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Leprosy in Premodern Medicine

A Malady of the Whole Body

While premodern poets and preachers viewed leprosy as a "disease of the soul," physicians in the period understood it to be a "cancer of the whole body." In this innovative study, medical historian Luke Demaitre explores medical and social perspectives on leprosy at a time when judicious diagnosis could spare healthy people from social ostracization and help the afflicted get a license to beg.

Extending his inquiry from the first century to late in the eighteenth century, Demaitre draws on translations of academic treatises and archival records to illuminate the professional standing, knowledge, and conduct of the practitioners who struggled to move popular perceptions of leprosy beyond loathing and pity. He finds that, while not immune to social and cultural perceptions of the leprous as degenerate, and while influenced by their own fears of contagion, premodern physicians moderated society's reactions to leprosy and were dedicated to the well-being of their patients.

About the Author

Luke Demaitre is a visiting professor of history in the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Doctor Bernard de Gordon, Professor and Practitioner.

Reviews

To date, the most thorough examination of how contemporaries understood leprosy and dealt with its sufferers.

- Apria Healthcare

Demaitre's compelling work is engaging and informative... I recommend this work highly.

- Wendy J. Turner, Ph.D. - Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

Demaitre's book is a very good read not only for its information about leprosy but also for all interested in or affected by the social phenomenon of stigma.

- Karin M. Schmitt - Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine

In this meticulously researched and beautifully written study, Luke Demaitre provides a comprehensive examination of leprosy in premodern medicine.

- Rachel Scott - Spectrum: Journal of State Government

Demaitre provides a well-written, scholarly, and accessible book that affords a holistic view of leprosy in premodern medicine as seen in historical documents... This book will be an important resource particularly for medical historians and paleopathologists but will be of interest to the medical profession.

- Charlotte A. Roberts - The Historian
Johns Hopkins University Press
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