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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Amazing adventures of Renaissance physicians


Published in 2013, this slipcase devised by Prof. Lino Conti of the University of Perugia, Italy, consists of two books. The first of which, Forays into 17th Century Medicine, includes three essays respectively on: 1. An original, very interesting reconstruction of the scientific, or rather philosophical process that led William Harvey to the discovery of blood circulation (by Lino Conti); 2. The history of Lodovico Locatelli, the pioneering physician who first translated a work of Paracelsus into Italian, namely his Commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (by Paolo Capitanucci); 3. The unusual case of a very small and isolated Italian town, Preci, that during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was famous all over Europe because of its surgeons; one of them cured no less than Queen Elizabeth I (by Anna Pelliccia).

The second book is an anastatic reprint of a 1586 essay, the Brief Treatise on the Preservation from, and Cure of the Plague by Fr. Evangelista Quattrami from Gubbio, Italy. His remedies do not seem to have worked much, but who knows, maybe they could work if anybody had chanced to get the theriaca required as an ingredient. Anyway, the treatise does provide an insight into 16th-17th century culture, medicine, and everyday life. For Italian readers, an extra key comes from the fact that this is the same time period in which the plague described in Alessandro Manzoni's 1840s novel I Promessi Sposi took place; Fr. Evangelista even mentions some alleged untori ("plague-spreaders") in Milan. Also typical of a Renaissance text like this is the presence of modern, accurate descriptions of the inner organs of the human body along with outdated 'explanations' of their functions.

Incidentally, Fr. Evangelista worked in the service of Cardinal Luigi D'Este, who possibly was the cause of Torquato Tasso's internment "like" -- not "as" -- a madman in Ferrara in the years from 1579 to 1586, precisely. According to one hypothesis, in fact (Fabio Pittorru, Torquato Tasso: L'uomo, il poeta, il cortigiano, 1982), the reason why Tasso underwent that fate was that he had threatened to reveal the Cardinal's misdeeds before the Inquisition.