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History, Medicine, and the Traditions of Renaissance Learning

Nancy G. Siraisi

Publication Year: 2008

A major, path-breaking work, History, Medicine, and the Traditions of Renaissance Learning is Nancy G. Siraisi's examination into the intersections of medically trained authors and history in the period 1450 to 1650. Rather than studying medicine and history as separate disciplinary traditions, Siraisi calls attention to their mutual interaction in the rapidly changing world of Renaissance erudition. Far from their contributions being a mere footnote in the historical record, medical writers had extensive involvement in the reading, production, and shaping of historical knowledge during this important period. With remarkably detailed scholarship, Siraisi investigates doctors' efforts to explore the legacies handed down to them from ancient medical and anatomical writings and the difficult reconciliations this required between the authority of the ancient world and the discoveries of the modern. She also studies the ways in which sixteenth-century medical authors wrote history, both in their own medical texts and in more general historical works. In the course of her study, Siraisi finds that what allowed medical writers to become so fully engaged in the writing of history was their general humanistic background, their experience of history through the field of medicine's past, and the tools that the writing of history offered to the development of a rapidly evolving profession. Nancy G. Siraisi is one of the preeminent scholars of medieval and Renaissance intellectual history, specializing in medicine and science. Now Distinguished Professor Emerita of History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and a 2008 winner of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she has written numerous books, including Taddeo Alderotti and His Pupils (Princeton, 1981), which won the American Association for the History of Medicine William H. Welch Medal; Avicenna in Renaissance Italy (Princeton, 1987); The Clock and the Mirror (Princeton, 1997); and the widely used textbook Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago, 1990), which won the Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize from the History of Science Society. In 2003 Siraisi received the History of Science Society's George Sarton Medal, in 2004 she received the Paul Oskar Kristellar Award for Lifetime Achievement of the Renaissance Society of America, and in 2005 she was awarded the American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction. "A fascinating study of Renaissance physicians as avid readers and enthusiastic writers of all kinds of history: from case narratives and medical biographies to archaeological and environmental histories. In this wide-ranging book, Nancy Siraisi demonstrates the deep links between the medical and the humanistic disciplines in early modern Europe." ---Katharine Park, Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University "This is a salient but little explored aspect of Renaissance humanism, and there is no doubt that Siraisi has succeeded in throwing light onto a vast subject. The scholarship is wide-ranging and profound, and breaks new ground. The choice of examples is fascinating, and it puts Renaissance documents into a new context. This is a major book, well written, richly learned and with further implications for more than students of medical history." ---Vivian Nutton, Professor, The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London, and author of From Democedes to Harvey: Studies in the History of Medicine "Siraisi shows the many-dimensioned overlaps and interactions between medicine and 'history' in the early modern period, marking a pioneering effort to survey a neglected discipline. Her book follows the changing usage of the classical term 'history' both as empiricism and as a kind of scholarship in the Renaissance before its more modern analytical and critical applications. It is a marvel of erudition in an area insufficiently studied." ---Donald R. Kelley, Emeritus James Westfall Thompson Professor of History, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and Executive Editor of Journal of the History of Ideas

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder


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p. xi-xi

List of Figures

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p. xiii-xiii


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p. xv-xv

Note to the Reader

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p. xvii-xvii

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pp. 1-19

Among historical works produced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Nuremberg Chronicle, the Chronicon Carionis, and Paolo Giovio’s Histories of His Own Times stand out for several reasons. The Nuremberg Chronicle has achieved lasting fame as a masterpiece of Renaissance book production. Successive recensions of the Chronicon Carionis perpetuated...

Part 1. History in Medical Literature

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Preface to Part 1. A Diagnosis from History

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pp. 23-24

On May 10, 1575, the surgeon Ambroise Paré was summoned to determine whether the cause of death of two servants of a member of the Parlement of Paris was murder or “a sodaine apoplexie.” Fortunately for the victims, Paré, realizing that they were not dead but only profoundly unconscious, succeeded in reviving them. He also quickly recognized that the case was one of...

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1. Bodies Past

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pp. 25-62

In a famous passage, Sylvius, teacher and subsequently critic of Vesalius, explained to the readers of his Introduction to Anatomy (1555)...

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2. History and Histories in Medical Texts

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pp. 82-124

These words introduce not (as one might imagine) one of the many Renaissance treatises on the ars historica but a medical commentary. They appear at the beginning of Girolamo Mercuriale’s exposition of the case histories in books 1 and 3 of the Hippocratic Epidemics. Although his formulation reads like a direct echo of Bodin’s famous threefold classi‹cation of history into divine, natural, and human, Mercuriale gave it a decidedly medical...

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3. Life Writing and Disciplinary History

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pp. 106-133

ccording to Laurent Joubert, the Montpellier physician and naturalist Guillaume Rondelet made learning fun: “He taught in a very humorous way, and held his audience with anecdotes [historiis] and fables, but his teaching was extremely thorough and comprehensive.” This vivid glimpse of a successful Renaissance medical professor in action comes from Joubert’s biography of his former teacher.1...

Part 2. Physicians, Civil History, and Antiquarianism

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Preface to Part 2. Rival Physician Historians of the Italian Wars

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pp. 137-140

The French really call you a golden river. Now [we have] your sweet book on human anatomy, and it seems witty to them[;] . . . without doubt you are the prince of all orators and physicians of our age”—thus Symphorien Champier expressed his appreciation of Alessandro Benedetti’s Anatomice, a description of human dissection notable for its classicizing vocabulary, citation of exclusively ancient sources, and rhetorical sophistication. The...

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4. Milan: Problems of Exemplarity in Medicine and History

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pp. 141-167

With characteristic acerbity, Girolamo Cardano of Milan expressed his sharp awareness of the problematic nature of exemplary history—the truism, from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond, that history, magistra vitae, teaches imitation of the good and avoidance of the bad...

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5. Rome: Medicine, Histories, Antiquities, and Public Health

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pp. 168-193

Throughout the second half of the sixteenth century, Rome was the scene of a battle of the books over the potability of Tiber water. On the one side, Giovanni Battista Modio denounced the water as undrinkable and proclaimed any physician who pronounced it wholesome as incompetent. On the other, in a series of publications spread over some thirty years, Alessandro...

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6. Vienna: Physician Historians and Antiquaries in Court and University

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pp. 194-224

Wolfgang Lazius—proli‹c author of works on the civil history, the chorography, the antiquities, and the noble families of his native Austria; indefatigable collector of medieval historical documents; and professor of medicine in the University of Vienna—habitually identi‹ed himself on his title pages as “medicus et historicus.”1 Lazius’s self-identi‹cation introduces a relation of Renaissance history...

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7. Beyond Europe

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pp. 225-260

Medical men both read and contributed to Renaissance and early modern writing on the world beyond Europe. News of New World diseases and remedies engendered famous controversies within the European medical community, and some works of physician authors on exotic plants probably reached a substantially wider audience.1 But the interest of sixteenth- or seventeenth-century physicians in regions outside Europe was by no means...

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Conclusion: Medicine, History, and the Changing Face of Scientific Knowledge

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pp. 261-268

Over the span of two centuries covered by this book, profound changes took place in European politics, society, and intellectual life. The Europe of absolutist and confessional states, already on the threshold of early Enlightenment and new science and inhabited by such figures as Naud


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pp. 269-356


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pp. 357-420


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pp. 421-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025480
E-ISBN-10: 0472025481
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472116027
Print-ISBN-10: 0472116029

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder