In early modern Venice, establishing the cause of a disease was critical to determining the appropriate cure: natural remedies for natural illnesses, spiritual solutions for supernatural or demonic ones. One common ailment was the French disease (syphilis), widely distributed throughout Venice's neighborhoods and social hierarchy, and evenly distributed between men and women. The disease was widely regarded as curable by the mid-sixteenth century, and cases that did not respond to natural remedies presented problems of interpretation to physicians and laypeople. Witchcraft was one possible explanation; using expert testimony from physicians, however, the Holy Office ruled out witchcraft as a cause of incurable cases and reinforced perceptions that the disease was of natural origin. Incurable cases were explained as the result of immoral behavior, thereby reinforcing the associated stigma. This article uses archival material from Venice's Inquisition records from 1580 to 1650, as well as mortality data.


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pp. 219-246
Launched on MUSE
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