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Logo of medhistThe Wellcome Trust Centre of the History of Medicine (UCL)Medical History
Med Hist. 2010 April; 54(2): 275–276.
PMCID: PMC2844268

Book Review

Regiment preservatiu e curatiu de la pestilència
Reviewed by Mar Rey Bueno

Lluís Alcanyís.
Regiment preservatiu e curatiu de la pestilència, ed.  Jon Arrizabalaga, Els Nostres Clàssics, Barcelona, Editorial Barcino,  2008, pp.  161, no price given (paperback  978-84-7226-733-6). 

From the middle of the sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth one of the most popular genres of medical literature was what were known as pestilence treatises. These were a large and heterogeneous group of works in which doctors recorded their perceptions and reactions when faced with the paradigm of infectious and contagious diseases of the late Middle Ages and the early modern era. The majority of these treatises are characterized by a markedly practical approach and their publication often coincided with the onset of plague. They offered prophylactic advice and medicinal remedies in the face of plague onslaughts that, again and again, devastated villages and towns throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Such is the case of the book being reviewed, the Regiment preservatiu e curatiu de la pèstilencia, an incunabula printed in Valencia in 1490 and written by the Valencian doctor Lluís Alcanyís (c.1440–1506). The Regiment is no exception to the rule characterizing medical literature on pestilence that locates the creation of these texts during times of plague. Its publication coincided with the plague outbreak that ravaged Valencia from 1489 to 1490. The book consists of fourteen quarto folios typeset in Gothic and was written by one of the most prominent medical personalities in Valencia in the late Middle Ages. In fact, during the last third of the fifteenth century and the first years of the sixteenth, Alcanyís occupied the highest posts within the education and regulation hierarchy of the Valencian medical and surgical profession. Despite this high social and professional standing, Alcanyís was accused by the Inquisition of being a Judiazer, banned from his profession, imprisoned, brought to trial, and burned at the stake in 1506. It is precisely the Inquisitorial records of his trial that have been used to document his personal life and family ties.

Jon Arrizabalaga, editor of this critical edition, has dedicated over twenty-five years to the study of Alcanyís and his works. A methodical and thorough researcher, Arrizabalaga complements the edition with an interesting introductory synthesis in two extensive sections: one dedicated to the analysis of pestilence treatises within the literature of the late Middle Ages; and another to the study of the Regiment and the biography of its author. Indeed, Alcanyís’s text is simply one of many that appeared after the advent of the printing press. Its re-edition is only relevant if it is framed within the context of Catalan literature, given that the principal merit of the Regiment preservatiu e curatiu de la pèstilencia is that it is the first medical text originally written in Catalan and printed by the crown of Aragon. Only three copies survive of this rare text (one in the Biblioteca Valenciana, another in the Biblioteca de Catalunya and a third in the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda). It has been transcribed and published on several occasions since the mid-nineteenth century. The present edition has the advantage of having been the object of an in-depth study by one of the most knowledgeable investigators of the plague in the Europe of the late Middle Ages and the early modern era.

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