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Galenic Medicine and Social Stability in Early Modern Florence and the Islamic Empires

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Abstract Modern perceptions of cross-cultural encounters between Europe and the Islamic empires have centered around the differences between the European and Islamic systems of political organization in an effort to valorize Western political values and styles of rulership. The present article challenges some of the assumptions that inform scholarship on contacts between Europe and the Islamic world in the early modern period by pointing to hitherto unexplored affinities between the Florentine and Islamic traditions of political thought. In particular, it investigates the use of ancient Greek theories of the four humors/elements of the human body in an extensive corpus of writings produced by seminal political theorists, historians, and figures of intellectual and political life in early modern Florentine (Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, Donato Giannotti), Persian (Ṭūsī, Dawwānī, Kāshifī), Mughal (Khwāndamīr, Abūʾl-Fazl), and Ottoman (Kınalızâde, Kâtib Çelebi) traditions from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. My analysis demonstrates that Galen’s humoral theory served the aforementioned writers as a conceptual tool for identifying the mutual dependency of the component parts of the body politic as one of the key determinants of domestic balance and harmony and for theorizing remedies against strife and friction.

Affiliations: 1: Finnish Centre of Political Thought and Conceptual Change Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study


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