Poison is generally believed to have been used in the past as a special political and state tool in the papal and princely courts to get rid of the internal enemies. This book aims at challenging this idea, and showing how widespread and popular was the custom of killing, or trying of killing, wives, husbands, relatives and neighbours in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy. The chosen approach is a combined study of criminal proceedings recorded in Italian Archives (Venice, Bologna and Rome), medical books and judicial treatises published in England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy. This will also offer the opportunity to study the technical skills acquired by physicians and surgeons in analysing human remains trough the records of dissection. A specific but related aspect is the final chapter where the author describes and examines some tests and experiments which were widely conducted on animals and human subjects by physicians and surgeons seeking to discover how to detect traces of poison and identify the cause of death from evidence provided by the body or stomach contents of a presumed victim. These experiments would contribute to the development of the modern science of toxicology and are viewed in the context of the broad European network of cultural ties that sprang up between Florence, London and Paris. This book should appeal not only to social and cultural historians of the period (Renaissance Europe; Early Modern Italy) but also to medical historians. Further it would be attractive to those who are outside a specialised research field and are interested in Renaissance learned and popular culture.
Alessandro Pastore teaches Early Modern History at the University of Verona.