Pox pain and redeeming narratives in Renaissance Europe
The pox, which appeared in Europe at the end of the 15th century, was known for the symptomatic pain it caused. Many invalids set about narrating their sufferings in the first person, weaving the threads of autopathography, in particular Ser Tommasso di Silvestro (1482–1514), the German humanist Joseph Grünpeck (c. 1473–c. 1532) and the Reformed knight Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523). Those authors, who were not physicians and had more or less antagonistic relationships with them, contributed in their own way to the rise of the notion of <i>historia</i> in the 16th century. Their texts offer a choice object to both historians of literature and historians of medicine who have become interested in the point of view of the patient, a long neglected protagonist in traditional historiography. This chapter sets out to examine the underlying enunciative and phenomenological issues at stake in this subjective expression of pain, shifting from the physician’s point of view, which includes the patient’s account in the production of the diagnosis (La Martinière), to the story told by the sympathetic friend castigating Dame Pox (Habert) and finally to the patient’s self-observation (Grünpeck, Von Hutten). Finally, the rhetorical, therapeutic and epistemological functions of the narrative of suffering will be examined, narrative being defined, in Paul Ricoeur’s (1983) sense, as a “work of synthesis,” a process of “synthesis of the heterogeneous,” that is to say a logical and chronological ordering of different actions and events both relating to the patients’ organic lives and to their existence in the world. Narrating necessarily involves describing, and indeed the description of symptoms is a pivotal moment in autopathographic works in which the order of discourse compensates for the unclear experience of symptoms by reorganizing it through the use of sensationalist rhetorical amplification.