4. A Digital Exploration of 16th-Century Heretical Networks in the Italian Medical Context: Methodological Challenges and Research Perspectives
Duke: Duke University Press
JOURNAL OF INTERDISCIPLINARY HISTORY OF IDEAS
0 - Section 3: Notes - A Digital Exploration of 16th-Century Heretical Networks in the Italian Medical Context Methodological Challenges and Research Perspectives by Alessandra Celati
Volume 7 Issue 14
c b a
Volume 7 Issue 14
Section 1: Editorials
1. Editorial (JIHI)
Section 2: Articles
2. L?Antiquit? tardive ? l??preuve du genre (S. Kerneis)
3. Condorcet, Kelsen et la r?gle de majorit? (P. Pasquino)
Section 3: Notes
4. A Digital Exploration of 16t?-Century
Networks in the Italian Medical Context:
ological Challenges and Research
Section 4: Reviews
5. Book Reviews (R. Soliani, L. Randone, E. Pasini)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Digital Exploration of 16th-Century Heretical
Networks in the Italian Medical Context
Methodological Challenges and Research Perspectives *
Alessandra Celati **
After the Reformation began in 1517, Protestant ideas soon crossed the Alps and
spread out of Italian cities, fascinating (especially, but not exclusively) the
humanists and scholars who were part of the late-Renaissance intellectual environment. In
particular, between the 1530s and the 1590s a great number of Italian physicians
absorbed, promoted, and re-elaborated, often in radical terms, the reformed and
heretical discourse. In this article I am presenting some research perspectives and
methodological challenges concerning the application of social network research
and digital humanities tools to the history of 16 t?-century religious dissent. In
particular, I will discuss and examine the reconstruction, out of a sample of 200 cases,
of a network of dissident physicians who faced religious repression and opposed
dogmatic confessional boundaries in Italy, and in their European diaspora, as a
part of my own ongoing interdisciplinary research.
* Acknowledgments : I want to thank Prof. Massimo Firpo, Prof. Federico Barbierato and Prof. Luca
Addante for their comments on this article. The research carried out for this paper has received
funding from the ?European Union?s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme? under the
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action, Grant Agreement 748645 ? NETDIS.
** Stanford University (alessandra.celati83 @ gmail.com ).
Journal of Interdisciplinary History of Ideas 7(2018), 14, p. 4 :1?4:47. Peer-reviewed.
1. Introduction: social network analysis, digital humanities
research and historical studies
In this paper I will discuss potentials and limitations in the application of
social network research and digital humanities tools to the study of early modern
religious dissent. I shall do so by firstly considering the theoretical and
methodological aspects of this kind of approach, and secondly showing how the latter
can be applied to a specific case-study, which comes from my ongoing research:
a network of dissident physicians in the Confessional age. I will finally
summarize my conclusions and suggest some further research perspectives.
?In the most basic sense, a network is any collection of objects in which some
pairs of these objects are connected by links??. Network analysis focuses on
some nodes, that is to say the people/objects that populate the network and their
attributes (such as gender, education, class, age, capacity, etc.), and some edges,
that is to say the connections that link nodes together, and their classification.
In this flexible definition, it is implicit how the concept of network could be
applied to a wide range of situations. Whenever objects stand in relation to
one another, we could think of these relationships in a networked perspective.
Networks composed by words, concepts, places and various kind of objects,
besides people, operate at a social, intellectual, epistemic, scientific or spatial
level?. Hence, a network-based methodology can be exploited by scholars in all
fields in the humanities, not exclusively by sociologists.
In particular, individuals connected by one or more social relationships form
a social network , whether these relationships are the result of a conscious choice,
or are developed by chance (as it happens, for instance, in the case of
familial kinships). Social network research focuses on the origins, functioning,
consequences and meaning of the social relationships that tie individuals, rather
than on the individuals themselves. These ties can be of different kind: more
or less conscious, frequent, formal, affect-laden, utilitarian, etc. Social network
analysts examine the pattern, content, weight/intensity and direction of these
? David Easley, Jon Kleinberg, Networks, Crowds and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected
World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 2.
? On the multiple potential applications of network analysis see Albert-L?sl? Barab?si, Network
Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
interactions, by identifying the type of relationship that occurs within and
between social units?. Such relationships constitute the basic elements of a
structure , which could be examined through statistical and mathematical procedures
aimed at measuring the relative centrality of the different members of the
network?. The social network approach is grounded in the assumption that reality
is relational, that social relationships shape the context in which individual
action is made possible, and that the pattern that these relationships produce has
important consequences for those actors?.
Social networks have always been operating in complex societies. Indeed,
they can be thought of as a crucial characteristic of the life in the past, probably
even more so than in our own society?regardless of the revival of the concept
of network that has recently invested both the public and the academic
discourse (as a consequence of the success of digital social networks platforms like
Facebook or Twitter ), and which has been defined as ?the relational turn??. We
? The content of a tie refers to the meaning that one individual involved in the network gives to his
or her relationships, on the basis of the interest or goal that the individual nourishes in cultivating
those ties; intensity is a parameter applied to inquiry into the sense of social responsibility that
the fact of being involved in one specific tie produces on one given individual; direction indicates
whether the interaction takes place moving from one person to another, or is mutual. Federica
Ruspio, ?Network analysis e microstoria: il caso della nazione portoghese?, in Microstoria. A
venticinque anni dall?eredit? immateriale , ed. Paola Lanaro (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2011), 143; Reed E.
Nelson, ?The Strength of Strong Ties: Social Networks and Intergroup Conflict in Organizations?,
The Academy of Management Journal 32, no. 2 (1989): 380.
? Linton C. Freeman, The Development of Social Network Analysis . A Study in the Sociology of Science
(Vancouver: Empirical Press, 2004), 2.
? The concepts of network and network analysis arose between the 1950s and the 1960s, due to the
initiative of a group of British social anthropologists from the School of Cambridge, who rejected
the structural paradigm (and its interpretation of society as essentially static) as inappropriate to
describe large and complex communities. Instead, in their approach they emphasized themes like
change, discontinuity and conflict, proposing the idea that reality is fluid and unstable. In particular,
reality needs to be examined historically, and history is the result of the set of connections that
took place in the past. Fortunata Piselli, ?Il network sociale nell?analisi del potere e dei processi
politici?, Stato e Mercato 50, no. 2 (1997): 288-289; Federica Ruspio, ?Network analysis e microstoria:
il caso della nazione portoghese?, in Microstoria. A venticinque anni dall?eredit? immateriale , ed.
Paola Lanaro (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2011), 133.
? Claire Lemercier, ?Formal network methods in history: why and how??, Social Networks, Political
Institutions, and Rural Societies , Brepols (2015), 281-310, 978-2-503-54804-3, 3, online version visited
on Sept. 30, 2018. It is indicative of this historiographical shift: Niall Ferguson, The Square and Tower:
Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (New York: Penguin Press, 2018). This book
4 : 3
can speak about social networks any time individuals provide each other with
practical support, in a more or less formal and structured way. Social network
analyses can also be carried out upon groups who exchange goods, money, and
other items. Furthermore, we can think in terms of networks when we want to
deal with people who share, or facilitate by means of a collective effort, the
circulation of ideas, information and knowledge, through letters, conversations or
other forms of interaction?. With this in mind, social, cultural and economic
historians, micro-historians, historical demographists and political scientists with
an interest in past societies have long, more or less formally and explicitly,
exploited historical records in order to examine communities of people all over the
world under the light of social networks?. In this article I will try to contribute
to such a historiographical approach, by showing that the understanding of
historical networks can be useful when one deals with intellectual history too,
provided that the latter is conceived of as ?the study of historical actors whose
ideas derive from the interaction of different contexts??.
reinterprets the whole history of humanity under the light of networks.
? Simone Testa, Italian Academies and their Networks, 1525-1700. From Local to Global (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 7.
