Research Project


Medical Prognostication in Texts Attributed to Michael Scot: Medieval Italian Versions of De urinis and De diebus lune

Prof. Dr. Stefano Rapisarda
Università di Catania, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Corso di Laurea di Scienza dei Beni Culturali, Romance Philology
Research stay: September 2011 – February 2012

Though his biographical data are often elusive, Michael Scot is without doubt one of the most prominent figures in the field of medieval science in the Western world. Even in the absence of incontrovertible documentary data, it should be enough that he 'served' as a scientist and astrologer in two of the main political institutions of his time; that is to say, the court of Frederick II in Sicily and the papal curia in Rome. As is well-known, Scot is the author of one of the most enormous works to survive from the Middle Ages, the Liber introductorius, in which he manifests the great width of his vision of the sciences, both theological and natural. In a framework of such wide interests, Scot pays attention to medicine, though considering it more a practical discipline than a theoretical one. Vincentius of Beauvais, in his Speculum Doctrinale, reports the classification of philosophy elaborated from Scot, considering it as exemplar. Philosophy, according to Scot, is divided into practical and theoretical types, and the practical type in turn, is divided into three disciplines: que pertinent ad naturalia sicut Medicina, Agricultura, and Alchymia.

In Scot's classification, medicine turns out to be a practical/natural discipline, as is coherent with certain statements from the Liber introductorius, where medicina practica receives more attention than theorica medica. We might hazard to guess that Scott occasionally professed to be a physician, and some advice given in the chapter entitled De informatione medicorum in Liber introductorius (about doctors' apparel, behavior and manner of speaking to patients) may even imply that he may have had occasional practical experience as a physician. Moreover in many Mss. survive prescriptions and medicines attributed to him (London, British Library, Additional 24068, c. 97 and Vatican City, Vatican Apostolic Library, Vat. Lat. 4440, c. 71) and even case-histories which were widely circulated under his name, as the case of the gynecological consultation with a nobildonna di Bologna who had expelled "stones" from her uterus that were something more unusual that simple bladder stones: all of this suggests that there is a tradition according to which Michael was consulted by illustrious patients either in the presence of clinical complications that demanded experience or in cases of atypical conditions such to require a particular logic competence. An important part of the medical section is dedicated to clinical procedures, predominantly the examination of urine, a first approach to prognosis and diagnosis.

Particularly significant is the existence of some vernacular versions of Scot's texts on urine. Three manuscripts survive of these texts, which are the only of Scot's texts for which a vernacular version exists:

  • Perugia, Biblioteca Comunale Augusta, ms. E 64 (ex 316), cc. 92r-97v;
  • Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale "Vittorio Emanuele iii", xv F. 91, cc. 60r-72r;
  • Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Magliabechiano Cl.XV.27, c. 37r-44r.

Despite Scot's fame, these texts have never been edited. My intention is to edit them for the first time in a critical edition, together with an adequate commentary and in the context of the medieval texts on uroscopy and practical medicine.

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