Conference Agenda

1E: Learned Medicine and Sacred Diseases
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
9:00am - 10:15am

Session Chair: Marc M Dooms, UZLeuven


Rare Diseases in Mediaeval Europe

Dooms, Marc M

UZLeuven, Belgium

Monastic rules made an end to infanticide and child neglect in the Middle-Ages by caring for children with (rare) disorders: Disabled and impaired citizens became part of daily life. Historic, paleo-pathological, iconographic and genetic research revealed several cases of acromegaly, achondroplasia, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, Dupuytren's contraction, goiter, Marfan syndrome, Paget's disease and phenylketonuria. These observations want to illustrate that diseases with a low prevalence are not recent observations but already existed for many centuries.

Through the ages diseases with a low prevalence have always occurred but physicians did not have the knowledge to prevent nor diagnose, the surgeons not the tools to operate and the pharmacists not the medication to treat patients with common diseases, let alone rare disorders [53]. Moreover during the Middle Ages these patients were accepted as part of everyday life with little desire to change their situation by various techniques or treatments and without wishing to exclude it either. Care (caritas) will slightly change into cure (Θεραπείες) over time.


Dooms M (2020) Rare Diseases in Mediaeval Europe. Int J Rare Dis Disord 3:016.

„A masterpiece of scientific sanity“. Modern receptions of the hippocratic treatise On Sacred Disease

Metzger, Nadine

FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany

The hippocratic On Sacred Disease famously rejects a supernatural cause of epilepsy, leading to its praise as “a masterpiece of scientific sanity” (Naylor 1909). Until today, it is widely believed to be an outstanding example of Greek „rational“ medicine speaking out against superstitious explanation and treatment of disease; foundation to the inherently naturalistic, even scientific, cosmology of 2500 years of medicine to come; witness to the readily assumed struggle between religion and medicine as old as „our“ Western medicine. In this vein, On Sacred Disease has been used as a projection screen for modern demarcations between medicine and religion.

However, On Sacred Disease only rose to fame after the advent of scientific medicine. For most of its reception history, the treatise has not elicited much scholarly interest, being branded a third-class polemic unworthy of Hippocratic medicine. Only around 1900 did it begin to evoke more than cursory study. Some decades later, at least since the 1930s, the treatise was considered “truly Hippocratic” – either written by the master himself or embodying genuine Hippocratic ideas.

This paper wants to address the reception history of On Sacred Disease in relation to the interpretational framework provided by the rising Deutungsmacht of modern scientific medicine in society. By outlining the long-term development of the growing esteem of the treatise it shows that On Sacred Disease acquired Hippocratic authorship and scholarly esteem only in a certain intellectual climate deeply connected with the changing face of medicine and its socio-cultural embedment.

Bibliographical rituals: the Medical book as an object of trust. The case of 17th-18th cent. Portugal

Baudry, Hervé

Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

This paper fits into the framework of the early modern history of book and science in Portugal. A systematic study of the national print production is now possible due to the full biblioghraphical survey of both centuries, completed in 2020 (with, respectively, 99 and 576 items). Beyond the prints that refer to the usual mixture of religious and scientific contents, this work sheds light on an abundant paratextual dimension, in particular the numerous dedications to religious entities. On the other side, the medical book was straightly controlled by the Inquisition in charge, since the middle of the 16th century, of the updating and enforcement of the indexes of prohibition and expurgation (at least until 1768). Not surprisingly, many physicians were members ("familiars") of the Inquisition. This double approach leads to analyse the medical book not only in its dimension of object of faith, but also its orthodoxy, efficacy and power.