The OED defines "iatromathematics" as

Practising medicine in conjunction with astrology.

Pre-17th century, it seems most scientists (physicians included) believed in the influence of the stars on the terrestrial world, so it would seem ancient medicine took the influence of the stars into account. Is this true?

The OED also says iatromathematics was

a school of physicians which arose in Italy in the 17th century, whose system of physiology and medicine was founded on the principles of mathematics and mechanics.

Who founded this school?

Explaining how astrology can make what today we call statistical associations, St. Thomas Aquinas writes (Summa Theologica II-II q. 95 a. 5 ad 2):

astrologers not unfrequently forecast the truth by observing the stars…because a great number of men follow their bodily passions, so that their actions are for the most part (in pluribus) disposed in accordance with the inclination of the heavenly bodies: while there are few, namely, the wise (sapientes) alone, who moderate these inclinations by their reason. The result is that astrologers in many cases foretell the truth, especially in public occurrences which depend on the multitude (ex multitudine).

Thus, it would seem that today's evidence-based medicine (EBM), which views "disease as statistical associations at a population level" (Chin-Yee 2014 p. 921), is the modern version of iatromathematics or "astrology" ("statistical associations at a population level") being practiced in conjunction with medicine.

Is EBM and its viewing "disease as statistical associations at a population level" the end-result of the historical development of iatromathematics (astrology applied to medicine)?

  • $\begingroup$ OED has a second meaning for "iatromathematics", the literal one, medical mathematics, and it appears that Italian iatromathematicians fall more under that one considering that they were alternatively known as iatromechanists and traced their lineage to Leonardo and Galileo. Statistical associations had more to do with bookkeeping of life tables in 17-18th century than with astrology. If you are really interested in the role of astrology in medicine these two examples are not that. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Apr 10, 2018 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ According to a paper (2015; online) by C.Tolsa " Ptolemy in Tetrabiblos 1.3.19 speaks of “iatromathematical treatises” (ἰατρομαθηματικῶν συντάξεων) using this term as well", so 'the school' appears to be as old as Hellenistic astrology. $\endgroup$
    – sand1
    Apr 10, 2018 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the first question (pre-17th century) the following link states that in Egypt and Rome, Iatromathematics was the most popular use of astrology, and it was used by doctors to attract clients by "co-opting" astrology to their aid. (The link is too long to fit, I shall post it in the next comment).... $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Apr 10, 2018 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Link : Power and Knowledge $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Apr 10, 2018 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @NickR Thanks for the references. I'll have to look into Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos and Sextus Empiricus's Against the Mathematicians (this latter I'd heard of before, but not the former). $\endgroup$
    – Geremia
    Apr 11, 2018 at 3:08


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