Article ID: CBB001420148

Metaphors and Images of Cancer in Early Modern Europe (2014)


Drawing on learned medical writing about cancer and on nonmedical texts that used cancer as a metaphor for hateful cultural, social, religious, or political phenomena that warranted drastic measures, this article traces the metaphors and images that framed the perception and experience of cancer in the early modern period. It finds that cancer was closely associated with notions of impurity and a visible destruction of the body's surface and was diagnosed primarily in women, as breast and uterine cancer. Putrid, corrosive cancerous humor was thought not only to accumulate and eat its way into the surrounding flesh but also to spread, like the seeds of a plant, infecting the whole body. This infectious quality, the putrid secretions, and the often horrendous smell emanating from cancer victims raised fears, in turn, of contagion and were taken to justify a separation of cancer patients from the rest of society.

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Authors & Contributors
Chemla, Karine Carole
Pantin, Isabelle
Dorofeeva-Lichtmann, Vera V.
Cahn, Michael
Clunas, Craig
Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain
Social Studies of Science
Historical Research: The Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of Medical Biography
Perspectives on Science
Kluwer Academic
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Sterling Signature
Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal
Lund University
Visual representation; visual communication
Science and art
Peurbach, Georg von
Sacrobosco, Johannes de
Poliziano, Angelo Ambrogini
Lindman, Carl Axel Magnus
More, Mary
Waller, Richard
North America
Venice (Italy)
Mediterranean region
Early modern
18th century
16th century
15th century
21st century
Royal Society of London

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