On the Importance of Being an Individual in Renaissance Italy: Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards

By Douglas Biow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Constructing a Maverick Physician
in Print: Reflections on the Peculiar Case
of Leonardo Fioravanti’s Writings

THE VARIOUS WRITINGS OF LEONARDO FIORAVANTI (FIG. 18), VIRTUALLY ALL of which are dedicated to popular medicine, and certainly all of which stand at the antipodes of the sorts of highbrow humanist writings we looked at in the previous chapter, furnish an understanding of Renaissance culture in literary and rhetorical terms in ways that have not always been adequately explored by scholars attending to his life and work as a surgeon/physician. The historian William Eamon, for example, brilliantly disclosed how Fioravanti, as a radical empiric invested in discovering the “secrets of nature,” contributed in a significant way to the development of modern scientific inquiry, while the social and cultural historian David Gentilcore has solidly placed Fioravanti within currents of medical charlatanism of his time. But Fioravanti was more than just an innovative empiric working in the healing arts and more than just a model figure for a number of charlatans throughout Europe, both during and after his lifetime. Moreover, he was more than just an interesting, albeit minor, character within the grand sweep of the history of medicine and natural philosophy, whose biography has been elegantly written by both Eamon and Piero Camporesi and makes for fascinating reading. Fioravanti was also a great medical communicator, and this mattered then and should matter to us now as we seek to understand how he could have possibly been so successful or have ever attracted such a following.

Fioravanti was in great measure successful and influential because he knew, as Galileo Galilei did within the far different social setting of court culture, how to play the game professionally. In late Renaissance and early modern Italy, as challenging as it was to have interesting ideas, one had to know, Mario Biagioli has perhaps best demonstrated in his studies of Galileo,1 how to channel those ideas in a persuasive manner through culturally normed vehicles for communication in order to have any impact at all. And this is what Fioravanti knew how

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