Fictions of Well-Being
Sickly Readers and Vernacular Medical Writing in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain
"Fictions of Well-Being expands our knowledge of Spanish medical literature in the crucial years between 1300 and 1650, and it offers refreshing insights into the history of medicine in general. Solomon's unifying theme is the instrumentality of the word or, more specifically, the medicinal effect of vernacular texts and books, as objects, on the reader's imagination and health. As a result, this book illuminates the relationship between academic and popular medicine and between the written word and the patient's perception."—Luke E. Demaitre, University of Virginia
From the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries in Spain, health-related information in the vernacular began to circulate widely in treatises, compendiums, manuals, plague tracts, summaries, encyclopedias, and recipe collections. These were often the work of concerned physicians who attempted to refashion medical information to appeal to nonprofessionals. In Fictions of Well-Being Michael Solomon explores the shaping of this audience of sickly readers, highly motivated individuals who, when confronted with the painful, disruptive, and often alienating conditions of physical disorder, looked for relief in books.
Vernacular medical writing from late medieval and early modern Spain emerged from the interrelated imperatives to address the immediate or future hygienic and pathological needs of the patient while promoting the reputation and learned credentials of the physician. For sickly readers, a medical treatise was more than just a collection of technical information; such a work implied that they could do with a medical text what the physician normally did at the bedside. In their imagination, the treatise became a type of palpable instrument that encouraged the reader to take advantage of its possible use and benefits. In these fictions of well-being, we may see the antecedents of the self-help and popular medical books so prominent on today's best-seller lists.
Michael Solomon is Associate Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania and the editor of the journal Hispanic Review, also published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.