Italian Anatomists and Surgeons

As we have already seen, Alexander Achillinus (1463-1512) was known to Bert Cocles and wrote the approbative introduction to Cocles' 'Anastasis'. Achillinus was a doctor, anatomist and physician who lived and worked in Bologna, where he held a post at the university lecturing on philosophy (in the morning) and medicine (in the afternoon!). He is chiefly remembered for his pioneering anatomical discoveries, made possible by the earlier edict of King Frederick II that allowed the dissection of corpses, and it is to Achillinus that we are indebted for the discovery of the bones in the inner ear and the ileo-caecal valve in the intestines.

He wrote on many diverse subjects including anatomy and medicine and mathematics and physics, as well as writing on chiromancy and physiognomy. He also seems to have been favourably disposed towards astrology. His main work of interest to us is 'De Principiis Chyromantiae et Physionomiae', published at Bologna in 1503, a very large and comprehensive work comprising three separate treatises. The first is a theological treatise in six parts whilst the second is a mathematical treatise on algebra and Euclidean geometry. The third is the text on chiromancy and physiognomy, which is followed by a reproduction of Cocles' 'Anastasis'. In his twelve page prefix to Cocles' work, Achillinus outlines the basic principles of physiognomy and chiromancy and argues that they reveal the natural causes of our temperament. Whilst he admits that these indications may be impeded (hence allowing for freewill), he notes that they rarely are. Moreover, he holds that both are speculative sciences and are not merely practical arts. The example of Achillinus clearly illustrates the standing of chiromancy in the Renaissance mind as an accredited and serious subject of study.

Other important Italian anatomists and scientists who seem to have taken an interest in the chiromantic significance of the hand include Carpi, Vesalius and Dryander. Vesalius refers to chiromantic terms for the mounts and lines in his anatomical descriptions of the muscles of the hands, as does Carpi, who notes that some chiromancers relate the little finger to Mercury whilst others relate this finger to Venus (!). He also observes that there are lines in the hand but says that these are of little interest to the anatomist and are only really of relevance to the chiromancer.

Dryander has a more metaphysical appreciation of the anatomy of the body, seeing the body as a microcosmic reflection of the heavens. He therefore relates astrology to anatomy and hence sees an important connection to be made between the astrological manifestations in the hand and one's anatomy. Dryander even included a text on chiromancy in a work of his published in 1538. However, although he wrote a preface to the chiromancy as an introduction to it, it was not actually an original work, merely a reprinting of the earlier chiromantic work by Antiochus Tibertus.

Cardan (1501-1576) is also often cited as having been something of an exponent of chiromancy. Although he wrote on astrology, the interpretation of dreams and natural magic in addition to his works on mathematics and medicine, he only wrote one short tractatus on chiromancy, included in his work 'De Rerum Varietate' in a general discussion on different means of divination. Like Achillinus and the other anatomists cited above, his interest in chiromancy seems to have been more of a cursory diversion than being something in which he was an active practitioner. However, he does list the most famous chiromancers of his day as being Cocles, Corvus, Tricasso, Tibertus and Indagine and it is from his pen that the legends concerning Cocles have been preserved; for it is Cardan who records that of the dozens of people for whom Cocles predicted the date and manner of their deaths, only two managed to avoid the fate presaged by the marks in their hands.


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