- The Regulation of Evil: Social and Cultural Attitudes to Epidemics in the Late Middle Ages
The eight contributions in this volume on the response to epidemics in late medieval Europe vary widely in scope, topic, and methodology. In the longest essay in the collection, Francesco Gianni examines the response of fourteenth-century humanists to plague. He contrasts the insistence of Petrarca, Boccaccio, and Coluccio Salutati on a primarily religious response, and their rhetorical rejection of medical advice, with the intense interest in scientific knowledge and care of the body revealed in Paravicini Bagliani’s studies of the thirteenth-century [End Page 488] papal court. Chiara Crisciani and Michela Pereira devote their paper to the analysis of a series of texts that reveals convergence between medical and alchemical procedures in the preparation of plague remedies involving the use of gold. Thus, although the use of distilled remedies, the alchemy of the elixir, and belief in the therapeutic properties of gold all predated the fourteenth-century plague, the plague provided a context for the further growth of alchemical pharmacology. Mario Ascheri’s paper on three early-sixteenth-century legal treatises on plague shows how these authors and their medieval predecessors treated plague outbreaks as a special situation that required juridical analysis of the circumstances in which the legal obligations of individuals and institutions must be maintained or might be suspended.
Other contributions take up epidemiologic issues: Véronique Pasche contributes new material on the course of fourteenth-century plague outbreaks in Switzerland; Françoise Bériac provides a valuable overview and analysis of the present state of scholarship and the many remaining questions about medieval leprosy, with bibliography. Piero Morpurgo and David McNeil have contributed historiographic essays (Morpurgo’s wide-ranging, McNeil’s devoted to an analysis of Ann Carmichael’s work on Florence), and Patrizia Salvadori a bibliography. The papers are in Italian (4), French (2), and English (2). Medievalist readers of the Bulletin are likely to find this collection of interest.
City University of New York