Stephen Pender and Nancy S. Struever (eds.), Rhetoric and Medicine in Early Modern Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). 310 pp. £74 hb. ISBN 9781409430223.
The cover of Rhetoric and Medicine in Early Modern Europe, which features the Greco-Roman figure Lady Rhetoric holding a caduceus, hints at the tandem relationship between rhetoric and medicine during the Renaissance period. The image, drawn from Martianus Cappella's treatise on the "marriage" of the liberal arts, furthers reveals the early Modern indebtedness to its classical roots. This anthology, which was compiled from the 2003 annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, is divided into ten essays which explore rhetoric and medicine in literature, art, philosophy, politics, and society in early Modern Europe. As Stephen Pender's essay in Chapter 1 discusses, medicine formed the basis of a philosophy that sought to cure the soul and remedy the body. The exploration of these interdisciplinary discourses provides a deeper understanding into Early Modern identity and intellectual thought.
As Pender argues in his introduction, early Modern views on rhetoric and medicine in Europe found their origins in Greek medicine and philosophy. The essays in this anthology illuminate the link between patients and physicians. Rhetoric was important for maintaining the health and well-being of the body and accurately diagnosing disease and sickness, which demonstrates the classical idea that "able physicians bolster both inquiry and practice with philosophical knowledge" (p. 7). Moreover, early Modern medical practice followed the classical belief that good physicians should also be good philosophers. Early Modern physicians adhered to the Galenic and Hippocratic models of rhetoric and persuasion for their medical practices.
In his essay in Chapter 1, Pender extends this notion to moral philosophy, arguing that rhetoric and medicine have affinities with inference and reason, and that rhetoric is a neglected aspect of medical training. He raises the Socratic distinction between the quack (who knows only symptoms and some effects of remedies) and the physician (who launches inquiries into disease and illness) to illustrate the rhetorical interconnectedness with medical practice. For Pender, medicine is receptive to rhetorical inquiry. Rhetoric emerges from this period as an interpretation of experience, and illness is the experience itself.
Jean Diez Moss's essay on the bathwaters of Bath reveals that rhetoric and medicine was only limited to philosophy, but could include sociocultural aspects as well. Moss argues that bathing was seen as therapeutic and its supposed mineral content had medicinal value. The rhetoric of medicine through hydrotherapy had important implications for the patient/physician relationship. The reputation of the baths depended upon these clinical insights, enabling the economy and society to prosper.
Richard Sugg further examines rhetoric and medicine in a literary context, exploring the 'anatomising' of the human body. He cites the illustrations of Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) in particular as demonstrating anatomy forming rhetoric through art. The motions of the woodcutter's knife act as a form of rhetoric through the artist's interpretation of the human body, linking ideas of both medicine and rhetoric.
Daniel M. Gross's essay places early Modern rhetoric and medicine within a political context, reassessing human nature from the "perspective of the history of the practical arts" (p. 147). He connects the theologian Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) with the "classical homology between of rhetoric and medicine" (p. 129), citing his synthesis of Aristotelian rhetoric and psychology as influential on the institutional foundations established by Thomas Hobbes, Hermann Conring, and more. He articulates Melanchthon's inclusion of the key disciplines of law, pedagogy, psychology, and political science, as well as theology, practical philosophy, poetic, rhetoric, and medicine as constituting the first "human sciences".
In Chapter 6, Amy Schmitter examines the fragility of the human body and its potential for remediation in the works of Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Schmitter argues that Spinoza and Descartes share an affinity for rhetoric and medicine, both recognising the "importance of our vulnerability, and...that it is our status as finite things that make us vulnerable" (p. 171). While Descartes's response is more "medical", however, Spinoza's response is viewed as "political". Descartes interprets the relationship between rhetoric and medicine as the '"remedies" for the passions, the discipline of virtue, and the development of generosity...presented as therapeutic regimens for the soul' (p. 170). The passions can be overwhelming, but rhetorical practice, acting as a form of virtue, as its own passion, nurtures and 'repairs' the soul, providing a remedial effect on the mind and body. Spinoza, however, proposes political strategies as protection against the overwhelming of external forces. All finite bodies are vulnerable to these external forces, but the development of the intellect (i.e. rhetoric) can provide freedom for the soul.
