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Contribution a l'etude du paracelsisme en France au XVIe siecle (1560-1580).

Herve Baudry. Contribution a l'etude du paracelsisme en France au XVIe siecle (1560-1580): De la naissance du mouvement aux annees de maturite: Le Demosterion de Roche Le Baillif (1578).

Etudes et essais sur la Renaissance LX. Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2005. 234 pp. index. bibl. [euro]54. ISBN: 2-7453-1207-3.

Roch Le Baillif. Le Demosterion.

Ed. Herve Baudry. Textes de la Renaissance 93. Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2005. 288 pp. index. illus. tbls. bibl. [euro]36. ISBN: 2-7453-1205-7.

Taken together, these two volumes make a useful contribution to the history of Paracelsian medicine in sixteenth-century France. Baudry treats the history of medicine as a form of intellectual history, and his primary concern is with the transmission and reception of Paracelsian concepts rather than with the practice of medicine. The Contribution is a reworking of Baudry's doctoral thesis from 1989 and is therefore not a recent work. In a short preface, Didier Kahn includes references to recent works in the field, but neither Baudry's text nor his bibliography has been updated. As a dissertation, it typifies the careful and detailed scholarship of French academia. Baudry tends to be cautious and refrains from overgeneralizing. For example, he argues that the relationship between Paracelsianism and French Protestantism is more complex than has been sometimes depicted.

Baudry's analysis is organized into three sections. In the first he begins with a general discussion of the diffusion of Paracelsian thought in France after 1560, when the first translations of Paracelsus's writings were made into Latin from the original German. Baudry provides a brief, but coherent, introduction to the main tenets of Paracelsus's beliefs, including his rejection of humoral theory, and its replacement with a philosophy grounded in alchemy, astrology, and the belief in signatures in nature. Baudry states that Paracelsus attracted attention in the latter half of the sixteenth century because although his ideas were radical and iconoclastic, they conformed to contemporary interests in alchemy and mysticism. He argues that Paracelsus should not be seen as a forerunner of the Scientific Revolution, but rather as a successor to the Renaissance Neoplatonists. Florentine Neoplatonism laid the foundation for Paracelsus's ideas, and also provided the framework into which they could be received by his contemporaries. The appeal of his theories was based on the early modern fascination with secret knowledge and the occult, combined with a desire for practical therapeutics where Galenic remedies had failed.

Baudry also introduces the reader to Roch Le Baillif, whom he considers one of the most important of the French interpreters of Paracelsus. Baudry provides some background information on Le Baillif, but his discussion is limited primarily to an analysis of his intellectual circles, both in his native Normandy and, later, in Brittany. A more extensive biographical discussion would have been helpful for what is, to many, a relatively unknown figure. The same could be said with respect to the story of Le Baillifs arrival in Paris in 1578. Baudry rightly describes it as a turning point in the history of French Paracelsianism, since it was Le Baillifs presence there and the appearance of his book, Le Demosterion, that made the medical establishment aware of the challenge that Paracelsian thought represented. Le Baillif was questioned by the medical faculty of the University of Paris and, when he refused to submit to their censure, was handed over to the parlement and ordered to leave the city. This incident is treated in only a few pages, and a more extensive discussion would certainly have been warranted, given the focus of Baudry's work.

In the second section of the book Baudry examines the Demosterion in detail. By analyzing the number of extant copies, he concludes that it was relatively widely circulated in the late sixteenth century. By a careful comparison to the original works by Paracelsus, he then attempts to reconstruct the manner in which Le Baillif read and incorporated Paracelsus's writings. He also notes other sources used by Le Baillif, including occult and biblical sources. He concludes from this analysis that Le Baillif integrated the ideas of Paracelsus with those of other scholars, such as Agrippa and Cardano: this confirms his thesis that "Le paracelsisme du Demosterion resulte avant tout d'une lecture occultiste" (156).

Baudry opens the third section by addressing the question of Le Baillifs intended audience, the readers of popular works of medicine in the vernacular. He then proceeds with a study of the 100 Paracelsian aphorisms that comprise the largest section of the Demosterion. Baudry's extremely detailed analysis will likely be of interest only to literary or linguistic scholars of early modern medical literature. He examines the history of the use of aphorisms in medical writing, where they have played a role since the time of Hippocrates and analyzes brevity as a rhetorical and stylistic device. Baudry carefully traces the aphorisms as they are found in the Latin translations of Paracelsus, and shows how they were modified by Le Baillif and then translated by him into French. He concludes from this analysis that Le Baillif was not simply a translator of Paracelsus, but also a commentator and interpreter of his thought, and thus ought to be seen as a contributer to the development of French Paracelsianism in his own right.

Baudry's Contribution serves as an introduction to the companion volume, a critical edition of the Demosterion. As the previous discussion should suggest, the Demosterion is an important source in the history of early modern medicine. Several sections of the work are of particular interest: Le Baillif's lengthy dedication to Louis de Rohan, in which he delivers a scathing attack on the ignorance and envy of the Galenic physicians, his discussion of magic and its relation to medicine, and his brief Latin treatise on chiromancy. As indicated above, the bulk of the book consists of the aphorisms in Latin and French. Considering the obscurity of Paracelsus's terminology, it is not surprising that Le Baillif also included in the Demosterion a glossary of terms. This critical edition includes the complete text, including prefaces and dedications, marginal notes, aphorisms, a dictionary, and illustrations. Baudry provides no additional introduction in this volume, but his extensive footnotes serve to explicate many details of the text. On the whole, they serve to illustrate the way in which Le Baillif was part of a community of physicians and philosophers who were striving to come to terms with complex medical issues. Baudry has also provided a series of useful indexes, including a list of cross-references from the Demosterion to Paracelsus's writings, his own glossary of Paracelsian terminology as found in the Latin and French aphorisms, and a list of modern French equivalents for the medical terminology used in the sixteenth century by Le Baillif.

Both volumes represent the result of a highly-specialized French scholarship that involves a close textual reading and formal analysis of historic texts. What Baudry has accomplished here will be of use to scholars of the history of medical literature and, more generally, to historians interested in the transmission of Paracelsian ideas in the late sixteenth century. His efforts serve to illuminate the intellectual context in which the complex ideas of the early modern era's most notorious physician were propagated and received.


Luther College, University of Regina
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Title Annotation:Contribution a l'etude du paracelsisme en France au XVIe siecle (1560-1580): De la naissance du mouvement aux annees de maturite, Le Demosterion de Roche Le Baillif (1578); Roch Le Baillif: Le Demosterion
Author:Petry, Yvonne
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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