Prescribing Love: Italian Jewish Physicians Writing on Lovesickness in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Paper given at the: European Forum at the Hebrew University, (2008)
The connection between love and states of illness and madness has existed since antiquity, and it has been discussed in both medical and non-medical literature for just as long. The term “lovesickness” has generally been used to describe a disease characterized by both physiological and psychological symptoms. During the early modern period, especially from the mid-sixteenth century through the mid- seventeenth century, an impressive number of European medical works went further than a general discussion of love’s torments and dealt specifically with this medical diagnostic category and with its different stages.
While the medical descriptions of lovesickness from the mid-sixteenth century through the mid-seventeenth century followed the same pattern of their classic and medieval predecessors, the volume of writing on this subject increased dramatically during this period. It is in this period that the use of the term ‘love melancholy’ became prominent.
This paper represents the third stage in my research of early modern discussions of lovesickness. The objective of the first stage of my research was to provide a systematic analysis of the disorder, and of the manner in which it was discussed, based on European medical writing from the mid-sixteenth century through the mid-seventeenth century. In the second stage, I sought to provide an historical explanation for its popularity as a subject of medical literature during that period, focusing on the examples of the English and French societies during these roughly one hundred years. In this third and current stage, my objective is to identify medical discussions of lovesickness within a single distinct social and medical context, that of Jewish physicians practicing in Italian Jewish communities during the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries.