Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Katherine H. Tachau
First Committee Member
Constance H. Berman
Second Committee Member
Michael E. Moore
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Fifth Committee Member
This dissertation examines the Liber consolationis phisonomie by Pietro d'Abano (c. 1250-1316) and places the work both in the context of medieval psychological theories and of scholastic culture. Physiognomy, the practice of studying a person's physical appearance in order to discern his or her emotions, personality, moral character, and intellectual capacities, rests on the assumption that the physical body is somehow connected to the spiritual self. This study explores how medieval people conceived of that relationship through a broader examination of theories about emotion, personality, and intelligence.
Pietro d'Abano was an unusual figure who bridged the occupational identities of physician and philosopher, just as the study of psychology bridged the disciplines of medicine and philosophy. Pietro was highly materialist in his conception of human nature. While scholars of Pietro's work have noticed this tendency in his more mature thought, especially his medical text the Conciliator, his Liber consolationis phisonomie, his earliest known work, has been largely overlooked. This is understandable, as it is largely an aphoristic summary of what physical traits indicate what mental ones. However, it provides valuable insights into the development of Pietro's thought as well as the role of physiognomy in medieval learned and popular culture.
This study concludes with an examination of Pietro's legacy, namely the reputation he obtained in the Renaissance for being a magician. It examines medieval theories about magic, the role of spurious attributions in creating textual authority, and how Pietro's own materialist conception of the universe and human nature may have contributed to his constructed posthumous identity.
This dissertation examines the earliest known treatise of Pietro d’Abano (c. 1250- 1316), the Liber consolationis phisonomie, and places it in the wider framework of medieval psychological theories and in the context of the university culture in which Pietro operated. Physiognomy, the practice of studying a person’s physical appearance in order to discern his or her emotions, personality, and intellectual capacities, rests on the assumption that the physical body is connected to the spiritual self. This study explores how medieval people conceived of that relationship through a broader examination of theories about emotion, personality, and intelligence.
Pietro d’Abano was an unusual figure who bridged the occupational identities of physician and philosopher. While scholars have examined Pietro’s psychological theories in his later works, particularly his medical textbook the Conciliator, the Liber consolationis phisonomie has been largely overlooked. This is understandable, as it lacks the intellectual sophistication of Pietro’s more mature writings. However, the Liber consolationis phisonomie provides valuable insights into the development of Pietro’s theories as well as the role of physiognomy in medieval elite and popular culture.
After his death, Pietro was largely remembered for a work about magic which he did not in fact write. This dissertation concludes by exploring the historical memory of Pietro with an analysis of the role played by falsely attributed texts in creating textual authority. The project considers medieval theories regarding magic and how Pietro’s own work may have contributed to his posthumous identity as a magus.
History of psychology, Medieval history, Medieval philosophy, Peter of Abano, Physiognomy, Pietro d'Abano
ix, 203 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 196-203).
Copyright © 2015 Sarah Kathryn Matthews
Matthews, Sarah Kathryn. "Matter over mind: Pietro d'Abano (d. 1316) and the science of physiognomy." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2015.