Rhetoric and Medicine in Early Modern Europe ed. by Stephen Pender, Nancy S. Struever (review)
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Reviewed by
Stephen Pender and Nancy S. Struever, eds. Rhetoric and Medicine in Early Modern Europe. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2012. viii + 299 pp. $119.95 (978-1-4094-3022-3).

This collection of essays is the first to be devoted to the early modern relationship between rhetoric and medicine, with contributions from literary scholars and historians of medicine and philosophy. In his introduction, Pender traces the contours of the relationship to classical Greek philosophy, and makes observations that are developed throughout the volume: that since antiquity rhetoric has been central to medical therapeutics as a tool for the management of passions and the inculcation of confidence in the physician; that both were pragmatic arts based in the experience of particulars, employing sign–inference and probabilistic conjecture, and tailored toward intervention; and that rhetoric has often been employed to effect shifts in medical thought.

Pender’s essay uses ancient sources to introduce the figure of the physician–rhetor and “rhetorised logic” in the writings of the seventeenth-century English physician John Cotta and the later French medical reformer Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis. For Pender, both figures exemplify the persisting centrality of rhetoric to attempts to deal with contingency and probability in medical experience. In her discussion of English “physician–publicists” such as William Turner, Edward Jorden, and Robert Pierce, Jean Dietz Moss demonstrates that rhetorical resources (ethos, pathos, and epideictic topics) were employed to inspire belief in the therapeutic value of the bath waters in early modern Bath, but were also useful for professional self-justification and aggrandizement.

Several essays implicate rhetoric in the development of the modern sciences. Daniel Gross argues that the foundations of the interventionist human sciences of law, pedagogy, psychology, and politics can be found in Philipp Melancthon’s fusion of Aristotelian rhetoric and psychology, via its influence on theorists of “corporate dynamics” (such as Hobbes, Hermann Conring, and Sicipione Chiaramonti) who devised institutions to harness and shape the passions of the citizen– body. For Andrea Carlino, rhetoric offered an alternative to the developing epistemology of the modern natural sciences, in which the objective was separated from the subjective, and res from verba. Carlino uses Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica to illustrate his case that Renaissance humanism influenced medicine in its promotion of the study of bonae litterae and engaging in debates about language-use.

The complexity of the relationship between medicine and classical rhetoric is illustrated by Guido Giglioni in a penetrating discussion of the polymathic physician Girolamo Cardano. Situating Cardano’s stance on rhetoric within his broader concerns about the gap between knowledge and reality, opinion and truth, and between words and things, Giglioni shows that for Cardano rhetoric was a tool of dissimulation often used for violent ends, but it also restrained vice and bonded civil society, and was essential in the deceptive and ambitious world of public affairs. Like rhetoric, medicine for Cardano drew upon inductive reasoning, particularity, and the treatment of passions, and was also an imperfect form of human knowledge that depended on persuasion. Amy Schmitter provides a different philosophical perspective upon the place of medicine in human life in an [End Page 344] exposition of the issues of vulnerability and finitude in the writings of Descartes and Spinoza. Schmitter shows that for Descartes, we need medicine because the finitude of man brings intrinsic somatic vulnerability; for Spinoza, our finite vulnerability is to external forces, which are politically remediable by our incorporation in, and affective transformation by, the Hobbesian “artificial body” of the state.

Other essays address the relationship between medicine and the literary imagination. In a wide-ranging discussion, Richard Sugg traces the literary influence of dissection, and analyzes English writers’ use of modish anatomical figures and tropes. Sugg shows that “anatomy,” for instance, connoted analytical comprehensiveness but also active intervention and polemical violence; but in general, he finds that dissective language was characterized by “flexibility, range and complexity of meaning” (p. 109). Julie Solomon challenges crudely somatic interpretations of the passions in recent English literary scholarship, arguing that the prevailing orthodoxy in philosophical, medical, and literary sources was provided by Aristotelianism, in which passions emanated not from the body but from the sensitive soul. For Solomon...