Cardano the Physician

  • Markus Fierz


CARDANO WAS A PRACTICING PHYSICIAN as well as a professor of medicine. Selections from the lectures he gave at Pavia and Bologna are included in his published works. They take the form of detailed commentaries on the classical medical authorities, Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna.1 These commentaries constitute a large part of Cardano’s medical writings and supply noteworthy information about teaching methods in the universities at that time. In addition, Cardano wrote numerous treatises on special topics, such as De Dentibus and De Urinis, as well as introductions to practical pharmacology like the Ars curandi parva. The latter text begins with a brief outline of his theory of physiology, which is essentially the same as that of Galen.


White Wine Poor Digestion Chicken Broth Black Bile Yellow Bile 
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  1. 1.
    Abu Ali al Husein ibn Allah ibn Sina. Avicenna corresponds to the Spanish-Arabic pronunciation of ibn Sina. Cardano usually refers to him as the “Princeps” and emphasizes that his real name was Husein—although he writes Hasen. Sina is the name of the grandfather.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Opera IX, p. 47.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Charles Singer, A Short History of Anatomy and Physiology (New York: Dover, 1957), p. 47 ff.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The spleen is an organ where blood is stored. “Black bile” is actually venous blood found in the spleen at autopsies.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    De Usu ciborum, chapter 8, Opera VII, p. 13.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    De Methodo medendi, chapter 89, Opera VII, p. 238. This book contains a discussion of some one hundred mistakes common in the medical practice of the time, along with suggestions for improvements. It is interesting and in character, and some of the opinions expressed are probably still valid today.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ch. Singer, l. c., p. 132.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    On the subject of rubdowns see Cardano, De Usu ciborum, chapter 14, Opera VII, p. 37.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    A remedy to loosen phlegm.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cardano regarded eiderdown as generally harmful. See De Methodo medendi, chapter 85 (Opera VII, p. 236) and Praeceptorum ad filios liber (Opera I, p. 475): “Super plumam non dormite!”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    In De Methodo medendi, chapter 72 (Opera VII, p. 229) the physicians are reproached for depriving their patients of fresh air.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This is probably supposed to slow the ebb of venous blood, thus relieving the weakened heart-lung circulation. This seems at least to be the more recent theory, since the procedure remained in use for a long time. Cardano gives no reason for taking this measure.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    It seems that he is afraid of catching cold while overheated.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Aloaesius Cornarus is the author of Discorsi della vita sobria (Padua, 1558). He lived to the age of about one hundred. See Jacob Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien, fourth section, “Biographie.”Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Since the patient is indeed suffering from states of anxiety.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    In De Facultatibus medicamentorum (Opera IX, p. 367), “helleborus niger” is discussed as number 101. To Cardano, it is the “Rex medicamentorum,” especially effective in purging black bile. However, if it is not properly prepared, or if it is given to a patient without preparatory treatment, it can lead to respiratory paralysis and death by suffocation.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    As Dr. med. Felix Fierz kindly pointed out to me, the cause of the illness might have been malaria.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Fierz
    • 1
  1. 1.KüsnachtSwitzerland

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