? I will not attempt to provide a complete display of this kind of works, and I will just mention
some of the most significant: Alan Macfarlane, Sarah Harrison and Charles Jardine, Reconstructing
Historical Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Natalie Zemon Davis, ?The
Sacred and the Social Body in Sixteenth-Century Lyon?, Past & Present 90, no. 1 (Feb 1981): 40?70;
John F. Padgett and Christopher K. Ansell, ?Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400-1434?,
American Journal of Sociology 98, no. 6 (May, 1993): 1259-1319; Roger V. Gould, Insurgent
Identities: Class, Community, and Protest in Paris from 1848 to the Commune (Chicago?London: Chicago
University Press, 1995); Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora,
Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2009); Tijl Vanneste, Global Trade and Commercial Networks: Eighteenth-Century
Diamond Merchants (London?New York, Routledge, 2011); Georg Fertig, ed., Social Networks, Political
Institutions, and Rural Societies (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). The debate about the application of
social network analysis to historical research is still lively: an interesting venue for this kind of
discussion was recently provided by the conference Reconstructing Historical Networks Digitally, New
Approaches, Opportunities and Epistemological Implications of Social Network Analysis , held October
25-27, 2018 at the German Historical Institute, Washington.
? Manuela Albertone, Enrico Pasini, ?Editorial?, History of European Ideas 40, no. 4 (2014): 452,
available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01916599.2013.826433, visited on Nov.
10, 2018. For an introduction to the application of network research to intellectual history, and its
value, see Rachel Midura, ?Conceptualizing Knowledge Networks: Agents and Patterns of ?Flow??,
in Empires of Knowledge, ed. Paula Findlen (New York: Routledge, 2018).
But how can social network analysis count as a relevant scientific paradigm,
when applied outside social sciences? The question is not rhetorical, and in the
application of network analysis to historical studies some methodological
remarks are necessary. Networks did exist in the past, but their structure,
building mechanisms, function and functioning changed across cultures and over
different historical periods and circumstances. For this reason, when trying to
reconstruct historical networks, it is crucial to take into consideration the
precise context in which the networks were shaped. In other words, when defining
the very research question that we want to tackle by attempting to reconstruct
networks; when classifying the properties of nodes and edges; and when
examining the network itself, we need to have in mind the political, cultural and
social historical background. While this is true in all the scholarly examinations
which want to draw from social network research, it becomes especially urgent
in the case of historical studies, where a qualitative approach needs to remain
essential. In the historical field, the understanding of social networks has to be
thought of as subsidiary method, although useful?.
Moreover, in order to make network analysis relevant to historical research,
one needs to interpret the regular interaction among actors in an ?abstract? way.
The task of the social network historian is to focus on the patterns produced by
some meaningful ties (whose content and other characteristics we have
previously defined in a standardized way), carefully considering their origins and
change in response to external events?. In this process, abstraction is
indispensable. When working on historical networks, we do not try to reconstruct reality
as a whole (which would be impossible and not really scientifically relevant): as
sociologists would put it, the network is not the picture. What we do is defining
connections in order to study their configuration, interpreting them in order to
produce a specific representation of the historical reality, relevant to answer our
? This is the reason why in my research I have not attempted a formal/statistical application of
social network analysis and prefer to integrate such an approach within a more ?qualitative? discourse
(the same is also due to the fact that my sample is not large enough to justify a strictly
mathematical approach). This does not mean that I use the word network in merely metaphorical terms. I
do think, with Lemercier, that social network analysis should be considered in its epistemological
specificity and that the term network refers to a conceptually dense construct, as I am trying to
show in this introduction. See Lemercier, Formal Networks , 3.
? Ivi, 8.
4 : 5
research question. As it is implicit in such an approach, ?the reduction of the
data comes at a price?, no matter how uncertain, unique, and open to
interpretation are the data that humanists, by definition, deal with?. The necessity to treat
these data in an abstract and standardized manner needs to be strictly combined
with the qualitative aspects of the analysis: only in this way, the understanding
of historical networks can be fruitful for historians, allowing them to connect
the general and the individual, the micro and the macro levels of the analysis.
Finally, historical networks can only be reconstructed by mapping the social
connections implicated in the sources. The dependence on the sources is both
the strength and the weak point of historical network research. As all historians
know, archival sources are often fragmented and incomplete, and their
reliability is always affected by the biases of the institution/actor that produced them.
However, as Lemercier has explained, ?we should not overestimate the easiness
of the task of asking people about their relationships: sociologists, as ourselves,
although for different reasons, hardly ever get ?complete information???. On the
contrary, once clearly stated that sources are not complete, and that the network
is not the picture, we can exploit historical documents ?to observe traces of
actual exchange and interaction of various sorts, not only consciously designed
discourses on social relationships??.
In the past, as much as in the present, the production of a network is the
result of collective or individual strategies, which aim, more or less consciously,
at creating or reproducing social relationships that are useful and usable?. From
this perspective, the reconstruction and examination of historical networks is
a relevant tool in the hands of historians. By examining the interactivity
between ties and attributes, and between historical frames and the actual
existence of communities in the past, we can investigate the result of specific social
mechanisms, such as trust, cooperation, circulation of goods/knowledge, social
4 : 6
Network analysis needs the aid of sophisticated technological tools for data
visualization. Today, this is made possible thanks to the use of advanced
platforms for the representation of networks and the exploration of historical data,
such as Stanford Palladio , Gephi, Nodegoat , or ENA (Epistemic Network
Analysis), just to mention some of them?. These differently customized ?digital
humanities tools? provide a synoptic representation of a given relational
phenomenon and, in so doing, they make observable some aspects of the research
topic otherwise not examinable. The expression digital humanities refers to the
interaction between computational methods and humanistic research. This
discipline (or is it rather a methodology?) moved its first steps in the early 1970s,
thrived between the late 1980s and the start of the 21?? century, and is today
established in the American academic context, progressively gaining relevance
in the European one. The core aspect of digital humanities is the possibility
to carry out textual, spatial or (as in our case) network analysis out of a large
amount of data, which are interconnected and can be examined as such. In so
doing, digital humanities allow one to reconstruct and visualize networks
thoroughly. They represent the density and scale of networks, they expose
anomalies and interruptions within them, they help the researcher to individuate
people and sources that require more research, and they dig up micro-histories
from the past that we may have overlooked?. Digital humanities research
indeed has both descriptive and heuristic values. The chance to concretely
visualize the interconnections among big data illustrates expected patterns as much
as it makes emerge surprising facts. Moreover, the very process of modelling
our data for the visualization compels us to look closely at the information we
have, resulting in ?numerous silent corrections to minor errors, assumptions
that have solidified into facts, and other problems that arise when we take
information for granted??. Applying a digital perspective to the historical analysis
can therefore help to test hypothesis, correct biases and formulate new research
questions. Without necessarily producing revolutionary results, this kind of
ap? Palladio and Gephi, in particular, are the tools that I have used to produce the visualisations
shown in the related section of this article.
? Giovanna Ceserani, Caroline Winterer, Dan Edelstein, Paula Findlen, Nicole Coleman,
?Historical Research in a Digital Age: Reflections from the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project?, The
American Historical Review 122, no. 2 (Apr. 2017), 10.
? Ivi, 9.
4 : 7
proach adds a quantitative, hands-on, relational perspective to the qualitative
one and, in so doing, allows to refine, deepen, confirm or refute insights that
scholars within a given field of studies have put forward over time?. One could
argue that historical sources have a complicated nature and hinder a perfect
reconstruction of social or intellectual relationships. However, this is both a
challenge and an opportunity for digital humanities, whose aim, when applied to
social network research, is to understand a given configuration of relationships
as much as to expose incongruities within it. Being an exploratory
methodology, the results produced through digital humanities visualizations should not
be intended as definitive. They are mainly supposed to orient investigation and
always require further verification, to be performed by carefully re-examining
In the next pages I shall present part of my own ongoing research, in order
to discuss practical functioning, potential and limitation of the application of
social network analysis and digital humanities tools to a historical early modern
case-study: a network of unorthodox physicians in the confessional age.
2. Historical problem, sources and methodology
As Inquisition records show, right when the peninsula was the torchbearer
for medical research, it was experiencing the most turbulent phase in its
religious history and many Italian physicians absorbed and promoted heretical
doctrines. During the Renaissance, the epistemological boundaries of disciplines
of knowledge were not as sharp as they became after the Scientific
Revolution. In particular, medicine and religion were, in many respects, strongly
interconnected. It is therefore arguable that, in times of intellectual crisis, the
turmoil which was occurring within one field could affect the other.
Considering this, it is worth examining the intersection between the scientific and the
religious, choosing Italian physicians as the primary characters of study. Why
were physicians so exposed to the influence of the Reformation? And what
effects did this interaction have, in terms of the development of scientific and
In order to answer these questions, in the last few years I have been
working on a database which records as many cases of religiously dissident
physicians as I could find by searching archives and studying the scholarly literature.
