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Leprosy in Premodern Medicine

A Malady of the Whole Body

Luke Demaitre

Publication Year: 2007

While premodern poets and preachers viewed leprosy as a “disease of the soul,” physicians in the period understood it to be a “cancer of the whole body.” In this innovative study, medical historian Luke Demaitre explores medical and social perspectives on leprosy at a time when judicious diagnosis could spare healthy people from social ostracization and help the afflicted get a license to beg. Extending his inquiry from the first century to late in the eighteenth century, Demaitre draws on translations of academic treatises and archival records to illuminate the professional standing, knowledge, and conduct of the practitioners who struggled to move popular perceptions of leprosy beyond loathing and pity. He finds that, while not immune to social and cultural perceptions of the leprous as degenerate, and while influenced by their own fears of contagion, premodern physicians moderated society's reactions to leprosy and were dedicated to the well-being of their patients.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. -

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pp. vii- xii

This study began as a history of an idea. An initial stimulus for the inquiry was the engaging monograph by Saul Nathaniel Brody titled The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (1974). Explorations in early medical writings increasingly ...

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pp. xiii- xv

A wealth of sources have allowed this study to grow in depth and range—and, I hope, in balance—beyond the initial analysis of a handful of treatises. Access to widely scattered documents was made possible by an Extramural Grant... from the National Library of Medicine of the United States National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland...

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Chapter One: The Sources: Texts and Contexts

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pp. 1-33

I would like to ask you, if there are so many masters of healing in Salerno, how come that their art cannot succeed against your illness? My lord, this amazes me.”With this inquiry of a concerned farmer, the poet Hartmann von Aue framed the topos of..

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Chapter Two: Iudicium leprosorum: Medical Judgment

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pp. 34-74

Now, the terms of “disposition” and “act” in leprosy, as surgeon Guillaume des Innocens touched on several implications of the formal process of identifying leprous patients. He alluded to the relationshipsbetween physicians and surgeons...

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Chapter Three: The Many Labels of Leprosy

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pp. 75-102

We, Thomas de Saint-Pierre, Jean Le Lievre, and Robert de Saint-Germain, masters-regent in the faculty of medicine in Paris, have seen Jean de Bierville, master of arts from the diocese of Reims, who was suspected and reported by certain persons as having the disease that is named and called lepra...

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Chapter Four: Definitions and Explanations

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pp. 103-131

The lord bailiff has summoned the physician, master Deuslosal, and the master surgeons, Deuslogar and Vitalis, Jews and residents of the city of Urgell. He has ordered them to perform an examination on the woman Ramona, properly and lawfully, and in accordance with the art and science of medicine...

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Chapter Five: “Une maladie contagieuse et héréditaire”

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pp. 132-159

Be it known that, by the order of the Lord High Steward of Wolffegg, we the undersigned sworn examiners, Johan Georg Brix, Ph.D., M.D., physician of the city of Wangen in the Holy Roman Empire, and Ignatius Brigel and Antonius Berle, approved barber-surgeons, have examined Judita Hilpertzhauserin, n

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Chapter Six: Causes, Categories, and Correlations

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pp. 160-195

The Masters in Cologne may have declared Hans free of the permanent and confirmed leprosy [bestedige und befestige u

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Chapter Seven: Diagnosis: Signs and Symptoms

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pp. 196-239

March 22, 1574 In re the visitation of Adrien de Bellevalet, licentiate in the laws, solicitor at the Council of Arras, who was suspected of l

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Chapter Eight: Prognosis, Prevention, and Treatment

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pp. 240-277

Reverend Father, Together with Doctor Hartmann Schedel, who was in Nuremberg at the time, I have with all diligence examined the bearer of this letter, Conrad, a former member of your household. We have found him not infected by lepra, though...

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pp. 278-280

In conversations about leprosy (hardly an everyday item on the menu), people routinely suggest comparisons with AIDS, although parallels are illusory—even with regard to social stigma—and differences are too vast for fruitful contrasting. A far more logical counterpart, and a suitable...


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pp. 281-310


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pp. 311-323

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891977
E-ISBN-10: 0801891973
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886133
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886139

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 8 b&w illustrations, 11 halftones
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 299754569
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Leprosy in Premodern Medicine

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Subject Headings

  • Leprosy -- Europe -- History -- To 1500.
  • Leprosy -- Europe -- History -- 16th century.
  • Leprosy -- Europe -- History -- 17th century.
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