Introduction

Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, September 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Introduction


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We present me reader here with a study of Kelal Qatan by David Ben Yom Tov, known in Latin simply as David Iudaeus. This is a text on medical astrology, dealing primarily with the astrological indications pertaining especially to fevers. Our introduction is made up of several parts. We shall first sketch a history of this branch of medical astrology from antiquity up to and including Sefer ha-Me'orot (The Book of the Luminaries), written by Abraham Ibn Ezra and the most important source for Kelal Qatan. Following that, we review the scant existing biographical information concerning David and information about the manuscripts (Hebrew and Latin) used for our edition and give a concise recap of the contents of Kelal Qafan. Next we survey all the other medieval Hebrew texts related to medical astrology that have come to our attention. This inspection leads us to conclude that astrology was an interesting feature, but not at all a prominent element, in the corpus of Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic medical writings. Finally, a short postscript discusses an entirely different tradition in medical astrology, which was also present in Hebrew literature, namely, the supposed correlation between certain asterisms and diseases of the eyes.

Our edition and translation are final products, meeting rigorous academic standards. Similarly, the survey of Hebrew texts in the second part of the introduction is intended to be exhaustive. Not so, however, the conspectus that begins in the next paragraph. In the course of preparing it, we have encountered several highly interesting texts, all of them unpublished and unstudied even in a preliminary fashion. They appear to be of crucial importance for our subject, they warrant independent study, and, in fact, we hope to turn our attention to at least some of them in the future. The picture that begins to emerge from our admittedly hurried study is that a critical reappraisal of the relationship between medicine and astrology took place in that murky suture between the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of Islamic civilization. The reappraisal was critical in both senses of the word: it was of momentous import in directing subsequent developments; and it involved a reassessment of ancient authorities from a stance that was not entirely submissive. We believe that the story that we are about to embark upon is a plausible account in terms of the current state of research; it certainly points to some very promising avenues for future research.

Astrological Medicine: A Historical Sketch

The astrological medicine which forms the core of Kelal Qat an and which seems, on the basis of the texts that we have been able to examine, to have been the most significant application of astrology to medicine, consists in correlations between the phases of the moon and the progress of fevers, most particularly, the "crises" or "critical days" that played such an important role in Greek medicine. These are the days on which the fever can be expected to reach a climax, the outcome of which is fateful for the patient. These correlations provide prognoses of the severity of the ailment and the patient's chances of survival, as well as guides to the most efficacious-and the most dangerous-times for therapeutic intervention. Several factors contributed to the theoretical connections thought to obtain between the moon's phases and fevers. First, there is the moon's association with water, or fluids in general, attested to most obviously by the connection between the phases of the moon and the height of ocean tides. Since fevers were thought to result from superfluities of one of the humors, and the humors are liquid, their connection with the moon would seem to follow logically. second, the moon waxes and wanes, and fevers have their paroxysms and abatements, crises and periods of relative ease. The observation that both the moon and fevers exhibit cyclic behavior seemed to indicate a close connection between the two. …

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