Peasants and Pellagra in 19th-century Italy

2014-11-07T12:20:12Z (GMT) by David C. Gentilcore
In March 1814 a London-based periodical called the Pamphleteer published the ‘Narrative of the Cruxifixion of Mattio Lovat, Executed by his Own Hands at Venice’. It took the form of a startling medical case-history of religious mania, as written by a Venetian surgeon, Cesar Ruggieri. The protagonist, Lovat, was a pious young shoemaker from a small village in the Dolomite mountains around Belluno. Lovat’s ambition to become a priest had been thwarted because of his family’s wretched condition. He became ill ‘subject in the spring to giddiness in his head, and eruptions of a leprous appearance showed themselves on his face and hands’. The first sign of insanity appeared in July 1802, when Lovat, perhaps feeling the ‘stirrings of the flesh against the spirit’, ‘performed upon himself the most complete general amputation’– a castration – throwing ‘the parts of which he had deprived himself from his window into the street’. [Opening paragraph]

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