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«Fetal monstrosities». A comparision of evidenze in Sicily in modern age


In Sicily reflections on monsters and on ‘generative stumbles’ first appear in a treaty of the second half of the sixteenth century, containing one of the first medical-physiological descriptions of two-headed births and written in the verncular by the famous physiologist and anatomist Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia. It is a work which can be attributed to the season of excitement characterized, in the period after 1550, by an explosion of interest in teratological codification, driven by a wider taxonomic interest in the living and the inanimate, but it also contains some original features that make it a model and example of the contemporary state of the art of legal medicine, of which Ingrassia is rightly considered one of the founders. As some scholars note, the prevailing interpretation of monstrous births in this delicate moment in European history is “religious” and the close relationship with sin and morality is emphasized. This interpretation prolongs the marginalization of a medical approach to the issue, which will only begin to become dominant in the middle of the seventeenth century. It seems certain, however, that Ingrassia’s scientific treatise can not be easily classified together with other teratological descriptions of the second half of the sixteenth century. Rather, a naturalistic sensitivity emerges that is disengaged from transcendental presuppositions, and which reflects in a broad sense a medical conception based less on “cosmic causes” and more on “human and social” aspects. So, starting with an analysis of this important work by Ingrassia, this study will then draw a comparison both with contemporary teratological treatises and with subsequent thought on monstrous births in Sicily during the Enlightenment.