Pills, poison and power

Aug 25, 2013 1273

The Role of Medicine at the Court of the Medici Grand Dukes

September 18, 2013 - Washington DC - Embassy of Italy

A lecture by Sheila Barker

Medici, the name of the family that ruled Tuscany for two hundred years, means 'doctors.' This curious fact, however, is only the beginning of the epic story of this Italian court's role in unshackling medicine from ancient authorities like Galen and Hippocrates and leading it to the modern laboratory. Between 1537 and 1737, six generations of the Medici family enriched medical science with new drugs from the Americas, the Levant, and Asia; they created and managed botanical gardens, pharmacies, a hospital, and a university (Pisa), where new therapies and theories were always welcome; they recruited leading innovators in medicine and pharmacology from all over Europe and without regard to religious creed; and they themselves—the grand dukes and grand duchesses of the House of Medici—were avid amateur chemists and medical practitioners, delighting in the discovery of an opiate based recipe to relieve arthritis, or an oil of scorpion venom used to counteract any poisons that might infiltrate their banquets.

Even more importantly, the Medici sovereigns recognized early on that their technological leadership in such a crucial human concern as medicine could be exploited for the purposes of statecraft and international diplomacy. Using almost exclusively unpublished documents from the Medici Granducal Archive, the presentation will reveal the Medici court's key role in the quest for knowledge of diseases and their cures.

This lecture will be followed by a presentation of The Medici Archive Project by Alessio Assonitis, and a musical performance by Barbara Hollinshead and Howard Bass.

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