The Centre for the History of Medicine, Durham University, UK Sponsored by the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine, supported by the Wellcome Trust, London

Research Seminar Reminder

Tuesday 11 November 2008: Dr Stefano Cracolici (Durham University): ‘Handsome Doctors and the Prestige of the Medical Profession in the Italian Renaissance’ 5.15pm, Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton-on-Tees, Wolfson Research Institute, Seminar Room

For further information, please visit our webpage at or contact the Centre’s Administrator/Outreach Officer, Katherine Smith, mailto:[email protected]

For directions to Queen’s Campus, Stockton, please visit our webpage at

If any of you would like to attend a post-seminar meal with members of the Centre, please let Katherine know by Monday 10 November and she will provide you with restaurant details.


In the winter of 1351, Pope Clement VI was recovering from a serious illness. The Italian proto-humanist Francis Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) advised Clement, in such difficult circumstances, to avoid the contentious verdict of the doctors mobbing around his sickbed and to rely exclusively on the recommendations of a single, experienced physician. This letter irritated the doctors, who hurriedly addressed a pungent response to Petrarch, prompting from the latter an acid and yet elegant reply. The controversy spread quickly in the intellectual circles around the Curia and resulted in one of the most powerful and influential statements ever produced against the prestige of medicine. The related documents are known today under the title ‘Invectives against a physician’ (‘Invective contra medicum’). Moving from a close reading of Petrarch’s invectives and of some medical reactions to it, my paper will try to illuminate and contextualise the strategies endorsed by the medical establishment to enhance the prestige of the medical profession and to define the deontological ethos of medical practitioners during the early Italian Renaissance. Special attention will be placed on the virtues of the ideal physician and on the inclusion, among these, of physical and spiritual beauty.

_______________ Katherine Smith Administrator/Outreach Officer

Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease Wolfson Research Institute Durham University Queen’s Campus University Boulevard Thornaby Stockton on Tees TS17 6BH Tel: + 44 (0)191 3340700 Email: [email protected]