Mad Tuscans and Their Families: A History of Mental Disorder in Early Modern Italy
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Based on three hundred civil and criminal cases over four centuries, Elizabeth W. Mellyn reconstructs the myriad ways families, communities, and civic and medical authorities met in the dynamic arena of Tuscan law courts to forge pragmatic solutions to the problems that madness brought to their households and streets. In some of these cases, solutions were protective and palliative; in others, they were predatory or abusive. The goals of families were sometimes at odds with those of the courts, but for the most part families and judges worked together to order households and communities in ways that served public and private interests.
For most of the period Mellyn examines, Tuscan communities had no institutions devoted solely to the treatment and protection of the mentally disturbed; responsibility for their long-term care fell to the family. By the end of the seventeenth century, Tuscans, like other Europeans, had come to explain madness in medical terms and the mentally disordered were beginning to move from households to hospitals. In Mad Tuscans and Their Families, Mellyn argues against the commonly held belief that these changes chart the rise of mechanisms of social control by emerging absolutist states. Rather, the story of mental illness is one of false starts, expedients, compromise, and consensus created by a wide range of historical actors.
seventeenth century, the social, cultural, professional, and institutional landscape of Tuscany had significantly changed. First, medical language and ideas had entered the courts. Petitioners and magistrates had come to explain madness in organic terms and the disease melancholy was recognized as the most common cause of abnormal thought and behavior. Second, learned medical practitioners in Italy and France had begun to write treatises touting their skill in resolving legal questions that
or maternal and paternal households were in a difficult position. Yet Appollonia’s case illustrates that affective ties often remained where Incapacity, Guardianship, and the Tuscan Family 35 legal ties had been severed. Where some remarriages may have fomented conflict between lineages, others occasioned collaboration. Appollonia’s mother, for example, actively remained in the lives of her children from different marriages. Her relationship to Cristoforo did not end with the end of her
2 addresses the remaining half of this sample, which appeared in criminal courts where Florentine families strategically and effectively employed categories denoting madness to negotiate sentences, mitigate punishments, or get relatives released from prison. Florence underwent far-reaching constitutional changes during the period covered by this book. From the thirteenth century to 1494, the Florentine polity was communal with a republican form of government. By 1532, after four political
master David of Dinant translated the pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata 30.1, which explicitly associated melancholy and greatness. Problemata 30.1 opened with the question: “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious (melancholic) temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile, as is said to have happened to Heracles among the heroes (de heroibus)?”96 The three
circumstances mandatory. They did not, however, cede the same forensic role to medical practitioners that they had to land surveyors or midwives.72 Judges were free to consult with medical practitioners, but their testimony was neither mandatory nor binding. Medieval jurists were similarly receptive to the testimony of medical experts. In a treatise called De percussionibus (On wounding), written by the Bolognese jurist Odofredo (d. 1265), and another 180 chapter 5 called De vulneribus (On