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Thursday, 28 January 2016 17:05

Antimony as a medicine

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Championing Basilius Valentinus and expecting Elias Artista: Theodor Kerckring’s commentary on Currus Triumphalis Antimonii*

Born into a wealthy Lutheran family, Kerckring enrolled as a liberal arts student in Leiden in 1659, but soon turned to studying medicine under Franciscus de le Boe Sylvius (1614-1672), an advocate of iatrochemistry. The medical student left university without obtaining a doctorate, practising medicine in Amsterdam until he left the Dutch Republic in 1675. It is unlikely that he ever ‘officially’ practised medicine, as his name does not occur in the Series nominum doctorum,[4] although some of his case studies show that he actually treated patients, as will appear below. Legend has it that he became a Catholic to marry one of the daughters of his tutor van den Enden (‘Clara Maria vaut une messe’). The couple were married in Amsterdam on 27 February 1671. Antonides van de Goes, another fellow student, wrote a wedding poem in celebration of the couple, dwelling on Clara Maria’s erudition and Kerckring’s passion for alchemy. Kerckring for his part praised his father-in-law as someone who had instilled in him a lasting interest in science; the two shared an interest in alchemy.[5]

In the year Kerckring married Van den Enden’s daughter, he published his Commentarius in Currum triumphalem antimonii by Basilius Valentinus,[6] itself a eulogy on the medicinal properties of the semi metal antimony. Antimony occurs naturally as a sulphide ore, which was most commonly roasted to collect the volatile oxide fume from which pure antimony was refined. At least since the fourteenth century, antimony was administered as a medicine, although its qualities were hotly debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many arguing it was a poison and unfit for internal use. The French physician Guy Patin (1601-1672), for instance, bitterly opposed its use, pointedly claiming that its supporters ‘say that a poison is not a poison in the hand of a good physician. They speak against their own experience because most of them have killed their wives, their children and their friends’.[7] Patin was fighting a losing battle: in the spring of 1666, the medical faculty in Paris finally endorsed the use of antimony, more specifically ‘vin émétique’, which had worked wonders on Louis XIV.

Pubblished on the Ritman Library site >>
Read 602 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 July 2016 19:42
Cis van Heertum

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