JF Ptak Science Books Post 1981
[Image: the anatomical furnace for the distillation and diagnosis of urine. From: Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance , second edition, Basel/New York 1982, page 193/194. the image also found on line here.]
While the ancient aspects of the inspection of urine as medical discovery seem distant, it is not so, the practice continuing for thousands of years, deep into the 17th century. There are some surprises, though, here and there, in the recent history of uroscopy, particularly involving Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541), and specifically with his Anatomy, that is, the Dissection of the Living Body or of Distillation of the Urine, printed in 1577. This is one of the many of the works of Paracelsus printed posthumously–in his relatively short but very full life of 84 years, he published four books, but then in the 40 years or so following his death there were at least 14 more works that were published. (A general overview of the works by and about Paracelsus–who worked in the areas of medico-occult and philosophy, alchemy, astronomy/astrology, theology, magic and more–can be found by piecing your way through the always-useful OCLC/WorldCat, here).
In the practice of general uroscopy urine was seen as a window into the health of the body–rather the lack of health. For centuries urine was simply observed, its color plotted against color wheels. Paracelsus worked in a different vein, and although this approach seemed as antiquated as possible after hundreds of years of practice, he adopted a proto-scientific approach to his urine inspection. The idea of urine and his "anatomical furnace", wherein the urine was distilled in a cylinder the size of the subject for interpretation, was a wide but interesting sidestep in the history of uroscopy, filled with some slight hope and more-than-slight abundance of need in belief. The point though is that Paracelsus went about this scientifically–no longer just an observational inspection: the urine was distilled, and coagulated bits (the "morbid species") was separated from the urine, and the precipitated items were studied, a "chemical dissection" (according to Walter Pagels in his standard biography of Paracelsus 1982). The cylinder was graduated in proportion to the subject; there was careful collection and handling of the specimen, and attempts were made to see beyond the standard practice of centuries past. So there was some hint of scientific method in this work–something that Pagels notes but still labels the work "disappointing, albeit a subtle new brand of uroscopy".