Theses Doctoral

Of Poets and Physicians: Medical and Scientific Thought from the Sicilian School to Dante, 1230-1300

Pace, Matteo

In my dissertation, I argue that the medical milieu of the 13th century contributed to shape vernacular secular culture. I demonstrate how the historical and scientific contexts of the Italian peninsula, from the Sicilian school of Frederick II and Manfred to the communal realities of Bologna and Florence, testify to the active reception of the works of Aristotle, Galen, and their Arabic and Western commentators in poetic circles. I show how the Italian 13th century was informed by a high degree of intellectual and scientific knowledge, and how the far-reaching penetration of medical sources connects an emerging vernacular culture to the intricacy of urban networks.

"Of Poets and Physicians" addresses the following questions: what is the contribution of medical literature to Italian poetry of the 13th century? How can the reception of Aristotelian and Galenic physiological theories help us illuminate the way Medieval literature produced its tropes? Why should we consider these cultural and intellectual environments as productive frames of thought for poetical writings? My dissertation addresses these questions in three macro-chapters.

In the first chapter (On Fluid Memory), I argue that under the patronage and influence of Frederick II and Manfred, the reception of Aristotle’s physiology of the soul informed the tropes of the memory image of the lady engraved into the heart, used by Giacomo da Lentini and the other vernacular poets at court.

In the second chapter (Minding the Brain), I study the influence of Galen and Arabic Galenism on the intellectual circles of the second half of the 13th century. I argue that the influence of the Bolognese Galenism of Taddeo Alderotti informed a great part of Guinizzelli’s poetry, not only with respect to the phenomenology of love, but also in his views on nobility and natural determinism.

In the third chapter (All Things Natural), I combine the Aristotelian discourse on ethics and the Galenic question of temperamental determinism. I analyze how the scientific background on the relationship between bodily balance and the functions of the soul is discussed in Taddeo Alderotti’s translation of an epitome of Aristotelian ethics, and how these debates are reframed in the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, Dante Alighieri, and Cino da Pistoia, by virtue of the relationship between love and reason.

While contextualizing the uses of medical thought in the poetical production of philosophical and poetic authors, I demonstrate how the active reception of scientific theories testifies to the high degree and pervasiveness of medical education in the intellectual circles of the 13th century.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Barolini, Teodolinda
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 21, 2019