Mad Tuscans and Their Families: A History of Mental Disorder in Early Modern Italy

Mad Tuscans and Their Families: A History of Mental Disorder in Early Modern Italy

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0812246128

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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burden of confinement seems to have rested first with relatives and, barring that, public institutions. So long as the person in question was no longer a public menace the nature of confinement was immaterial. “Madness Is Punishment Enough” 63 from prison to street in republican florence During Florence’s republican period, judges applied Roman law principles to the problem of criminal insanity in the courts of the Capitano, a court of first instance and appeal, and the Podestà. Litigants, in

half years before was dramatic: “he was so out of his mind he had to be tied up.” After being “cured . . . he returned to himself for seven years and thirty months.” But lucidity was not to last. Two and a half years before Faustina’s supplication, Domenico “fell back into the same sickness.”1 Faustina traced her son’s relapse to three things. First, Domenico’s father had died, leaving him to assume the reins of household management. He was also saddled with a marriage he had only reluctantly

a wife in the hopes that he would have children.” If the Pupilli thought this request suspicious they did not let on. Instead, they interviewed the priest of the Stinche and several other Stinche functionaries. All of them assured the Pupilli that Pierantonio “had sufficiently returned to his senses, performing all the acts befitting a sane man.”58 The Duke permitted Pierantonio’s release but only on the condition that his relatives take him to a villa and keep him there. But Pierantonio, it

unwise if not absurd. 32 Weak testimony did not mean that Giovanni was a model of rational thinking. Witnesses for the defense admitted that he was coarse and slow-witted (grossolanus). But he was not, in their estimation, a stultus or mentecaptus. Decio agreed. Stupidity or loutishness, though not prized qualities in a man or woman of property, was not tantamount to insanity and thus not a bar to contracting. At issue was the presence or absence of judgment, not whether it was good or bad. As

recognize from all the aforementioned signs when furor or melancholy are truly at play versus when a person is poised to dissemble.”63 He encouraged his readers to 178 chapter 5 consider insomnia, a characteristic feature of furor and often one of melancholy as well. Several factors contributed to wakefulness: “dryness of the humor itself, which caused blockage in the brain,” or a defective imagination that could not properly receive data from the senses.64 The Roman physician Celsus, Zacchia

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