SGAMBATO, Giovanni Andrea

SGAMBATO, Giovanni Andrea De pestilente faucium affectu Neapoli saviente opusculum

Naples, Tarquinio Longo, 1620


FIRST and ONLY EDITION. 4to, pp. (8), 71, (1). Roman and Italic letter, printed side notes. Woodcut floriated initials and ornaments representing flowers, birds and other animals. Light age yellowing and slight foxing, upper margin of first two leaves a bit soiled; pastedowns and front endpaper slightly torn, minor paper flaws on a couple of ll., small tear to lower blank margin of p. 67. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, spine in compartments, remains of ties, rubbed. “Bonnet M. R. ord. 1682” in early hand on front pastedown and shelf mark to front endpaper. Four lines early ms. note in French, faded but largely legible, on lower board, directing or recording the delivery of a package of a dozen books, including this one, to a lady, at a particular address (not legible), with their weight and/or price.

Rare medical work on early epidemiology, including its relationship with astrology, by the Neapolitan physician and philosopher Giovanni Andrea Sgambato, a fellow of the important Academy of the Oziosi, founded by the scholar Giambattista Manso (1560-1645). Over the centuries diphtheria was the cause of many deadly epidemics. Physicians in the Renaissance started its systematisation distinguishing it from other sore throat types and using various Latin names, such as “angina”, “morbus suffocans”, “morbus strangulatorius”, etc. They analysed some important features of the disease, especially the specificity of the pseudomembranes, the infective potential of salivary drops and the palsy of the soft palate. Sgambato is listed among those who first wrote on this acute contagious disease which raged in Spain in 1613 and passed over to the Reign of Naples in the space of a few years. It was called “garrotillo” because the suffocation which ended the patient’s life resembled garrotting, the Spanish method of executing criminals. Addressed to Francesco Pignatelli (1601-1645), duke of Bisaccia and Comte of Montagano, the dedicatory letter recalls the glorious deeds of Captain Gisulfo Pignatelli during the Byzantine wars (C12) and provides an introduction on the purpose of the work. There follows a preface – anticipating the 27 chapters – which describes the origins of epidemiology through examples from ancient literature, and outlines natural (weather and astronomical events) and supernatural (Pagan God’s wrath) causes of the disease. According to Sgambato the epidemic occurred in 1617 after the appearance of three comets in the sky which were followed by evident climatic changes in both hemispheres. It was murderous, accompanied by respiratory infections and fever, and physicians were powerless. By an analytical approach Sgambato describes genesis, symptoms, prevention and care method (surgery and drugs) of the disease, also giving a broad overview of the contemporary disputes in relation to its name and nature appealing to different authorities, especially Thucydides, Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna. This copy probably belonged to the well-known Swiss physician Théofile Bonnet (1620-1689) who received the MD degree from Bologna University in 1643, later becoming physician to the Duc de Longueville at Neu-Chatel. He wrote various medical works, such as the “Sepulchretum sive anatomia practicea” (1679, 2 vols.) – collecting the results of about 3000 autopsies – which was considered the first complete treatise on pathologic anatomy and anticipated Giovanni Morgagni’s (1682 – 1771) studies.

Not in USTC. Only 6 copies recorded in Europe (Civic Berio, Genoa; Vittorio Emanuele and Società Napoletana di Storia Patria, Naples; BNC – Rome; BnF – Paris; Wellcome and BL, London) and 3 in the US (Academy of Medicine, New York, Yale; University of California; University of Minnesota). Not in Brunet or Graesse. BL., It., II, p. 847; Wellcome, I, 316: 5960. Not in Durling, Osler or Heirs of Hippocrates.
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