University of Cambridge > > Caius MCR/SCR research talks > John Caius and the English Sweating Sickness

John Caius and the English Sweating Sickness

Add to your list(s) Download to your calendar using vCal

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Michael Kosicki.

Amongst members of our college, Dr. John Caius (1510-1573) is best known as its second founder. He is the alumnus whose generous donations helped the college grow from Gonville Hall, small and falling into decline, into Gonville and Caius, now one of Cambridge’s largest and finest colleges, with a particular reputation for scientific and medical excellence. Yet he is also the master whose quarrels with his fellows and students have tarnished his reputation for nearly 500 years. In other aspects of his life, the picture of Caius is similarly fraught with contradictions. Some scholars accuse him of being a reactionary whose influence held back the progress of English medicine, yet others praise him as one of the greatest humanists of his day. He was mocked by William Shakespeare in Merry Wives of Windsor but described by William Bullein as “the second Linacer,” a flattering reference to the great medical humanist Thomas Linacre. His defense of physicians’ professional privileges during his time as President of the College of Physicians has been described as praiseworthy “resolute action” that protected his profession and the vulnerable populace, while others regard it as a harsh persecution of well-meaning, skilled alternative medical practitioners. Criticisms of Caius usually focus on his strict adherence to the teachings of the ancient physician Galen of Pergamum (129-c. 216). Caius’ Galenism is typically construed as static Galenism that rendered him unresponsive to medical evidence. Yet, a closer, contextualised examination of Caius and his contemporaries reveals that Caius was not an obstinate reactionary, pedantically following every Galenic dictate, but rather a learned, intelligent, nuanced scholar who aimed to adopt a Galenic methodology in both his philological and medical endeavours. In this talk, I will use Caius’ medical treatise, A boke or counseill against the disease commonly called the sweate or sweatyng sicknesse, to reveal his “learned empiricism,” his deft synthesis of theoretical, textual knowledge with observational evidence. Through this, he consciously emulated the empiricism of Galen. A close examination of Caius’ Counseill further rehabilitates his reputation by demonstrating his sincere concern for all victims and potential victims of the Sweating Sickness, noble and poor alike. This talk will thus discuss an important sixteenth-century medical text and an enigmatic epidemic disease, but will also serve as an opportunity to lionise Caius, whose work on the Sweat deserves recognition and praise.

This talk is part of the Caius MCR/SCR research talks series.

Tell a friend about this talk:

This talk is included in these lists:

Note that ex-directory lists are not shown.


© 2006-2024, University of Cambridge. Contact Us | Help and Documentation | Privacy and Publicity