Affliction and Skepticism: Montaigne and Anti-medical Literature

Andrea Carlino


The essay II, 37 De la ressemblance des enfants aux pères, written by Montaigne between 1579 and the first months of 1580, is a merciless critique of doctors, doctoring and medicine in general. This Essay, as much as a large number of other texts, of archival records, of iconographic materials produced during the Early Modern period, testifies a wide spread skeptical attitude toward medicine across Europe. This is an important aspect of Early Modern culture. Despite its relevance it has been often neglected by medical historians. This paper aims to show how a literary text can contribute to the understanding of the rise of some aspects of these critical attitudes towards medicine and medics. In Montaigne's text, these attitudes appear to be generated by his personal experiences of suffering and disillusion deeply entangled with a long tradition of philosophical skepticism to which some of his favorite readings belong. Both these elements seem to have also contributed to bring Montaigne in 1580 to the definition of the poetic project of the Essays as a self-portrait: a project in which the bodily presence of the author, with his humors, passions and sufferings, is self-consciously part of the writing process and of the intellectual enterprise.

Key words: Skepticism - Medical uncertainty - Baths

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