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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Cabinet of Doctor Alighieri

Donatella Lippi (ed.), Dante Alighieri: La Divina Commedia, 3 volumes, Fidenza, IT: Mattioli1885, 2009-2010, with a selection of Gustave Dore's illustrations, pages 222 (Inferno), 224 (Purgatorio), 242 (Paradiso), euros 30 each

The Divine Comedy interpreted according to its medical contents is the refreshing enterprise by Dr. Donatella Lippi, Professor of History of Medicine at the University of Florence; one more demonstration of the fact that Dante proves much more interesting when he is studied from un-usual standpoints.

The books provide two types of materials: (a) The notes to the text, highlighting any reference in Dante's verses to medicine or health in general, his sources, his 'treatment' of human disease, etc.; (b) The Introductions, focusing on a specific issue for each part of the poem: pain and sorrow in Inferno, music in Purgatorio -- the most intriguing pages, imho -- and light in Paradiso, plus the respective medical approaches, namely analgesia, music therapy, heliotherapy and phototherapy. Since the post-Medieval developments are taken into consideration, readers can find many data about Renaissance too.

Just one addition. In Inferno, Canto 33 the phenomenon of lycanthropy is described, mixing medicine and fantasy literature: Count Ugolino constantly gazes at the moon, he dreams he is a wolf, his eyes are frightening, he is likened to a dog, and he is obsessed with eating human flesh.