Article

Taşköprizade on the (Occult) Science of Plague Prevention and Cure

Abstract

The genre of the plague treatise, still little studied, testifies to the cultural transformations that swept western Eurasia after the Black Death apocalypse of the mid-fourteenth century, with recurrent outbreaks for centuries thereafter. Ottoman contri-butions to this genre are exemplary: they allow us to track the emergence of an imperi-al-scientific early modernity. This article presents the most comprehensive and innova-tive Islamicate plague treatise extant, Taşköprīzāde Aḥmed’s (d. 1561) Treatise on Healing Epidemic Diseases. Therein the celebrated Ottoman polymath makes a strong case, advanced by arguments both religious and rational, for occult science as the most em-pirical method for preventing and curing the plague. To this end, he devotes the theo-retical first half of the treatise to a critique of fatalist scholars and sufis, who prefer tawakkul to tasabbub, or blind faith to “scientific method”; the practical second half is devoted to what he considers to be the most medically effective scien-tific discipline of his era, lettrism (ʿilm al-ḥurūf)—a Neopythagorean science encapsu-lating the new “cosmological imaginary” of Western early modernity generally, wherein the world was seen by many thinkers and doers as a mathematical and hence magically tractable text. Our distaste for occult science notwithstanding, Taşköprīzāde must here be named another early modern empiricist.

Keywords

Taşköprīzāde Plague Ottoman Plague Treatises Empiricism Occultism Lettrism Sci-ence and Religion History of Medicine Early Modernity