The database takes into consideration entries like: the date and place of birth
of heretical physicians; the places where they accomplished their education
and where they worked as physicians; the year of any Inquisition trials (and,
where appropriate, the result of the trial, namely recantation or prison/death
sentence); their possible religionis causa migration; the type of non-Catholic
religious doctrine they embraced; and the type of medical approach they
developed. From the examination and comparison of the cases collected in this
database, I have been able to put forward some preliminary conclusions on
the relationship between medicine and heresy, describing some general trends?.
This database still constitutes the main source material for my current project.
So far, I have found evidence of 200 Italian physicians who, over the course
of the 16?? century, grew distant from conventional Roman Catholicism.
Particularly useful in this reconstruction have been the very large and important
trials, now published, that took place in the 1550s and 1560s. In this phase,
important characters of the Italian religious dissent were brought before the
Inquisition?. Through their depositions they provided information about the
? Alessandra Celati, ?Medici ed eresie nel Cinquecento italiano? (PhD diss., University of Pisa,
2016); Alessandra Celati, ?A Peculiar Reformed Minority: Italian Protestant Physicians between
Religious Propaganda, Inquisition Repression and Freedom of Thought?, in Reformed Majorities and
Minorities, Confessional Boundaries and Contested Identities , eds. Simon Burton, Micha? Choptiany
and Piotr Wilczek (forthcoming).
? These important historical sources have been edited and published: Massimo Firpo and Dario
Marcatto, eds., Il processo inquisitoriale del Cardinal Giovanni Morone. Nuova edizione critica, voll.
I-III (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011-2015); Eidem, I processi inquisitoriali di Pietro
Carnesecchi, 1557-1567: Il processo sotto Pio V, 1566-1567 , voll. 1-3 (Rome: Archivio Segreto Vaticano,
2000); Eidem, I processi inquisitoriali di Vittore Soranzo: (1550-1558 ), vol. 1 (Rome: Archivio Segreto
Vaticano, 2004); Carlo Ginzburg, I costituti di Don Pietro Manelfi (Florence?Chicago: Sansoni?The
4 : 9
people involved in the spread and promotion of heterodoxy. The data drawn
from these trials, along with the names provided during his interrogatories by
Girolamo Donzellini, the first case-study I analyzed in my research (and whom
I am going to address in the next section), were originally the core of my
sample. The latter was progressively enriched by the study of a great amount of
further historiography on the Italian Reformation. As far as original sources
are concerned, I searched the Inquisition archives in Milan, Trent, Pisa, Belluno
and above all Venice. Indeed, at the point when I had collected 140 cases of
dissident physicians, I noticed that almost half of them had been working, for at
least some time, in Venice. I therefore decided to focus the research especially
on the Republic of Venice (whose Inquisition archive is the richest in Italy) and
I studied all the Inquisition trials held in Venice between 1543 and 1575. This
ongoing work increased the sample with many more cases.
Regarding the sample, some clarifications are necessary. First of all, I need to
point out that the category ?heretical/dissident physicians? can be misleading,
and I am just using it as a comfortable synthesis to refer to a more complex
phenomenon?. Many and varied were the non-conformist religious views which
these physicians embraced, many were the ways they approached medicine:
trying to pigeonhole them under the same label might yield a superficial
representation of quite a multifaceted historical phenomenon. It is also necessary
to point out that I am not just dealing with characters who were put on trial by
the Inquisition, because I think that being on trial is not a sufficient research
criterion. On the one hand, many physicians were never brought before the
Inquisitors, although they were mentioned as ?heretics in other people?s trials or
migrated abroad religionis causa; on the other hand, many of those who were
indeed tried were not entirely aware that their search for personal theological
solutions had crossed the line. Since my work aims to provide a first
recognition of the religious dissent in the Italian medical context, I think that it is
relevant to consider in the database both the cases of those who were indeed tried
Newberry Library, 1970).
? In particular, in this article I am adopting a fluid usage of the terms ?heretic?, ?heretical?, and
?heresy?, as well as ?dissident? and ?religious dissent?. I consider these terms as synonyms, which
can be applied to a wide range of unorthodox positions and experiences related to the questioning
of the Roman Church authority and to the promotion of an alternative religious discourse (in some
cases, not reducible to the Protestant Reformation either).
and of those who were not, but whose criticism against the Roman Church is
documented. The scenario of the so-called Italian Reformation was multiform,
and it can?t be analyzed following a strict dogmatic approach: the very charge
of ?Lutheranism? addressed by the Inquisitors to the accused does not imply a
specific confessional connotation. The lack of any institutional guiding
reference in the doctrinal and ecclesiological debate and the clandestine nature of
the theological elaboration and propaganda resulted in the weakness of the
reformed movement but, simultaneously, it guaranteed a great chance to develop
independent religious views?. Physicians played a major role in this process?.
Moreover, I have only chosen characters whose professional and religious
experience took place in the first century of the Reformation and the last
century of medical humanism, before the Scientific Revolution: that is to say in the
16?? century. The challenge is to focus on the slippery times in which medicine
was swinging between the reliance on the auctoritas and the personal search
for independent solutions, between the critical reading of the ancients and the
elaboration of new methodological and epistemological grounds?. It is not
possible to go into this topic here, but, as it is well known, during the 16?? century,
Italian universities were the center of the reformation of medicine?. Also, the
subjects that were being discussed there, above all the debate about the
destiny of the individual soul and Pomponazzi?s reading of Aristotle, contributed
to the radicalization of intellectual elaborations and epitomized the most fertile
ground for the rise in interest in non-conventional theological speculations. At
the same time, in the humanistic age, the rediscovery of Galenism emphasized
the link between body and soul and stressed the philosophical sides of the
med? It is not possible to sum up here the complex theme of the specificity of the ?Italian Reformation?,
in its relationship with the political, institutional, economical and religious situation of the
Peninsula. For an introduction to this subject see Massimo Firpo, Riforma Protestante ed eresia nell?Italia
del Cinquecento (Rome?Bari: Laterza, 1993).
? Alessandra Celati, ?Heretical Physicians in Sixteenth-Century Italy: The Fortunes of Girolamo
Massari, Guglielmo Grataroli, and Teofilo Panarelli?, Society and Politics 12, no. 1 (2018): 11-31,
available at http://hdl.handle.net/11562/987411, visited on Nov. 4, 2018.
? On the renewal of the epistemological and methodological grounds of medicine in the early
modern age see Simone Mammola, La ragione e l?incertezza. Filosofia e medicina nella prima et?
moderna (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2012).
? Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of Italian Renaissance (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2002).
4 : 11
ical profession. This encouraged physicians to administer remedies to both the
bodies and to the souls of their patients and stimulated a personal and rational
inquiry into the sacred. From there to the conscious embracing of heretical
positions the step was short. Moreover, in the 16?? century, the crisis of the Catholic
Church and the advent of the Protestant Reformation resulted in the particular
urgency with which men and women felt the theme of personal salvation. This
explains the liveliness of the theological debate even among illiterate people.
We can imagine, and it is confirmed by historical sources, that this was even
more the case among men of culture. If we are to investigate the relation
between early modern medicine and the Reformation, we must therefore focus
on the 16?? century. Considering this, it?s easy to understand why the dates of
birth of the figures I am analyzing only fall between 1470 and 1564?.
While there were certainly theoretical and methodological connections
between late-Renaissance medicine and 16??-century heretical thought,
Inquisition sources also show the social importance that physicians had in early
modern society and which made them significant actors in the heretical movement.
When in 1560, the physician Girolamo Donzellini defended himself in front of
the Venetian Inquisition, he stated that his medical profession had put him in
touch ?with all sorts of people, especially those who are learned and literate??.
