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The Art of the Distillation of ‘Spirits’ as a Technological Model for Human Physiology. The Cases of Marsilio Ficino, Joseph Duchesne and Francis Bacon

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Chapter Summary

This chapter concerns the role of the distillation apparatus for the production of alcohol in early modern physiological discourses. The chapter investigates the function of the art of distillation in different authors who were interested in the workings of human, and of celestial, bodies. Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) used the still as an explanatory foil for his Neoplatonist metaphysics, which entailed important and highly influential modifications of Aristotelian natural philosophy. In contrast to Ficino's predominantly theoretical approach, Joseph Duchesne (1546-1609), a French Paracelsian, gives a highly detailed description of the practical aspects of the art of distillation of liquors, which relates to his concept of human physiology. Francis Bacon (1561- 1626) uses a modification of the still to quantify the medical spiritus but also to further elaborate the Paracelsian and the Neoplatonic concepts of physiology.

Keywords:Aristotelian natural philosophy; Distillation of 'Spirits'; Francis Bacon; human physiology; Joseph Duchesne; Marsilio Ficino; medical spiritus; metaphysics



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