The Trouble with Opium. Taste, Reason and Experience in Late Galenic Pharmacology with Special Regard to the University of Leiden (1575–1625)

in Early Science and Medicine
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In the seventeenth century, the discrepancy between the taste of some drugs and their effects on the body was used to criticize Galenic medicine. In this paper, I argue that such contradictions were brought to light by the sixteenth-century study of drug properties within the Galenic tradition itself. Investigating how the taste of a drug corresponded to the effects it had on the body became a core problem for maintaining a medical practice that was both rational and effective. I discuss four physicians, connected to the University of Leiden, who attempted to understand drug properties, including taste, within a Galenic framework. The sixteenth-century discussions about the relationship between the senses, reason and experience, will help us understand the seventeenth-century criticism of Galenic medicine and the importance of discussions about materia medica for ideas regarding the properties of matter proposed in this period.

The Trouble with Opium. Taste, Reason and Experience in Late Galenic Pharmacology with Special Regard to the University of Leiden (1575–1625)

in Early Science and Medicine




Evan Ragland“Chymistry and Taste in the Seventeenth Century,” Ambix59 (2012) 1–22specifically 7 n. 26 ; Julius Caesar Scaliger In Libros de plantis Aristotelis inscriptos Commentarii (Paris 1556) 110v.


Harm Beukers“Clinical Teaching in Leiden from its Beginning until the End of the Eighteenth Century,” Clio Medica: acta Academiae Internationalis Historiae Medicinae21 (1987–1988) 139–152; Antonie M. Luyendijk-Elshout “Der Einfluß der italienischen Universitäten auf die medizinische Fakultät in Leiden (1575–1620)” in Georg Kauffmann ed. Die Renaissance im Blick der Nationen Europas (Wiesbaden 1991) 339–353; Grell “Attraction” 92–97; Harold J. Cook Matters of Exchange. Commerce Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (New Haven and London 2007) 110–111.


Wear“Learned” 154 155.


Wear“Learned” 154 155.


ForresterJean Fernel’s695.


ForresterJean Fernel’s695.


Prepared between 1555 and his death in 1558. Published as part of Fernel Universa medicina (Paris 15671).


ForresterJean Fernel’s530–531. It seems that here he tried to propose an alternative to the Galenic understanding of the faculties and the diseases they cured making the distinction between “diseases of defective temperament” and “diseases of matter.”


ForresterJean Fernel’s396–401. Nancy Siraisi has also drawn attention to this passage: Nancy G. Siraisi Avicenna in Renaissance Italy: the Canon and Medical Teaching in Italian Universities after 1500 (Princeton N.J. 1987) 242. Richard Bland (ca. 1583–unkn.) an Englishman started his philosophical positions which he defended in Leiden by copying a large part of this preface. The quotation stops where Fernel brought up Democritus and his atomism and Hippocrates’ four elements. Richardus Bland Philosophos seu positiones philosophicae pro gradu .. sub praeside Antonio Trutio (Leiden 1601).


Siraisi“Changing” 311; Siraisi Avicenna 99–100 ; Siraisi Medicine 218.


ForresterJean Fernel’s694–695.


CordusBotanologicon133–134 135. Ogilvie and Ragland claimed that Euricus Cordus wrote that taste was infallible in identifying a plant and could “determine its medical qualities.” Ogilvie Science 135; Ragland “Chymistry” 6. Cordus did in fact write that in identifying a plant taste as opposed to color could not mislead. As he pointed out color often changed in different regions taste however would remain fixed. Cordus Bota­no­logicon (Paris 1551) 92: “Tertium ut parum de colore referat quod is secundum diversas regiones in eadem saepe herba mutantur tamen sapor qui fallere non potest dis­sidet.”




ForresterJean Fernel’s694–695; Spigelius Isagoges (1633) 157; Mattioli Opusculum 27v–28r cap. 14.; Heurnius Institutiones (1609) 135 137; Jacchaeus Institutiones (16241) 261.


MaehleDrugs131–132. Maehle only gives sources for the opinions of Döring and Mattioli. Michaël Döring Mithridateiotechnia: hoc est de mithridati legitima constructione Nicolai Mutoni collectanea …cum auctario gemino: quorum prius exhibit acroama medico-philosophicum de opii usu qualitate calefaciente virtute narcotica et ipsum corrigenda modo (Jena 1620); Friedrich Hoffmann Clavis pharmaceutica Schroederiana seu animadversiones cum annotationibus in pharmacopoejam Schroederianam Baconiania Cartesianis et Helmontianis principiis illustratae (Halle 1675) 592–593; Margit Kreutel Die Opiumsucht (Stuttgart 1988) 111 n.5 6 147 n.5 refers to Platter’s Praxeos medicae (Basel 1656).


Vogt“Drugs” 311.


Wear“Learned” 154 155.


Ragland“Chymistry” 10–12.

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