According to Donzellini, men of culture were particularly inclined to absorb
and promote reformed and heretical doctrines. No wonder that, as a
physician and a humanist, he had found himself involved in a dense network of
religious dissenters. Although we can certainly think that Donzellini?s statement
was instrumental in his defense, these 16??-century physicians were indeed part
? The first physician to be interested in the Reformation I have found evidence of is Girolamo
Buonagrazia, born in Florence in 1470 and brought before the Inquisition for ?Lutheranism? in 1531, see
Domizia Weber, ?Girolamo Buonagrazia tra conformismo e dissenso?, in Girolamo Buonagrazia,
De provisione et cura morborum pestilentialum , eds. Barbara Maria Affolter and Laura Rossi
(Florence: Arciconfraternita della Misericordia, 2015), 33-38. The youngest physician whose heterodox
religious experience still took place in the 16?? -century was Giuseppe Perrotta, born in
Frattamaggiore, in the area of Naples, in 1564 and specialised in surgery; he was put on trial for having
developed a dangerous interest in reading Jewish books, see Pierroberto Scaramella, Inquisizioni,
eresie, etnie, dissenso religioso e giustizia ecclesiastica in Italia (secc. XVI-XVIII) (Bari: Cacucci, 2005),
? Archivio di Stato di Venezia (hereafter ASV), Sant?Uffizio, Processi, Contro Girolamo Donzellini ,
Busta (hereafter Bu.) 39, 48v.
of a European community of humanists, who corresponded about knowledge
and discoveries and travelled between confessional zones. They were also
involved in other forms of networking, especially at an underground level. When
a heretical group arose, I have found that there was often a physician leading it.
Physicians exchanged and smuggled prohibited books, they dealt with heretical
propaganda, they explained the meaning of the Scriptures to less learned
members of heretical cliques and, in some cases, they published works in defense
of religious peace, exploiting their international connections. In so doing, these
oddly central figures contributed to the growth of what I call a ?network of
dissent physicians?, whose reconstruction has never been attempted. Through
the network analysis I enact as part of my current research project, I precisely
want to visualize and examine the contexts, practices, and patterns of
connection relating to humanistic heretical doctors. What did they share in terms of
knowledge, readings, religious attitude, and/or social practice? How did social
dynamics interfere with their religious choices? And did these secret ties
provide doctors with the ground for the development of further discussions and
experimentation in science and religion?
Historians of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation have long implicitly
relied on the concept of networks in order to examine heretical biographies of
important figures in the history of 16??-century religious dissent. Since the
pioneering work of Delio Cantimori in 1939, historians have studied the experience
of Italian heretics by examining the originality of the ideas that they brought
about and the influence that humanistic culture exerted on those ideas. They
have also often taken into consideration how such ideas circulated through
religious and intellectual connections, being aware that personal interactions
constituted an essential aspect in the promotion and perpetuation of religious
dissent?. In spite of this awareness, they have adopted the concept of network
? See for instance: Delio Cantimori, Eretici Italiani del Cinquecento. Ricerche storiche (Florence:
Sansoni, 1939); Adriano Prosperi, L?eresia del Libro Grande. Storia di Giorgio Siculo e della sua setta
(Milan: Feltrinelli, 2000); Antonio Rotond?, Studi di storia ereticale del Cinquecento (Florence: L.S.
Olschki, 2008); Luca Addante, Eretici e libertini nel Cinquecento italiano (Rome - Bari: Laterza, 2011);
Massimo Firpo, Valdesiani e Spirituali. Studi sul Cinquecento religioso italiano (Rome: Edizioni Storia
e Letteratura, 2013). Within the history of Italian religious dissent, the micro-historical works by
Carlo Ginzburg have led the way to historiographical approaches more and more engaged with a
meticulous reconstruction of contexts and the emphasis on the individual scale. Micro-history and
4 : 13
(rete ; rete ereticale ) allegorically and instrumentally, referring to this concept
in a generic way, to point out religious affinities and interactions within the
Reformation world, and without fully exploiting its potential. As a result, they
have never attempted to thoroughly reconstruct heretical networks within a
specific geographical or social context, nor have they ever tried to visualize
them. Scholars? skepticism is partly due to the very nature of early modern
sources, which are all too often incomplete, fragmented, and hence generally
considered inappropriate for an examination based on historical networks, as I
have anticipated in the first section of this paper. Moreover, especially within
Italian historiography, this skepticism has been reinforced by a preference for
the history of ideas, that has produced crucial studies, but which has especially
focused on the philological, theoretical (and in this case theological) aspects of
the historical analysis, while neglecting the social ones.
Although I understand intellectual scholars? concerns, when considering how
crucial the social dimension was in the medical profession (and in the
Reformation movement), I think that it can be worthwhile to try to include a
social perspective within the history of ideas. In particular, mapping the
circulation of ideas, by visualizing?through digital humanities tools?the networks
that heretical physicians shaped, can contribute to put in context major
historiographical categories like Reformation, Confessionalization, Renaissance
medicine, etc.?. Building on the excellent results produced by intellectual
historians in the field of 16??-century religious dissent, my research incorporates
some of the insights which come from new methodologies (such as digital
humanities and historical social network analysis) and from innovative
historiographical approaches, like connected history or histoire crois?e ?which in turn
draw from social sciences and adopt a relational perspective in the
investigahistorical social network research are, indeed, highly compatible. Carlo Ginzbug, Il formaggio e i
vermi (Turin: Einaudi, 1976); Ruspio, ?Network analysis e microstoria?.
? This methodological shift has been inspired by some recent works, which rely on a
networkoriented methodology to inquiry into religious or intellectual history, such as: Ole Peter Grell,
Brethren in Christ: A Calvinist Network in Reformation Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2011); Simone Testa, Italian Academies and their Networks, 1525-1700. From Local to Global
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Vivienne Larminie, Huguenot Networks, 1560?1780. The
Interactions and Impact of a Protestant Minority in Europe (New York and London: Routledge, 2018); Ruth
Ahnert, Sebastian E. Ahnert, ?Protestant Letters Networks in the Reign of Mary I: A Quantitative
Approach?, English Literary History 82, no. 1 (2015): 1-33.
tion of practical and intellectual inter-crossings, over different ages and spaces?.
Choosing to focus on individuals and their strategies, identifying connections
and interactions on different levels (intellectual, social, geographical, etc.) and
thoroughly contextualizing actors, objects, and practices, such an
interdisciplinary approach can help to bring about ?a ?total? but also a ?situated? history?
of religious dissent?.
For this kind of work, my main sources are Inquisition trials, especially from
the Venetian archive. These records allow one to depict dissenters? daily life in
its dynamic aspects, providing information on who the members of the
heretical circles were, what books they read, where they used to gather, what kind
of heretical activity they performed together, etc.?. In addition to Inquisition
sources, I consider, when available, private correspondence, books written by
physicians (dedications and quotes), common memberships in
Academies?important hotspots for the circulation of non-conformist ideas?, notary sources
and documents related to the medical activity carried out in Italian cities. By
organizing the information abstracted from different kind of sources into
significant spreadsheet cells, which communicate with each other and are set
according to categories and attributes previously established as relevant for my
research question, I try to ?translate? my sources into a new representation,
bringing together social, intellectual, and religious aspects.
Close and distant reading between the sources and the visualization, and
circularity between the micro and macro historical levels of the analysis, are at
the core of my work?.
Having described sample, methodology and sources, I shall now present a
few case-studies from my work-in-progress research.
? Michael Werner, B?n?dicte Zimmermann, ?Beyond Comparison: Histoire Crois?e and the
Challenge of Reflexivity?, History and Theory 45, no. 1 (2006): 30-50. Caroline Douki, Philippe Minard,
?Histoire globale, histoires connect?es: un changement d??chelle historiographique? Introduction?,
Revue d?histoire moderne et contemporaine 5, no. 54-4bis (2007): 7-21. https://www.cairn.
on Nov. 27, 2018.
? Ibid., 15.
? Silvana Seidel Menchi, Erasmo in Italia, 1520-1580 (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1987), 14.
? I borrow this expression from Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (London?New York: Verso, 2013).
4 : 15
3. A network of dissident physicians
While it is certainly valuable to picture the overall network of medical
religious dissent, in this paper I shall first focus on an ?ego-network perspective?,
in order to provide an examination of the phenomenon that is as detailed as
possible and to better describe the methodology. Then in the final part of this
section, I will attempt a broader reconstruction.
An ego-network perspective requires one to choose particular figures and
to reconstruct their entire networks out of different sources. If we limit the
focus of the inquiry to heretical ties, we could potentially commit the same
mistake as the Inquisitors, reducing the 16??-century doctors involved in the
heretical movement to a stereotypical representation. In order to avoid this, in
the next pages I will provide an analytical examination of three case-studies,
by combining Inquisition sources with other kind of records that can tell us
more about the social and professional dimensions in which an alleged heretical
doctor was involved. In order to put the history of religious dissent in context,
I have first chosen three physicians in my database, who were active in Venice
in the mid-16??-century, were involved in a dense set of social and intellectual
relationships and are particularly well-documented. I have then reconstructed
their ego-networks, out of different records, and I have finally compared the
cases and overlapped the visualizations, in order to evaluate what these
samplephysicians shared in terms of religious accomplices, social strategy, medical
attitudes and religious and philosophical leanings. A microscopic description
of non-conformist medical circles in a city which was a major crossroad and
was considered the ?gateway? of the Reformation in Italy?.
