De morbis muliebribus praelectiones

Venice, apud Giunta, 1601


4to. pp. (viii) 236 (xvi), 125-28 misbound. Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, decorated initials and headpieces. Faint waterstaining to lower outer corner of preliminaries, intermittent age yellowing. A very good copy in contemporary vellum, traces of ties, early ms. ex-libris of Jesuit Collegium and Fr. Gregorio Fanti to t-p.

Very good copy of the third edition of this important, scarce treatise on medical conditions affecting women. Girolamo Mercuriale (1530-1606) was an Italian physicist and philologist most famous for his ‘De Arte Gymnastica’ (1569) on physical therapy, exercise and well-being among the ancients. As professor of practical medicine at Padua, he wrote numerous treatises on subjects as varied as pestilence, skin diseases, poison and diseases of children. First published in 1587, ‘De morbis muliebribus praelectiones’ was entirely devoted to the ailments to which women were most prone. The prefatory letter highlighted the relevance of the medical knowledge of female physiology (‘gestation of the womb, birth and miscarriage’) for jurisprudence, quoting from Justinian’s ‘Decretum’ on issues of legitimacy and heredity. The focal points of the work are indeed menstruation, sterility, conception, pregnancy, birth and miscarriage. Each section illustrates a specific condition, its causes, diagnosis and treatment, addressing questions like the effects of different kinds of semen for conception and of ‘coitus’ on pregnant women (too much can cause miscarriage), the perils of blood clots, gonorrhea, several kinds of womb and breast inflammation, and numerous conditions related to menstruation (e.g., discolouration, excessive flux). Mercuriale ‘advocated the use of the vaginal speculum to determine the state of the uterus…and was among the first to refer to the lack of fertility among the noble class’ (Erdmann, 32). A scarce, ground-breaking and incredibly thorough study of female physiology.

Gregorio Fanti S.J. was rector of the College in Rome c.1706-10.

Erdmann, 32 (1587 edition); Not in USTC, Wellcome, Durling, Hull, Brunet, Adams or Heirs of Hippocrates.
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