Chapter 7 features Guido Giglioni's essay on Girolamo Cardano's (1501-76) thoughts on the nature of rhetorical persuasion in human learning. Giglioni interprets Cardano's use of rhetoric as a "protective device, demystifying and debunking inquiry, as a therapeutic tool" (p. 174). He compares the physician to the rhetorician in that they both adopt plausible means of persuasion in order to achieve truth. Both physician and rhetorician can create with words, establishing an argument and providing meaning and further understanding to the body. Reason and language can dispel the "power of passion and prejudices" (p. 175).
In her essay "You've Got to Have Soul", Julie R. Solomon explores the different discourses of the passions in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thought. Passions arise in the soul, and the body's actions produce emotional responses. Following Hippocratic doctrines of the humours, excess passion could "induce emotional disease or indisposition" (p. 200). The passions could be rightly ordered, however, and could still be rhetorical and rational agents even when faced with suffering of bodily "disease". Solomon argues that passions create mini-narratives which form constructs about relationships to others. The predominant notion during this period was that a rational soul could cure and dispose of the passions of the mind, but whether it was humour-based or ethically-based was a matter of dispute. Marin Cureau de La Chambre (1596-1669), for example, who was a seventeenth-century French physician and philosopher, claimed that disease of the humours was responsible for passions. Solomon argues that other contemporaries, however, such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), who expressed early Modern ideas about the emotions through theatrical performance and dialogue, articulated that the passions were the "consequence of the ethical choices we have made rather than the humoural dispositions we have acquired through nature or nurture" (p. 225). Shakespeare's insights in Macbeth reveal that the ethical basis of the passions "powers our impulses towards good and evil" (p. 228) and provides meaning to our lives.
Grant Williams's essay examines the semiotic and symptomatic role of melancholy in Robert Burton's (1577-1640) treatise The Anatomy of Melancholy (1638). This compilation of varying opinions on melancholia is intercut with Burton's digressions and extensive revisions. Williams argues that symptoms "mediate our engagement with the disease, the author, and his world" (p. 225). For Burton, melancholy is an "organ, a faculty, a semiotic generator, whose utterances cannot be anticipated" (p. 234). Language, particularly through rhetorical questioning, expresses Burton's frustration in attempting to convey the nuances of melancholy. The linguistic construction of melancholy, manifesting as a cacophony of voices, for example, make it incommunicable. The disorientation of language signifies the breakdown of healthy bodies and communication, linking early Modern interpretations of melancholy to rhetoric and medicine.
In the tenth and final essay of the anthology, Struever cites Anton Francesco Bertini's (1658-1728) treatise Medicina difesa dalle calunnie etc. (1699) as exemplifying the dominance of rhetoric in early Modern medical practices. Rhetoric forms part of the physician's training, since "rhetorical investigations and motives illumine medical ones" (p. 257). Struever also identifies the political aspects of rhetoric, arguing that rhetoric 'functions inside politics' (p. 257). Her insistence upon Bertini's construct of authority, functioning in medicine to justify the doctor's income, concludes her essay.
This is a fascinating and technical study of rhetoric and medicine during this period, and emphasises its interdisciplinary focus across a range of different contexts. The editors provide a fruitful selection of essays which examine works from across the continent, joined together by its philosophical foundation. It includes an introduction written by Pender and an afterword written by Nancy S. Struever. Moreover, the book offers a wealth of bibliographic and referential detail. While it is invaluable to specialists in these fields of interest, it presupposes a knowledge of these particular topics. In doing so, it may be alienating for casual readers since many of the Renaissance authors and their works examined in the essays are relatively obscure (such as Girolamo Cardano and Anton Francesco Bertini). Moreover, the extensive interdisciplinary foci for many of these essays, which cover philosophy, language, politics, and medicine, can be dense to navigate for unspecialised readers. The anthology does, however, offer insightful information and multifaceted approaches to these fields of interest, and is essential to early Modern scholars with an interest in the symbiosis between rhetoric and medicine.
Curtis Runstedler, Durham University