? On the Reformation movement in Venice see John Martin, Venice?s Hidden Enemies, Italian
Heretics in a Renaissance City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
3.1. Girolamo Donzellini?s ego-network
The first case-study is that of the above-mentioned doctor Girolamo
Donzellini?. Born in 1513, Donzellini was a well-respected Italian physician, involved
in the heretical movement and in the smuggling of prohibited books for almost
50 years. Put on trial by the Inquisition 5 times, Donzellini was sentenced to
death in 1587. The minutes of his trials and his correspondence with Protestant
humanists such as Theodor Zwinger and Joachim Camerarius, along with the
medical and philosophical books he published, allow us to depict the experience
of a dissident physician in great detail. In particular, the abundance of sources
concerning Donzellini enables one to reconstruct his network over a wide range
of time, which in turn highlights how a dissident doctor reshaped his role in the
heretical movement as a result of external events.
In the case of Donzellini, as much as in that of the other networks I am
reconstructing, I am applying the following pattern: I define and examine the
nodes from the point of view of their profession, since I am especially
interested in understanding the social profile of heretical physicians? connections,
and/or from the point of view of their gender (occasionally I consider the
scientific/philosophical or religious attitude of nodes). As for the edges, I have set
them according to either the place in which the connection took place (in fact
in the history of the Italian Reformation the choice to operate in one specific
city/country can potentially reveal specific religious trends), or the ?category? of
the relationship, which defines the content of the interaction (heresy; medicine;
healing; patronage, etc.?most of the time, the ?category? is a combination of
these classifications as I shall soon explain).
? On the biography of Donzellini as a heretical physician see in particular: Ann Jacobson
Schutte, entry ?Girolamo Donzellini?, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 41 (Rome: Istituto
dell?Enciclopedia Italiana, 1992), available online at http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/
girolamo-donzellini_(Dizionario-Biografico)/, visited on Nov. 28, 2018; Palmer Richard,
?Physicians and the Inquisition in Sixteenth-Century Venice: The Case of Girolamo Donzellini?, in
Medicine and the Reformation , ed. Ole Peter Grell and Andrew Cunningham (London?New York:
Routledge, 1993), 118-133.
4 : 17
The first visualization shows the breadth of the network that a heretical
physician could develop in 16??-century Italy?. Furthermore, the variety of the
professions of the nodes (labelled next to the nodes? names) shows the
network?s complexity, suggesting a rather eclectic social strategy in Donzellini?s
experience. Donzellini could initiate relationships with the most important
political figures of his time (even with the Emperor Ferdinand I), but he was also in
touch with clergymen, quacks, printers, and an alleged witch (Laura Malipiero),
whom he healed in prison.
Moreover, as this detail of the network shows, a heretical kind of tie often
overlapped with a different kind of tie.
? In this first case (as much as in figures 12 and 13), the visualization is meant, in particular, to
provide the scale of the network. See the detailed picture below (Fig. 2) for a better readability of
the composition and nature of Donzellini?s network.
After reconstructing the ego-networks, I have combined them. Even if there is
no evidence that these three doctors, who operated in the Republic of Venice in
the same period, knew each other, they had enough in common to be considered
as part of the same network. In particular, the intersection between the three
networks has suggested to me what I think can be a fruitful research line.
Some of the contacts that these physicians had in common were scholars,
writers, and alchemists, involved in a scientific and spiritual programme, which
conceived of the universe as animated by the spirit of God and thought of man
as the privileged creature able to unveil the hidden sympathies between
microcosm and macrocosm, man and God, Creation and Creator. A programme
which engaged in the disclosure of the secrets of nature through the pursuit
of alchemical activities and other occult disciplines. A programme, finally, that
in its pantheistic views, was inherently open-minded and tolerant, meaning to
overcome religious dogmas and to fight back against religious violence, which
is particularly relevant in a century of religious conflict.
4 : 26
The figures that cover the highest degree of centrality in this network are not
physicians, nor can they easily be categorized under the same label, since their
professional and social profiles were strongly different?. The first one is
Girolamo Ruscelli, who was Teofilo Panarelli?s brother in law. Ruscelli was a source
of inspiration for the preparation of self-made remedies in the event of plague
for Donzellini, and he was probably Bellebuono?s companion of alchemical
activities and academic networks. Ruscelli was a man of letters (although he did
not gain a university education), a polygraph, a publisher, and an alchemist.
? In this visualization, I have applied network analysis parameters such as weight and direction of
the edges (I have not done so in the previous visualizations because I have prioritized readability?
thick lines and arrows can hinder from clearly reading names and attributes of the nodes). In this
case, the following are directed: the edge between Panarelli and Dionora Calia (he was her
employer and accuser); that between Donzellini and Ruscelli (the former read, and quoted in his own
work, books of the latter); the one between Patrizi and Badoer (they were both part of the Venetian
Academy and the former dedicated to the latter a book?never printed?called Badoero, as a sign
of gratitude for Badoer?s cultural commitment); those between Zwinger and Patrizi and Donzellini
and Patrizi (Zwinger and Donzellini both supported Patrizi?s editorial projects); and that between
Ruscelli and Bellebuono (Ruscelli quoted Bellebuono in his Lettura di Girolamo Ruscelli, sopra un
sonetto dell?illustriss. signor marchese Della Terza alla signora marchesa Del Vasto in order to boost
the breadth of his cultural connections). All the others are undirected, which means that the tie
was mutually operating for both the nodes involved. As for the intensity, the weight of ties varies
from the pick of a familial brother-and-sister kinship combined with common heretical leanings,
as it is the case of Teofilo and Virginia Panarelli (in this case I assigned the maximum weight, 6), to
a minimum of 1.5 in the cases in which the connections only operate through book dedications or
quotations (Girolamo Donzellini/Girolamo Ruscelli and Girolamo Ruscelli/Decio Bellebuono?it is
actually likely that Ruscelli took part in the Venetian Academy and cultivated a ?heavier? tie with
Bellebuono, but there is no evidence of this yet). One last clarification is necessary with respect
to the category ?Books?: the latter is adopted in an all-embracing way to identify ties produced by
books? exchange, reading or editing.
4 : 27
Conceiving of the universe as the result of the complex aggregation and
rejection among different natural elements, he became inclined to inquire into the
most hidden parts of nature, and, between the 1550s and the 1560s, he gained a
reputation as a writer of ?books of secrets??. We do not know how Ruscelli met
his wife, Virgina Panarelli; nor do we know whether he met his wife?s brother
Teofilo independently or through Virginia?. The familial kinship between
Teofilo Panarelli and Ruscelli is nonetheless interesting in itself. It suggests that
a doctor in medicine and philosophy could have much in common with a man
who belonged to a lower social (and intellectual) class. Ruscelli and Panarelli
lived together in Venice until Ruscelli died in 1567. In the same year, Panarelli
published his Secreti nuovi , a book on ?new secret remedies? prepared through
distillation and other hands-on practices. It is arguable that, living under the
same roof as Ruscelli, Panarelli had the chance to learn innovative techniques
of the manipulation of nature from his brother-in-law. In the same context, he
was familiarized with a specific form of knowledge, which swung between the
fascination for the most hidden parts of nature and a practical craft that was
to converge into the river of the Scientific Revolution?as the studies of Pamela
Smith and Edgar Zilsel have shown?.
Ruscelli was connected to the Venetian Academy as well, although his
membership is not yet documented?. We know that the librarian of the academy,
? William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature. Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early
Modern Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), in particular: 134-167, Idem and
Fran?oise Peheau, ?The Accademia Segreta of Girolamo Ruscelli: A Sixteenth-Century Italian
Scientific Society?, Isis 75 (1984): 327-342; Stefano Gulizia, ?Ruscelli?s Book of Secrets in Context:
A 16??-Century Venetian ?Museum in Motion??, Society and Politics 8, no. 2 (2014): 8-22; Paolo
Procaccioli, entry ?Ruscelli, Girolamo?, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 89 (Rome: Istituto
dell?Enciclopedia Italiana, 2017), available online at http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/
girolamo-ruscelli_(Dizionario-Biografico)/, visited on Nov. 29, 2018.
