Mountebanks and Medicasters

A History of Italian Charlatans from the Middle Ages to the Present


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About the Book

Italian medical charlatans, wandering quacks who traded in remedies, accompanied real medicine like a dark shadow during its slow progress. Over the centuries, these cunning individuals infuriated orthodox physicians with their ability to capture audiences in village squares. While licensed physicians imperiously ordered torrential enemas and pitiless bloodletting, charlatans sold cheap remedies accompanied by consoling promises. Not merely merchants committed to swindling the gullible, the charlatans often disguised a form of opposition to an arrogant new science. New and courageous ideas were hidden beneath their exaggerated posturing.
This work recounts the history and adventures of ingenious Italian medical quacks who were sought after and imitated all over Europe. The research is culled from judicial proceedings, newspaper articles, Italian State Archives, and books and manuscripts from all over the world. Ostensibly an account of these characters covering five centuries, the book also examines the relationship between doctor and patient and the placebo effect. The final chapters explore the reasons for their success and the necessity for a re-evaluation of the relationship between doctor and patient today, a period in which the practice of medicine is often confined to laboratory examinations and brief, impersonal encounters.

About the Author(s)

Radiology professor Piero Gambaccini has published many medical papers and lives in Florence, Italy.

Bibliographic Details

Piero Gambaccini
Foreword by Giorgio Cosmacini
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 256
Bibliographic Info: photos, glossary, notes, index
Copyright Date: 2004
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1606-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Foreword by Giorgio Cosmacini 1

Preface 3

Introduction: The Toad and the Small Bird 7

Chapter 1 • “People who go about swindling, with little exertion and for their own gain” 15

Chapter 2 • Grand Entertainments 34

Chapter 3 • “Wise is the peasant … who goes not seeking a doctor’s cure…” 51

Chapter 4 • “Scoundrels, Quacks and Murderers…” 64

Chapter 5 • Charlatans Against Learned Physicians 83

Chapter 6 • “Glorious Fioravanti, maker of miracles…” 98

Chapter 7 • The Feverish Search for a Remedy 113

Chapter 8 • “They make robbery seem a courtesy”: Italian Charlatans Abroad 135

Chapter 9 • The Alfier Lombardo, the Unknown Knight, and a Charlatan Doctor 153

Chapter 10 • A Carnival of Publicity 167

Chapter 11 • “Physical Recreations” 178

Chapter 12 • Mesmerists, Hypnotists, and “Wondrous” Somnambulists 192

Chapter 13 • Yearned-For, Eternal Youth 208

Chapter 14 • “It is said that Medicine is of two parts: one is called a physician’s science, the other is called Art” 217

Glossary of Herbs and Medical Ingredients 227

Source Notes 233

Index 243

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Recommended”—Choice
  • “Extremely interesting…astonishingly original”—Libero
  • “Precise and well-documented…entertaining…a history that has until now never been told”—Giornale
  • “Excellent…detailed…enviable prose”—La Nazione
  • “Extremely amusing…important”—Toscana Medica
  • “Erudite research, rigorous in method but amusing”—La Repubblica
  • “Fair-minded…fascinating…highly recommended…well-researched…well-written”—CancerDecisions Newsletter Archives
  • “Not to be missed, fascinating, impeccable”—Giuliano Prezzolini, President of the Giuseppe Prezzolini Foundation
  • “Remarkable importance…first-rate prose.”—Giorgio Luti, Italian literary critic and Professor Emeritus of literature at the University of Florence