Abstract

Drawing on learned medical writing about cancer and on nonmedical texts that used cancer as a metaphor for hateful cultural, social, religious, or political phenomena that warranted drastic measures, this article traces the metaphors and images that framed the perception and experience of cancer in the early modern period. It finds that cancer was closely associated with notions of impurity and a visible destruction of the body’s surface and was diagnosed primarily in women, as breast and uterine cancer. Putrid, corrosive cancerous humor was thought not only to accumulate and eat its way into the surrounding flesh but also to spread, like the seeds of a plant, “infecting” the whole body. This infectious quality, the putrid secretions, and the often horrendous smell emanating from cancer victims raised fears, in turn, of contagion and were taken to justify a separation of cancer patients from the rest of society.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 48-74
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-21
Open Access
No
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