? About Virginia Panarelli, see Federica Ambrosini, Una gentildonna davanti al Sant?Uffizio. Il
processo per eresia a Isabella della Frattina 1568-1570 (Geneve: Droz, 2014), 53-55.
? Edgar Zilsel, ?The Sociological Roots of Science?, Social Studies of Science 30, no. 6 (2000):
935949; Pamela Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (London?
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).
? Ruscelli was affiliated with several academies over the course of the century: in particular he
founded the Accademia della Fama in Rome in 1541 (of which he remained a member until 1543?in
the same period Donzellini was in Rome as well, and the two may have had connection or potential
for connection), and a secret Academy in Naples in the 1550s. Paolo Procaccioli, ?Accademia come
Francesco Patrizi, edited Girolamo Ruscelli?s Le imprese illustri con espositioni,
et discorsi del s.or Ieronimo Ruscelli in 1567. In addition, Ruscelli and the
Academics shared the same commitment towards the vulgarization of Latin texts
about alchemy, secrets of nature, natural philosophy, and Neoplatonism. The
Venetian Academy was founded in 1556 by the Venetian nobleman Federico
Badoer, as part of the political ambition to represent the official state culture
of the Venetian Republic?. Its cultural activity was a form of encyclopedism,
which aimed at covering a range of knowledge that was as wide as possible.
In this programme, an important part was played by the effort of translating
into vernacular a large number of philosophical, mathematical and rhetorical
works, published in the classical age or in more recent times. Even more
important, with respect to our subject, was the Academics? commitment (through
translations, editions, and new publications) in favour of the hermetic and
Neoplatonic traditions and the stress put on the concept of antiquissima sapientia ,
in continuity with Marsilio Ficino?s work. Included in the list of books that
the Venetian Academy compiled in order to make its own editorial programme
known to the public, the Somma, were De harmonia mundi totius by Francesco
Giorgio Veneto (who had the reputation of a heretic), along with Platonic texts,
and an edition of the work of Themistius, the orator who defended religious
tolerance in the late Roman empire?. It is highly relevant that Donzellini edited
Themistius?s orations in 1559, and published the text at the Perna?s printing
house in Basel. The restored version of Themistius? text was prefaced by a short
treatise called De successione doctrinae ab origine mundi (On the Continuity of
The Doctrine from The Origin of The World), in which Donzellini expressed his
adherence to the concept of antiqua sapientia or prisca theologia . This entailed
the idea that there was only one true religion and philosophy, whose main goal
palestra e come tribuna: Girolamo Ruscelli sdegnato, ardente, dubbioso, fratteggiano?, in The Italian
Academies 1525?1700: Networks of Culture, Innovation and Dissent, eds. Jane E. Everson, Dennis
V. Reidy, and Lisa Sampson (New York: Routledge, 2016).
? On the Ventian Academy see: Paul Lawrence Rose, ?The Accademia Veneziana. Science and
Culture in Renaissance Venise?, Studi Veneziani 11 (1969): 191-242; Lina Bolzoni, ??Rendere visibile il
sapere?: L?Accademia Veneziana tra modernit? e utopia?, in Italian Academies of the Sixteenth
Century , eds. David Chambers and Francois Quivigier (London: The Warburg Institute University of
London, 1995), 61-75; Testa, Italian Academies , in particular 96-122.
? Bolzoni, ??Rendere visibile il sapere??, 68.
4 : 29
was to worship the only one God, common to all human kind in all places and
The Venetian Academy was shut down in 1561 because of the economic
bankruptcy provoked by its main promoter Federico Badoer. However, it is arguable
that some other reasons contributed to bringing an end to this cultural
experiment. The activity of the Academy was considered suspect from a religious
point of view, as Lina Bolzoni has highlighted?. In the late 1540s and early
1550s censorship and repression increased in Venice. It is no coincidence that
the Academy was founded precisely in this oppressive context, in order to
increment the circulation of knowledge.
The utopian syncretism and cosmopolitism of the Academy, however, had no
territory in confessional Europe. And when the Academics tried to strike a deal
with Italian Protestant refugees (like Pier Paolo Vergerio), in order to spread
their editorial programme, they failed on the assumption that these projects
embodied a ?pagan humanism?, which was banned in Reformed lands as much as in
Catholic Italy?. Regardless of such an increasingly suffocating climate, this
cultural programme was repeatedly brought to life (and fought against by political
and religious institutions) over the course of the century, by former members of
the Academy who found new networking paths. The manuscript by Francesco
Patrizi Philosophiae thesaurus was edited by Girolamo Donzellini, and the latter
also tried to find channels to publish the text, although with no success.
Moreover, Patrizi?s Discussiones peripateticae circulated among Donzellini?s friends
and colleagues (such as Theodor Zwinger, Ulisse Aldrovandi, Crato von
Crafftheim and Girolamo Mercuriale) and were published by his first collaborator
Pietro Perna in 1581?.
From this intersection of cultural and professional connections among
scholars, doctors and printers, we can draw the existence of a community which
? Donzellini, Themistii Euphradae.
? Bolzoni, ??Rendere visibile il sapere??, 73-75.
? Ibid., 74.
? Alessandra Quaranta, ?Umanesimo medico e culture confessionali nell?Europa del Cinquecento.
Carteggi inediti di Girolamo Donzellini, ?physicus et philosophus??, Giornale di storia 15 (2014),
https://www.giornaledistoria.net, 1-32; Margherita Palumbo, ?Books on the Run: The Case
of Francesco Patrizi?, in Fruits of Migration. Heterodox Italian Migrants and Central European Culture ,
eds. Cornel Zwierlein and Vincenzo Lavenia (Leiden?Boston: Brill, 2018), 45-71.
shared the same inclination towards philosophy (hermeticism and
Neoplatonism), religion (a tolerant and ecumenic form of Christianity) and science (which
needed to be revitalized by alchemy and other occult disciplines). Further
research will help to clarify this hypothesis.
The application of this methodology has played a heuristic role in my
research also from a ?spatial? point of view. As Fig. 10 shows, this medical-heretical
network gravitated around Padua and Basel, besides Venice, confirming the
existence of specific extra spatial hubs within a ?Venetian? network: a crucial
element to plan, and narrow, the additional archive research.
Fig. 10: Donzellini, Panarelli and Bellebuono?s networks.
Green = male
Pink = female
Purple = Venice
Light blue = Padua
Orange = Basel
4 : 31
Moreover, the visualization has been beneficial also from the point of view
of what I would define as a social history of religious dissent. If Panarelli and
Donzellini, more ?conventional? heretical physicians, shared heretical contacts
relating to their heretical militancy, to their profession, to the distribution of
books, or to their education (the bookseller Andrea Arrivabene, professor
Marcantonio Genua, the nephew of Pier Paolo Vergerio, who was a former bishop
and religious exile, Aurelio, and the radical jurist Matteo Gribaldi Mofa), the
node that linked Bellebuono and Panarelli is more surprising. She was Dionora
Calia, Panarelli?s housekeeper, and a friend of Antonino Volpe, an alchemist
(and former priest) who in turn was Bellebuono?s first collaborator and rival.
Women have always been considered marginal in the Italian heretical
movement, unless they were powerful aristocrats. This case seemed to contradict
this narration and I thought it deserved better attention. Therefore, I went back
to the Venetian archive in search of Dionora?s Inquisition trial?.
The study of this trial has allowed me to expand Teofilo Panarelli?s network.
