contributor.author: Michael McVaugh

title.none: Paravicini Bagliani and Santi, eds., Regulation of Evil (McVaugh)

identifier.other: baj9928.9809.006 98.09.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael McVaugh, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, mcvaugh@email.unc.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino and Francesco Santi, eds. The Regulation of Evil: Social and Cultural Attitudes to Epidemics in the Late Middle Ages. Sismel: Ediz ioni del Galluzzo, 1998. ISBN: ISBN 8-887-20720-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.09.06

Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino and Francesco Santi, eds. The Regulation of Evil: Social and Cultural Attitudes to Epidemics in the Late Middle Ages. Sismel: Ediz ioni del Galluzzo, 1998. ISBN: ISBN 8-887-20720-X.

Reviewed by:

Michael McVaugh
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
mcvaugh@email.unc.edu

By now it is hard not to think of the Black Death as a phenomenon larger than life -- or, rather, larger than "mere" death. We have invested it with what Faye Getz has called a "Gothic" character that encourages us to dwell on the extreme, on psychotic behavior and horrific mortality estimates. So a book like the Regulation of Evil -- based on papers given at a conference organized by the Societa Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino (SISMEL) in April 1995 -- is salutary, because it reminds us that there was much that was matter-of-fact about human response to the great epidemics of the later Middle Ages. Many Europeans coped with them using traditional means, adapting systems of treatment or control or interpretation, so as to fit the outbreaks into social life and impose on them a semblance of normalcy, of conformity with their wider experience and assumptions. The "regulation of evil" was in this sense a "regularization of evil" as well.

Three of the eight contributions to this volume can serve to illustrate this range of response to epidemics. Regarding treatment, physicians intensified their pre-plague search for a universal remedy against all diseases: Michela Pereira and Chiara Crisciani draw out the ways in which alchemical ideas became associated with this medical search, leading to medical accounts of a potable gold that functioned much as theriac had once been understood to do, and they suggest that the plague hastened the fusing of the two scientific models. As for behavioral control, Ann Carmichael's arguments in Plague and the Poor in Renaissance Florence (Cambridge 1986) are rehearsed here by David McNeil: that epidemics in early fifteenth-century Florence probably included other infectious diseases along with plague, and that the quarantine practices of city government made it seem that "plague" was a disease of the poor, which provided a circular justification for the extension of such practices; social controls were thus the expression of the urban elite's rationalization of epidemics. Finally, with regard to interpretation, Francesco Gianni (examining the thought of Petrarch and Coluccio Salutati) makes plain that some people thoughtfully rejected both therapeutic and regulative attempts to cure or control the plague and returned to an Augustinian dualism that encouraged them piously to accept whatever end God might have designed for the body. It should be emphasized that these papers (and the others) are not just about 1348 and not just about bubonic plague, and their conclusions are collectively much more interesting as a result: thus Francoise Beriac's discussion of "the end of leprosy" explores valuable points of comparison between the two diseases and is a useful reminder that plague was not the first epidemic disease that medieval Europe had had to confront.

The last item in this collection is a bibliography of historical writing since 1980 on plague and leprosy in the Middle Ages, computer-generated from the contents of the repertory Medioevo Latino (edited by SISMEL); scholars will find it a helpful research tool, especially when supplemented by references contained in the other contributions to this volume (Piero Morpurgo's historiographical essay, for example), though I have noticed that some relevant items -- Luke Demaitre's papers on medieval leprosy in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, for example -- have been overlooked.