PETRUSDE ABANO, OR PETER OF APONA,
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY AND PHYSIC, &c. &c. &c.
PETRUS APONENSIS, or APONUS, one of the most famous philosophers and physicians of his time, was born A. D. 1250, in a village, situated four miles from Padua. He studied a long time at Paris, where he was promoted to the degrees of Doctor in philosophy and physic, in the practice of which he was very successful, but his fees remarkably high. Gabriel Naude, in his Antiquitate Scholæ Medicæ Parisiensis, gives the following account of him: "Let us next produce Peter de Apona, or Peter de Abano, called the Reconciler, on account of the famous book which he published during his residence in your university 1."--It is certain that physic lay buried in Italy, scarce known to any one, uncultivated and unadorned, till its tutelar genius, a villager of Apona, destined to free Italy from its barbarism and ignorance, as Camillus once freed Rome from the siege of the Gauls, made diligent enquiry in what part of the world polite literature was most happily cultivated, philosophy most subtilly handled, and physic taught with the greatest solidity and purity; and being assured that Paris alone laid claim to this honour, thither he presently flies; giving himself up wholly to her tutelage, he applied himself diligently to the mysteries of philosophy and medicine; obtained a degree and the laurel in both; and afterwards taught them both with great applause: and after a stay of many years, loaden with the wealth acquired among you, arid, after having become the most famous philosopher, astrologer, physician, and mathematician of his time, returns to his own country, where,
in the opinion of the judicious Scardeon, he was the first restorer of true philosophy and physic. Gratitude, therefore, calls upon you to acknowledge your obligations due to Michæl Angelus Blondus, a physician of Rome, who in the last century undertaking to publish the Conciliationes Physiognomicæ of your Aponensian doctor, and finding they had been composed at Paris, and in your university, chose to publish them in the name, and under the patronage, of your society." 'Tis said, that he was suspected of magic 1,
and persecuted on that account by the Inquisition: and it is probable that, if he had lived to the end of his trial, he would have suffered in person what he was sentenced to suffer in effigy after his death. His apologists observe, that his body, being privately taken out of his grave by his friends, escaped the vigilance of the Inquisitors, who would have condemned it to be burnt. He was removed from place to place, and at last deposited in St. Augustin's Church, without Epitaph, or any other mark of honour. His accusers ascribed inconsistent opinions to him; they charged him with being a magician, and yet with denying the existence of spirits. He had such an antipathy to milk, that the very seeing any one take it made him vomit. He died in the year 1316 1 in the sixty-sixth year of his age. One of his principal books was the Conciliator, already mentioned.
155:1 Naude takes notice of this in a speech in which he extols the ancient glory of the university of Paris. We have, above, recited his words at length, because they incidentally inform us, that Peter de Abano composed that great work at Paris which procured him the appellation of the Reconciler.
156:1 Naude, in his Apology for great Men accused of Magic, says, "The general opinion of almost all authors is, that he was the greatest magician of his time; that by means of seven spirits, familiar, which he kept inclosed in chrystal, he had acquired the knowledge of the seven liberal arts, and that he had the art of causing the money he had made use of to return again into his pocket. He was accused of magic in the eightieth year of his age, and that dying in the year 1305, before his trial was over, he was condemned (as Castellan reports) to the fire; and that a bundle of straw, or osier, representing his person, was publicly burnt at Padua; that by so rigorous an example, and by the fear of incurring a like penalty, they might suppress the reading of three books which he had composed on this subject: the first of which is the noted Heptameron, or Magical Elements of Peter de Abano, Philosopher, now extant, and printed at the end of Agrippa's works; the second, that which Trithemius calls Elucidarium Necromanticum Petri de Abano; and a third, called by the same author Liber experimentorum mirabilium de Annulis secundem, 28 Mansiom Lunæ." Now it is to be noted, that Naude lays no stress upon these seeming strong proofs; he refutes them by immediately after affirming, that Peter of Apona was a man of prodigious penetration and learning, living in an age of darkness which caused everything out of the vulgar track to be suspected as diabolical, especially as he was very much given to study, and acquainted with the harmony of the celestial bodies and the proportions of nature, and addicted to curious and divinatory science. "He was one (says he) who appeared as a prodigy of learning amidst the ignorance of that age, and who, besides his skill in languages and physic, had carried his enquiries so far into the occult sciences of abstruse and hidden nature, that, after having given most ample proofs, by his writings concerning physiognomy, geomancy, and chiromancy, what he was able to perform in each of these, he quitted them all together with his youthful curiosity to addict himself wholly to the study of philosophy, physic, and astrology; which studies proved so advantageous to him, that, not to speak of the two first, which introduced him to all the popes and sovereign pontiffs of his time, and acquired him the reputation which at present he enjoys among learned men, it is certain that he was a great master in the latter, which appears not only by the astronomical figures which he caused to be painted in the great hall of the palace at Padua, and the translations he made of the books of the most learned Rabbi Abraham Aben Ezra, added to those which he himself composed on critical days, and the improvement of astronomy, but by the testimony of the renowned mathematician Regio Montanus, who made a fine panegyric on him, in quality of an astrologer, in the oration which he delivered publicly at Padua when he explained there the book of Alfraganus." Now, many respectable authors are of opinion that it was not on the score of magic that the Inquisition sentenced p. 157 him to death, but because he endeavoured to account for the wonderful effects in nature by the influences of the celestial bodies, not attributing them to angels or dæmons; so that heresy, instead of magic, seems to have been the ground of his falling under the tyranny of the sage fathers of the Roman Catholic faith, as being one who opposed the doctrine of spiritual beings.
157:1 If this be true as we read in Tomasini, in Elog. Vilor. Illustr. p. 22, Naude must be mistaken where he says, that "Peter Aponus being accused at the age of 80 years, died A. D.1305." Freherus affirms the same upon the authority of Bernardin Scardeon. Gesner is mistaken in making Peter Aponus flourish in the year 1320. Konig has copied this error. But Father Rapin is much more grossly mistaken than any of them when he places him in the sixteenth century, saying, "Peter of Apona, a physician of Padua, who flourished under Clement VII, debauched his imagination so far by reading the Arabian philosophers, and by too much studying the astrology of Alfraganus, that he was put into the Inquisition upon the suspicion of magic, &c." See Rapin Reflex. sur la Philosophiæ, n. 28. p. 360. Vossius has followed Gesner, and makes an observation worthy to be considered. He says, that Peter of Apona sent his book, De Medicina Omnimoda, to Pope John XXII, who was elected in the year 1316, and held the Pontifical Chair seventeen years. By this we know the age of this physician. But if the year 1316 was that of his death, the conclusion is unjust; neither does it clear Vossius of an error.