Dionora stated that Panarelli lived and collaborated with the alchemist
Girolamo Ruscelli (whom we have encountered in the great utopia network) and
with an engineer from Puglia, called Antonio Gelli (soon to be put on trial by the
Inquisition in Monopoli because of his association with Panarelli). This is
relevant because, considering that Gelli, Panarelli, Dionora Calia, Ruscelli,
Bellebuono and Volpe were all from southern Italy (in particular from Puglia, except
Bellebuono, who came from Naples), it shows that, within the wider Venetian
heretical network of physicians, some local sub-networks existed and were
connected to circles of heretics and knowledge practitioners in southern Italy. As
much as in the case of the connections that linked Venetian heretical physicians
with Basel and Padua, this element contributes in collocating the case-studies
in a wider context, where the micro and macro level of the analysis are
combined. Moreover, Dionora?s trial is relevant because it sheds light on the kind
of medicine, and more broadly speaking scientific activity, practiced by learned
heretical physicians. Panarelli collaborated with alchemists and engineers, and
in so doing he himself accomplished two engineering projects in the 1560s. One
was a hydraulic system the aim of which was to ?dig canals?; the other was a
?vite perenne? (cochlea) he had designed, through which it was possible ?to
op? ASV, Sant?Uffizio, Processi, Contra Dionoram Caliam , Bu. 21.
erate mills and to lift very heavy weights??. These projects provide proof of his
interest in mechanical arts and his curiosity for new forms of producing and
Panarelli?s lively intellectual attitude, versatility, and openness toward
practical knowledge mirrored his religious experimentalism and non-conformism,
which in turn could lead him to manifest his dissent through scandalous
behaviors. In fact, Dionora also declared that Panarelli used to bring home prostitutes,
scandalizing the neighborhood?and we know that he had two daughters from a
woman with whom he lived without being married?. He did not follow Catholic
precepts in the performance of his sexual and sentimental life and in his, like in
many other cases, religious heresy and transgressive behaviors were two sides
of the same coin?.
The visualization of the ego-networks and the study of Dionora Calia?s trial
has also allowed me to have a better insight on the impact of class dynamics
on a specific professional group of religious dissenters. Dionora was 60 years
old and she was a literate, although working-class, woman. She was certainly
a charismatic person, since she was known under the nickname of ?madama?,
the epithet usually applied to noble women. Her trial shows that she had
connections with radical heretics and charlatans and that she was able to actively
operate for the benefit of her accomplices and the strengthening of her own
network. When Volpe left the priesthood, she tried to convince one of her friends
to marry him, so that all of them could escape to Germany. In this scenario,
physicians like Panarelli and Bellebuono, whose ties ranged from important
patricians to humble housekeepers, acted like a bridge between the somewhat
incompatible worlds of aristocrats and working-class people, favouring the
circulation of ideas in very different contexts and through different networks. Such
an amphibious position could be fruitfully exploited by medical doctors in
order to obtain personal benefits. One year before being put on trial, and when
he was already highly involved in the Reformation movement, Panarelli
accused of heresy Dionora Calia, who lived in his house (being his housekeeper)
? See the last will of Teofilo Panarelli, published in Domenico Orano, Liberi pensatori bruciati in
Roma dal XVI al XVIII secolo (Rome: Tipografia dell?unione cooperativa editrice, 1904), 47-48.
? Ivi, 46.
? On the connection between heresy and sexual promiscuity see Giovanni Romeo, Amori proibiti.
I concubini tra Chiesa e Inquisizione (Rome?Bari: Laterza, 2008), in particular: 96.
4 : 33
and who shared Panarelli?s religious views?. Probably he was concerned about
preserving himself and his wealthy, and male, accomplices from a potential
Inquisitorial inquiry, so he covered his beliefs by denouncing a lower-class
ideological ally. As for Bellebuono: he collaborated with the empirical doctor, and
former priest, Antonino Volpe, close friend of Dionora, but he did so
instrumentally in order to provide himself with the alchemical knowledge and tools
he wanted to gain. Indeed, Bellebuono stole from Volpe some money and some
?secret remedies?, and then denounced him to the Inquisition in order to get
rid of him (his strategy was not successful though, because Volpe denounced
him in turn). Social strategy impacted the way heretical physicians
continuously shaped and reshaped their networks combining professional ambitions,
religious/philosophical militancy and ?survival instinct? in times of persecution.
3.3. A network of dissident physicians: from the Republic of
Venice to Italy and beyond
Donzellini, Panarelli and Bellebuono were far from being the only physicians
?experimenting? with medicine and theology in 16??-century Italy. The
following visualizations represent the extensive diffusion of Italian heretical
physicians in the Italian Peninsula and, after their religious diaspora, in the European
The geographical distribution of Italian heretical physicians was widespread,
which highlights the scale of the phenomenon and confirms the fruitfulness of
the research questions. Their diffusion covered all of Italy, including Sardinia,
where the radical Antonio Gallo grew up in the mid-1530s. It stretched to the
rest of the European continent too, from France to Eastern Europe (Poland and
Transylvania hosted the most radical religious exiles, including a good number
of Italian physicians) and from British territories (where an important heretical
physician like Fabio Nifo escaped) to Candia in Crete (the homeland of Manusso
Maran, the heretical doctor condemned in Venice in 1567).
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Fig. 11: Places of activity chosen by heretical physicians in Italy and abroad.
As part of my current research I have attempted the reconstruction of a
general network which takes into consideration the whole sample of
heretical physicians (200 cases) on which I work. The following preliminary
visualizations illustrate the level of interconnectivity among the members of the
Italian Reformation movement, and the role of physicians (purple dots) as
intermediaries and hubs in this phenomenon. In these pictures, the borders of the
networks are somewhat ?arbitrary?, and the edges shown in the visualisations
do not cover the whole spectrum of connections that each character cultivated
(visualising which is beyond the goal of my research): they represent the most
meaningful relationships that heretical physicians initiated. The real historical
network was much denser and more expanded; as I mentioned already, the
network is not the picture. In fact, delineating the borders of a network and
deciding what to include and what to leave out is one of the most problematic issues
in social network analysis. In this case, in order to evaluate how physicians
contributed to the spread, the promotion, and the endurance of the heretical
movement over the 16??-century, I have chosen to populate the visualization
with the 200 cases of heretical doctors I have in my database, with well-known
(more or less radical) Italian heretics, with Reformers and humanists. In
ad4 : 35
dition, I have integrated in the network some nodes that are instrumental in
connecting the figures I wanted to inquire into (like Dionora Calia), and some
?unexpected? nodes whose presence in the network can add to our knowledge
about the link between medicine, heresy and some of the most advanced fruits
of late Renaissance philosophical thought.
In these visualizations, some of the nodes do not show any connections in the
graph. This is due to the fact that, as a work in progress, I haven?t yet been able
to determine whether these heretical physicians (of which I have found traces
in the archives) had any connection in common with some of the most linked
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people in the network. I have decided to include them in the network graphs
nonetheless. In fact, they contribute by showing that, along with a core group of
heretical physicians involved in the European intellectual and religious circles
where medicine and theology were debated, there existed a less central group
of reform-minded doctors ready to embrace and propagate innovative religious
(and sometimes philosophical) ideas.
The first visualisation (Fig. 12) shows the existence of specific regional
networks, which nonetheless intermingled with one another, and whose core
center was Venice. This indicates that this group of medici philosophi, as they would
define themselves, indeed accounted for a European network of dissent.
Considering the category of the edges, in addition to the kinds of ties that
we have already seen operating in the Donzellini, Bellebuono and Panarelli?s
networks, in this visualisation I have added the category of heresy-support
referring to all those occasions in which heretical complicity would result into
practical help (in terms of hiding or defending one another from the
Inquisitors, but also of the provision of forms of intercession/recommendation that
granted professional positions, and of job offers). This shows that the network
would mobilise when one of the members was in need of help.
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For my personal use, I have added a column in my spreadsheets that better
defines the nature of the edges, further clarifying the context and content of
the relationships (if applicable). I will not use this column for the visualisation,
because digital humanities tools require a certain degree of generalisation and
this column goes in the opposite direction, but nonetheless I think it can be
interesting to examine networking patterns among dissident physicians. The
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sub-categories I have adopted in this additional column ranged from university
teaching-learning relationships; to the common effort for the publication and
circulation of books; from the mutual reading of scientific and philosophical
works, to the common militancy in Renaissance Academies. Of all these
subcategories, there is an unexpected one, which I defined as prison: indeed, as
we know, many of these men of culture were brought to Inquisition prisons,
Fig. 14: Screenshot of the spreadsheet. Tthe sub-category column is visible.
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and there they met, shared ideas, spoke, fraternized and often initiated
relationships which, in the future, would develop into further forms of collaboration.
To the detriment of the Inquisitors? plans, in many cases the Inquisition jails
did not stop the circulation of ideas and did not break the network. They
It is in Inquisition prisons that we meet, as part of the network, two well-known
philosophers such as Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella, who lived in
the same dungeons in Rome, along with the physician, architect and astronomer
Nicola Antonio Stigliola?. I think that the presence, in the network of these
nodes, of two of the most important philosophers in the late Renaissance age,
? Nicola Badaloni, ?Il programma scientifico di un bruniano: Colantonio Stelliola?, Studi Storici 26,
no. 1 (1985): 161-175; Saverio Ricci, Nicola Antonio Stigliola enciclopedista e linceo (Rome: Accademia
Nazionale dei Lincei, 1996).
