, down through Girolamo Cardano, are considered in the context of a fourfold scheme that aims to classify the main approaches to the critical days. The criticisms of Pico della Mirandola are discussed, as well as two kinds of responses to him: the progressive views of Giovanni Mainardi and Girolamo Fracastoro, as well as the conservative views of Thomas Bodier and Girolamo Cardano. 


  • 4

    Lynn Thorndike, “The True Place of Astrology in the History of Science,” Isis, 46 (1955), 273-78; here, 277.

  • 18

    Lynn Thorndike, “The Three Latin Translations of the Pseudo-Hippocratic Tract on Astrological Medicine,” Janus,49 (1960), 104-29.

  • 19

    Hilary Carey, “Judicial Astrology in Theory and Practice in Later Medieval Europe,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41 (2010), 90-98. Here, 93. Hilary Carey, “Astrological Medicine and the Medieval English Folded ­Almanac,” Social History of Medicine, 17 (2004), 346-63, here, 359.

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  • 21

    Danielle Jacquart, “Medical Practice in Paris in the First Half of the Fourteenth Century,” in Practical Medicine from Salerno to the Black Death, ed. Luis Garcia-Ballester, Roger French, Jon Arrizabalaga and Andrew Cunningham, 186-210 (Cambridge, 1993), 201-5.

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  • 23

    Concetta Pennuto, “The Debate on Critical Days in Renaissance Italy,” in Astro-Medicine: Astrology and Medicine, East and West, ed. Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim (Florence, 2008), 75-98. Also, Pennuto, “Girolamo Mercuriale e la dottrina dei giorni critici,” in Girolamo Mercuriale: medicina e cultura nell’Europa del Cinquecento, ed. Alessandro Arcangeli and Vivian Nutton (Florence, 2008), 301-17.

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  • 25

    Danielle Jacquart, “Everyday Practice, and Three Fifteenth-Century Physicians,” Osiris, 2nd Series,6: Renaissance Medical Learning: Evolution of a Tradition (1990), 140-60; here, 149. Thanks to Faith Wallis for this reference.

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  • 26

    Jacquart, “L’influence des astres,” 73.

  • 28

    Cooper, “Galen and Astrology,” 140-46.

  • 29

    Glen Cooper, “Hagar Banished: Anti-Arabism and the Aldine Edition of Galen’s Critical Days,” Early Science and Medicine, 17 (2012), 604-42; here, 604-607.

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  • 33

    Jacquart, “L’influence des astres,” 74.

  • 36

    Surveyed in: Pearl Kibré, “‘Astronomia’ or ‘Astrologia Ypocratis’,” in Science and History: Studies in Honor of Edward Rosen, ed. Erna Hilfstein, Pawel Czartoryski and Frank D. Grande (Warsaw, 1978), 133-56; here, 145-46. Also discussed in: Thorndike, “The Three Latin Translations.”

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  • 37

    Graziella Federici Vescovini, “Peter of Abano and Astrology,” in Astrology, Science, and Society: Historical Essays, ed. Patrick Curry (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, 1987), 19-39; here, 21.

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  • 43

    Jacquart, “Hippocrate astrologue,” 84.

  • 44

    Jacquart, “Hippocrate astrologue,” Diff. 104, fol. 155v, col. 1 (Venice, 1565). The topic of this differentia is whether the 20th and not the 21st day is the critical day, and the 17th day its indicator day. Galen’s astronomical arguments from Book III of the Critical Days are criticized throughout.

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  • 51

    See the important study: Stefano Caroti, “La critica contro l’astrologia di Nicole Oresme e la sua influenza nel Medioevo e nel Rinascimento,” Atti della Accademia nazio­nale dei Lincei, Memorie (classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche), serie 8, 23 (1979), 543-685. See also Jacquart, “Médicine et astrologie à Paris,” 123; 130.

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  • 54

    E.g., “La seconde est … possible a savoir, quant est de sa nature, mais on en scet trop peu mesmement, car le plus des regles qui sont es livres sont faulses…,” ibid., ch. 2, 54-55.

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  • 67

    Andrew Wear, “Galen in the Renaissance,” in Galen: Problems and Prospects, ed. ­Vivian Nutton (London, 1981), 229-62; here 245, referring to Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (Oxford, 1997), 339; and Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago, 1964), 62. See also: Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi, “Between the Election and My Hopes: Girolamo Cardano and Medical Astrology,” in William Newman and Anthony Grafton, eds., Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2001), 69-131; here 69-71.

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  • 70

    Sheila Rabin, “Pico on Magic and Astrology,” Pico della Mirandola: New Essays, ed. Michael V. Dougherty (Cambridge, 2008), 152-78; here, 176. Also, Steven van den Broecke, The Limits of Influence: Pico, Louvain and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology (Leiden, 2003), 78-80.

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  • 71

    Darrel Rutkin, “The Mysteries of Attraction: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Astrology and Desire,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41 (2010), 117-24.

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  • 72

    Darrel Rutkin, “The Mysteries of Attraction: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Astrology and Desire,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41 (2010), 123-24.

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  • 84

    Thorndike, A History, 9: 302-3. It is worth quoting Thorndike’s views more fully: “The whole is a splendid example of carefully recorded observation and measurement and application of the case method in an occult science, such as one would hardly find paralleled at that time in any of the now accepted natural and mathematical sciences … we see magic pointing out the experimental path to science.”

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  • 86

    Cooper, “Hagar Banished,” 608-42.

  • 87

    See Pennuto, “The Debate,” 87-94 and Wear, “Galen in the Renaissance,” 247-48, as well as Paola Zambelli, “Giovanni Mainardi e la polemica sull’ astrologia,” in L’opera e il pensiero di Giovanni Pico della Mirandola nella storia dell’umanesimo, vol. 1. Convegno internazionale, Mirandola, 15-18 settembre, 1963 (Florence, 1965), 205-79.

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  • 89

    Zambelli, “Giovanni Mainardi,” 269.

  • 90

    Zambelli, “Giovanni Mainardi,” 278. Recounted in: Grafton and Siraisi, “Between the Election,” 89.

  • 91

    Zambelli, “Giovanni Mainardi,” 251-52.

  • 95

    Pennuto, “The Debate,” 94-97.

  • 97

    Nardi, “La dottrina dei giorni critici,” 38.

  • 115

    Grafton, Cardano’s Cosmos, 134-38.

  • 123

    Grafton, Cardano’s Cosmos, 134-35.

  • 124

    Grafton and Siraisi, “Between the Election,” 88-91.

  • 125

    See the discussion in: Cooper, “Galen and Astrology,” 140-44.

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