Practicing Medicine in the Age of Petrarch. The Rare First Edition

Garbo, Tommaso de (ca. 1305-1370); Zanelli di Pietro, Francesco (d. 1365?); Johannes, de Penna (d. 1348?)

Summa medicinalis accuratissime revisa & emendata: ac nunc primo quidem diligenter impressa. Tractatus ejusdem de restauratione humidi radicalis. Tractatusque ejusdem de reductione medicinarum ad actum. [With: "Tractatus comminantium" of Francesco Zanelli and the "Reprobationes” of Johannes de Penna.]

Venice: Mandato & expensis heredum Octaviani Scoti, per Bonetum Locatellum, 27 August, 1506


Folio: [1], 119 lvs.

FIRST EDITION of all three works.

Bound in modern vellum. A very nice copy with a few stains, occasional early marginalia (trimmed), and a little worming in the blank margins in the second half, not affecting the text.

This publication also includes the "Tractatus comminantium magistri Francisci de Bononia" [i. e. Francesco Zanelli] (leaves 96r-99r) and the "Reprobationes magistri Johannis de Penna."

Son of the famous physician, professor of medicine, and author Dino del Garbo (d. 1327), Tommaso del Garbo would eclipse his father’s success and go on to become one of the most successful –and wealthiest- physicians of mid-14th c. Italy. Tommaso also held the distinction of being a personal friend and correspondent of Petrarch.

Tommaso rose to prominence in 1343 while teaching at the university of Perugia and simultaneously practicing medicine. His extraordinary skills earned him the sobriquet “Aesculapius Reborn”(redivivo Esculapio) and the wealthy and powerful of Italy vied for his services. In 1345 he left Perugia and took a position at the prestigious University of Bologna. From 1348, he practiced medicine and lectured in Florence and, later, in Milan.

It was in 1368, in Pavia, while acting as physician to Galeazzo II Visconti, that Tommaso first met Petrarch, with whom he developed a close friendship. In a letter of November 1370, shortly after Tommaso’s death, Petrarch gave a lively portrait of his friend: incredibly rich, with a reputation so great that he was said to be able to raise the dead, fond of figs, apples, and cherries; a voracious eater. Yet despite the fact that Del Garbo was “green in years” and “vigorous like a bull”, he died suddenly. Petrarch, always skeptical of doctors (despite his fondness for Del Garbo), remarked, “See the volubility of fortune and the uncertainty and inutility of medicine.”

Del Garbo was a prolific and influential writer. Some time around 1348, when plague was ravaging Europe, he wrote a treatise on the subject, in which he dealt extensively with diet and hygiene. He wrote a commentary on an embryological treatise by Avicenna, in the course of which, while addressing errors in Avicenna’s readings of Galen and Hippocrates, Del Garbo proved revealed himself to be a skilled anatomist. He also authored an influential commentary on Galen’s “De febrium differentiis”.

The “Summa Medicinalis”:

At the time of his death Del Garbo was hard at work on what was to be his magnum opus, the “Summa Medicinalis”, a comprehensive work on all aspects of pathology, drawn in part from his lectures (which are nowhere else preserved.) Although death kept him from finishing the work, he completed parts 1 and 2 (of a projected 3): "de rebus naturalibus et de eis annexis humani corporis pertinentibus” and “de rebus non naturalibus appellatis ab extra inevitabiliter humano corpori occurrentibus". The first printed edition of the extant parts (1506) comprises Books I and II, as well as two shorter treatises from Del Garbo’s pen, “De restauratione humidi radicalis” and “De reductione medicinarum: ad actum.”

In addition to preserving invaluable information on 14th c. Italian medical theory and practice, the “Summa” also enriches our knowledge of the controversies and conflicts that arose in the Italian medical community in that period, such as the disputed efficacy of various pharmaceuticals; the question of whether amputated limbs continue to feel pain; and the presence or absence of the soul in semen. At several times in the course of the “Summa”, Del Garbo comes to the defence of his father, first against charges that he plagiarized Torrigiano Torrigiani (d. 1319), and later in support of the elder Del Garbo’s theories concerning hereditary disease. He cites numerous contemporary and near-contemporary physicians and philosophers, including Guglielmo Corvi (d. 1326), Egidio Colonna (d. 1316), and his own uncle, Taddeo Alderotti (d. 1295).

This volume includes two additional works concerning the vexing question whether the soul is present in semen. The authors are Francesco Zanelli di Pietro of Bologna (d. 1365), who gained his medical degree at Perugia in 1347, and his philosophical rival Johannes de Penna of Naples (d. 1348).

Durling 4378; BM STC, Italian Books p. 290; Hirsch/Hüb. II, 682; EDIT 16 CNCE 36854; Not in Adams.