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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Facing Black Death. Knowledge and practice in the consilia against the plague.

Teodoro Katinis

The specific aims of my Paper are:


1) to show the origin of the genre of consilia, as texts tailor for singular cases and eventually used to understand other similar cases. By this origin we can understand how much is tied the relationship between general rules and specific therapeutic experiences in a consilium;

2) to argue which is the part of tradition and invention in that kind of medical literature. The authors try to ‘use’ their knowledge on medicine, natural philosophy and astrology coming from the Antiquity; but because they have a new challenging phenomenon in front of them, they are obliged to find new ways to face the epidemic morbus;

3) to analyse in particular the legacy of Galen until Humanism. Galen is a fundamental source for the consilia, where his theories on the contagion are discussed in order to find causes and antidotes (the tiriac among the most famous). There are evidences about the large interest on Galen’s work until Marsilio Ficino, who wrote a famous consilium published in 1481 and highlighted for the first time the relationship between Galen and Plato’s work;

4) to bring some example of sceptical opposition to the medical knowledge and practice, such are the case of Francesco Petrarca’s Epistolae and Invectivae – at the beginning of that literature - and Girolamo Savonarola’s Dell’arte del ben morire – at the end of our excursus.


Analysis of singular cases will be provided to support my argumentations: we will talk about the consilia of Tommaso del Garbo, Gentile da Foligno and Marsilio Ficino.