BILLICH, Anton Günther.

BILLICH, Anton Günther. Thessalus in chymicis redivivus.

Frankfurt, J. Beyer, 1640.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. 2 parts in 1, second with half-title, continuous pagination, pp. [16], 318, [2], last blank. Roman letter, little Italic or Greek. Decorated initial and ornaments. Slight toning, minor repair to lower outer blank corner of )(7, at head of title, one letter retouched in pencil. A good, clean copy in c.1900 paper boards, spine label, C19 stamp ‘K. Leop. Karol Deutsche Akademie D. Naturforscher’ and armorial dry-stamp to title and another leaf.

A good, clean copy of the first edition of this important work on ‘the vanity of chemical medicine, Hermetic or spagyric’. Anton Billich (1599-1640) was personal physician to the Duke of Oldenburg, at whose court he met the Italian chemist Angelo Sala, with whom he took an anti-Paracelsian stance in contemporary controversies. ‘He was a good chemist and a clear expounder of facts and principles for which he is commended’ (Ferguson). Written in support of the ‘ancient medicine’, ‘Thessalus’ is a critique of Paracelsian ‘spagyric’ medicine, i.e., the use of medical remedies obtained from herbs and other substances through alchemical procedures, also called ‘hermetic’ medicine, i.e., based on obscure alchemical formulae and procedures.  Each chapter is structured in the form of a question. For instance, ch.1 asks whether alchemy has its own raison d’être, as distinct from other sciences, which ‘is denied, against Jean Beguin’; and ch.4 discusses whether fire is itself an element or not, ‘the first of which is affirmed, against Du Chesne’. Most chapters discuss specific theoretical points, such as whether plants and species lose their nature when they are burnt; chemical procedures and methods derived from Aristotle and Dioscorides; the nature and composition of mixed bodies; and a re-examination of the excellence of chemical remedies. In this last, most interesting section, to Beguin’s statement that spagyric medicine produces nicer, healthier and safer medicaments, Billich answers that, rather than the properties of pills and electuaries, ‘it is the very thought of the sickening taste and smell of those remedies which is sufficient to make the patient vomit or defecate’. He adds that antimony, ‘which today many ignorant practitioners employ with great damage, is a dangerous medicament, due to its arsenic spirit’, and remarks that certain medicaments that require chewing and are obtained from mercury, can damage the teeth and oral cavity. It also discusses the effects of sundry other remedies mostly produced from minerals. Appended is another work by Billich, called ‘Anatomia fermentationis Platonicae’; based on a passage attributed to Plato (here reproduced in Greek, with translations by Ficinus and Cornarius), it upholds that the process of fermentation (‘putredo’) is the basis of all physiology. A most interesting work, providing unusual insight into the effects of Paracelsian medicine on patients. 

4 copies recorded in the US. Krivatsy 1260; Ferguson I, 107; Duveen, p.78; USTC 2088748; VD17 1:062110X. Not in Wellcome.
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