Pietro d’Abano’s life is largely
enshrouded in mystery by legends and false documents that made the task of
historical reconstruction more difficult. It is known that Petrus Aponus, de
Abano, Aponensis, Patavinus, Paduanus, Paduanensis, was born around 1257 (some
scholars anticipate his birth to 1250) by a notary called Costanzo.
It’s a known fact, as he wrote it himself, that after studying medicine
he spent a significant period of time in Constantinople, probably between 1270
and 1290. Having learned Greek and Arabic, enabled him not only to
translate works of Aristotle, Galen and Alexander of Aphrodisia, but also to
obtain a teaching position.
In 1300 he lived in Paris, where he taught at the University and wrote most of his works. Scholar of Averroës, of the science of nature and astrology, Pietro d’Abano suspected the inquisition and a first trial against him was carried out resulting in acquittal of charges for welcoming, in his books and lectures, views dissenting from the dogmas of the Church and for encouraging materialism.
In 1307 he taught medicine, philosophy and astro-science at the University of Padua. Here, a second trial was held against him for heresy and sorcery, suppressed by the firm opposition of the Municipality of Padua. In 1315, he became ill; he made solemn profession of the Catholic faith, forswearing what he had previously claimed against the dogmas of the Church. This did not prevent a third trial from being carried out against him, which continued even after his death in 1315, and sentenced his mortal remains to be burnt on a pyre.
Several codes, incunabula and cinquecentina certify that the works of Pietro d’Abano were widely diffused throughout the sixteenth century. But which are these works? The most important one is the “Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et precipue medicorum” in which he collects and compares different opinions of philosophers and doctors on important topics of natural science in order to reconcile them. The “De venenis eorumque remedies” is a brief work dealing with the power of poisons and the use of antidotes. “Lucidator dubitabilium astronomiae” and “De motu octavae spherae” are astronomical treaties, whereas “Expositio problematum Aristotelis” and the “Compilatio physionomiae” deals with astronomy and physiognomy respectively. He wrote also apocryphic works like the “Geomantia”, the “Heptameron” and the “Astrolabium planum in tabulis ascendens”. Finally, he translated the works of Galen, Hippocrates and Dioscorides.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, with the emergence of experimental medicine, the fame of Pietro d’Abano as a scientist began to decrease favouring his reputation as magician and necromancer that flourished in the 19th century with the creation of three lyric operas, a comedy and a novel.
Nowadays, any search engine provides links to esoteric and magical sites.
In fact today it is recognized that Pietro d’Abano was an extremely important author for medicine, particularly for natural sciences in general, before the establishment of the scientific method. Therefore, if he can not be considered a scientist ahead of his time, he certainly gave an important contribution to progress in research about the role of the "second causes” and to assess the works of the masters.