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The transformation of Salernitan medicine 1050-1200

posted on 16.02.2017, 04:47 by Whyte, Gordon
This thesis explores the transformation of Greco-Arabic medical teachings of Salerno 1050-1200 in a broader political context. It argues that the skills of key individuals and their pedagogic innovations not only created learned medicine but also contributed to new habits of mind in northern Europe in the twelfth century. The eleventh and twelfth centuries are at the very dawn of a Western understanding of logical truth from personal observation in medicine as distinct from received wisdom. The incorporation of natural philosophy and Aristotelian analytics from Alexandrian medicine into Salernitan medicine was an important step by which the West learned to interpret the experienced world. The world, as perceived by human senses and interpreted by human reason had, itself, to be validated as a source of reliable information in contrast to Augustine's Neoplatonist view. Augustine taught that the real world existed only as more or less imperfect copy of the ideal Form in the mind of God and that truth can only be known through contact with God. In the mid eleventh century, Salernitan doctors were widely respected as skilled empiricists, but lacking in theory. Their knowledge, from the relatively scanty medical texts surviving from antiquity, was collated and edited before 1059 into the Passionarius by Gariopontus, an experienced Salernitan doctor. His succinct clinical attenuated theory of humoural medicine. In about 1062, in Constantinople, Alfanus, Archbishop of Salerno and a learned physician, translated a fourth-century treatise on the Nature of Man which contained a much more complete exposition of Galenic medicine than had been seen in the West. After he returned, Alfanus and his group collated a primer of brief treatises from the old masters, but it lacked a good introduction to Galenic medical theory. Many key texts of Galenic medicine, as it had evolved in the curriculum of the medical school at Alexandria, had been translated into Arabic under the ninth-century Abassid Caliph, al-Mamun. Constantine the African, a Saracen physician recruited as an expert translator provided a concise Introduction (lsagoge) for Alfanus' collection from an Arabic authority. Constantine also made a number of other translations from Arabic, including the encyclopaedic Pantegni. Over the twelfth century, Salernitan teachers, particularly the unknown author of the Second Salernitan Demonstration, Bartholomaeus and Ursa, expounded and embellished the new Greco-Arabie theory. The new translations, their theories and their commentaries soon attracted intense interest in northern Europe where they provoked a vigorous reaction from conservative churchmen. Salernitan medicine was itself taken to Paris by Giles of Corbeil in about 1194, when he returned to become physician to King Philip Augustus. Giles became an important early teacher of Medicine at the evolving University of Paris at the very beginning of the thirteenth century. This thesis argues that Salernitan medicine thus provided the learned canon by which the craft of medicus became the profession of physicus. Salernitan texts and teachers helped set the scene in Paris for the rejection and then acceptance of Aristotle's teaching on logic and natural history.


Principal supervisor

Constant Mews

Additional supervisor 1

Michael Hau

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies

Campus location



Faculty of Arts