Melancholy and Fever in the Early Modern Period. The Mesentery in Montaigne and Descartes
Talk by Jil Muller - University of Paderborn
8 February 2023 – 5 PM (CET)
In the medical and philosophical texts from the early modern period, one can notice a huge interest in melancholy, the ‘fashionable’ evil of that time, confining great minds to sadness and depression. We find this discussion also in the writings of Montaigne and Descartes. At the end of September 1580 Montaigne stayed in Basel for a few days where he met Félix Platter, a young physician, on the 29th of September. The two men discussed not only religious matters, but also medicine and anatomy. They most probably exchanged views on melancholy and fever, and it is noticeable that after this visit to the Basel doctor, Montaigne took up and changed his thoughts on melancholy, in particular by emphasizing the role played by the mesentery. The most interesting point is the distinction both of them made between simple and hypochondriacal melancholy: they are distinguished by the diversity of symptoms and treatments, which have to be considered.
A little bit more than 50 years later, Descartes also takes up the description of the role of the mesentery, in his work Anatomica and Circa generationem animalium. For him, melancholy is a quality of the blood, which is not produced by separation, but rather by addition. According to this Cartesian explanation, the spleen must therefore be invaded by melancholy to be able to transmit it to the blood. In this lecture, I shall explore the role that Montaigne and Descartes associated with the mesentery, the influence of Montaigne and Platter on Descartes and whether Descartes’ position on the matter changed over time.
Info and Registration: https://csmbr.fondazionecomel.org/events/online-lectures/melancholy-and-fever/