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Cardan, Jerome,

chemical medicine cardan’s equations

Girolamo Cardano ( Ital ), Hieronymus Cardanus ( Lat ) (1501–76) Italian mathematician and physician: gave general algebraic method for solving cubic equations.

Cardan was the illegitimate son of a Milanese lawyer, a situation which caused difficulty for him both practically and emotionally. He was taught mathematics by his father when young and educated at Pavia and Padua where he studied medicine. He was unable to enter the college of physicians because of his birth, but eventually gained recognition through his work and became professor of medicine at Pavia in 1544 and at Bologna in 1562. His work in medicine is now eclipsed by his distinction as one of the greatest algebraists of his century. He recognized negative and complex roots for equations, found the relations between the roots of an equation and the coefficients of its terms, and gave a general algebraic method for solving cubic equations (Cardan’s solution). He has been accused of pilfering parts of this method from , but the accusation has been contested.

His contribution to chemical thought is more substantial than is often recognized. He wrote an encyclopedia of the sciences which discusses the major chemical theories of the time. He was credulous in many ways, but critical of alchemical claims. He recognized only three Aristotelian elements (earth, water and air), arguing ahead of his time that fire is not a substance but a form of motion; and he distinguished between electrical and magnetic attraction. His writing includes a variety of chemical recipes and his chemical and clinical interests are brought together in a text on toxicology.

Cardan’s life was not easy: his childhood was marred by ill-health and harsh treatment while his talents emerged and were acknowledged late in life. His eldest son was convicted and beheaded for wife-murder and his second son was exiled at Cardan’s instigation as ‘a youth of evil habits’. Cardan describes himself in his autobiography as ‘timid of spirit, I am cold of heart, warm of brain and given to never-ending meditation. I ponder over ideas . . .’. He was a man who made more enemies than friends.

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