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is absolutely meaningful?. It suggests that there was a connection between the
second generation of heretical physicians (such as Stigliola) and the ripest
results of 16??-century philosophy, a research perspective that I want to further
examine as part of my investigation.
Stigliola had been one of the first readers of Giordano Bruno, and a personal
friend of Campanella. Stigliola had also been a pupil of Bartolomeo Maranta,
a physician from Naples, who, in turn, had been part of Valdesian heretical
circles and, as a botanist involved in spagyric, alchemical and even magical
activity, and as a philosopher interested in the revival of hermeticism and
Platonism, can be considered a member of the European-spread ?Beyond frontiers
of knowledge network? ?. As it is well-known, Bruno and Campanella shared the
same utopian and pantheistic philosophical notions, they distanced themselves,
like many others in this ?heretical physicians?? network, from confessional
disputes, and, despising the Protestants for the schism they had produced and for
their religious intransigence, embraced a tolerant and inclusive form of
?Christianity?. Scholars have mostly denied that there were any connections between
the Reformation, religious heresy and philosophical heresies (for which
Campanella and Bruno were imprisoned). I think that, by mapping the circulation
and development of ideas through the visualization of the connections among
people, one could argue something different. It is undeniable that, in the 16??
century, the epistemological boundaries of such subjects like theology,
philosophy, science/medicine and occult disciplines (like astrology, magic, alchemy,
and so on) were fluid and porous. And it seems to me quite evident that there
were personal, intellectual, educational, and religious exchanges and affinities
between Bruno and Campanella and the world of Italian heretical physicians:
in particular, the second generation. In addition to the case of Stigliola, one
should think of that of Giovanni Maria Della Lama, a physician and religious
? The bibliography about Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella is massive. For the purpose
of this paper see at least Michele Ciliberto, ?Giordano Bruno: dalla ?nova philosophia? alla
?reformatio mundi??, in Le filosofie del Rinascimento, ed. Cesare Vasoli (Milan: Mondadori, 2002); Saverio
Ricci, Giordano Bruno nell?Europa del Cinquecento (Salerno: Salerno Editrice, 2000); Idem, Davanti
al Santo Uffizio. Filosofi sotto processo (Viterbo: Edizioni Sette Citt?, 2009); Luca Addante, Tommaso
Campanella. Il filosofo immaginato, interpretato, falsato (Rome?Bari: Laterza, 2018).
? Francesco Saverio Minervini, Didattica del linguaggio poetico in un retore del Cinquecento:
Bartolomeo Maranta (Bari: Adriatica Divisione Arte, 2012).
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exile involved in radical circles in Eastern Europe, who introduced Bruno in
the Emperor?s court in Vienna in 1588; or that of Gian Battista Clario who
was arrested in Padua along with his friend Campanella, in 1592?it will not
be coincidence that Clario had a strong interest in Platonic and Pythagorean
philosophy and probably denied the Catholic idea of the immortality of the
soul. Moreover, both Campanella and Bruno had been influenced by the
philosophy of Telesio, who was in contact with Donzellini and Bellebuono?s friend
Francesco Patrizi?while the latter had used Telesian philosophy as a source
of inspiration for his own philosophical elaboration. Moreover, in Giordano
Bruno?s religious heresy, which was multifaceted and peculiar, there recurred
an element common to the radical experience of many Italian heretics, in
particular physicians (from Miguel Servet onwards): the negation of the dogma of
the holy trinity and the idea that the Son and Holy spirit are ?manifestations? of
the only one God, who is spiritual and pervades everything?something which
Donzellini himself stated in his Remedium ferendarum iniuriarum (1586)?. In a
different season of the 16?? century compared to the early one in which
Protestant ideas had been flowing into Italy, and when confessional boundaries were
irretrievably established, some heretical physicians and two heretical former
friars, like Burno and Campanella, shared the same original, utopian and
antiauthoritarian response to the Counter-Reformation, of which they eventually
became victims. The obscure and, in many respects, underground world of
Italian heretical medici philosophi, and the experimental attitude in science and
theology that they embraced, can hence be interpreted as a stream which flowed
into, and nourished, the most innovative currents of late-Renaissance
? Donzellini, Remedium ferendarum iniuriarum, 49r et passim.
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Sociologists speak of social movements to refer to groups that focus on specific
political, social, religious, or cultural issues, and aim to produce, resist, or undo
certain historical change. Social movements are also characterized by
urbanization, which crucially allows people to interact on a regular basis. They are also
defined by the use of communication technology and infrastructures such as
the printing press and the postal system, which make the circulation of
knowledge possible through the exchange of books and letters.? With these features
in mind, heretical physicians were more than just an intellectual movement;
they were also a social one, a community that clustered into formal groups or
in more formal types of aggregations (i.e. affiliation to Colleges, universities, or
editorial projects). The understanding of heretical networks can therefore help
to shed new light on the history of 16??-century Italian religious dissent,
fostering a reflection upon the historical transformation that heretical physicians
wanted to bring about or fight back against. I hope I have been able to show
that this transformation was something more than the Protestant Reformation.
Attempting to reconstruct heretical physicians? networks does not at all mean
neglecting the importance and specificity of (religious or medical) ideas, thus
reducing them to sociology. On the contrary, it is an attempt to reinvigorate the
tradition of intellectual history, putting it in conversation with different
disciplines and methodologies. The so-called Italian Reformation was more than
a set of positions about the coeval theological debate: it was a proper
movement in which specific social categories, like physicians, became particularly
central, covered specific social and intellectual roles, and promoted precise
cultural views?also favoring the circulation of ideas from one religious context
to another, from one social class to another, from one profession to another.
In pursuing personal and also collective goals, heretical physicians
continuously reshaped their networks, consequently offering insight into the meaning
of religious dissenters? experiences that resulted from complex social dynamics
against a wide historical backdrop.
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While the application of such a methodology to the history of 16??-century
religious dissent can add beneficial aspects to the analysis, this approach is not
exempt from limitations. One of the most valuable aspects of social network
analysis is the possibility to observe the evolution of networking patterns over
time, as we have observed in Donzellini?s case. Such evolution highlights how
social actors shaped and reshaped their connections and how they arranged
their social strategy with respect to their ambitions. However, as I have shown
when discussing the case of Panarelli and Bellebuono, the lack of sources which
could provide diachronic information on the social biography of the nodes,
prevents one from reconstructing networks dynamically. This problem can only be
overcome by expanding the research to different archives and different
typologies of sources. With a hint of luck, additional research will hopefully help to
visualize a network as close as possible to the real picture.
Moreover, due to the very nature of the historical sources, the data
visualizations can only provide blurry pictures of a multifaceted intellectual and social
dynamic, while the rigidity of the tools, and of the very methodology (which
compels one to make choices about how to define the nature of the edges and the
profile of the nodes, and does not allow to add much detail), results in
visualisations that cannot completely represent the intricacies of such a complex
historical phenomenon. While this is certainly true, in my experience the adoption of
this methodology has allowed me to shift from the abstract level of ideas, to the
very concrete one of the people who embraced, promoted and re-elaborated
them, in their daily historical dimension. This has entailed the possibility to
bring to light a number of (micro)stories which deserve better attention, as they
can deepen our knowledge on the interaction between medicine, heterodoxy,
confessionalization, craft knowledge, class, and gender, in a situated context.
From this perspective, what is important is the process, more than the product,
which, in fact, should never be considered as final, but more appropriately as
an explorative instrument.
Another potentially weak point of this methodology is related to the risk ?to use
a cyclotron to squash a nut? (as Franco Venturi ironically put it? when
questioning the quantitative shift that had invested historiography in the 1960s). Why
should we engage in digital history, when traditional scholarship has already
? Franco Venturi, Utopia e Riforma nell?Illuminismo (Turin: Einaudi, 1970), 12.
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come to crucial results that innovative methodologies often just confirm? I
believe that such an opposition between ?tradition? and ?digitization? is useless
and dangerous, since I consider digital humanities a method which can
complement the historical analysis without altering its epistemology and its results.
Yet I do understand the doubts of those who wonder why we should engage in
time-consuming activities like data setting and production of visualizations.
After all, one could argue, historians interested in interconnections of whatever
kind have always had the chance to draw their networks on some piece of
paper, obtaining relevant results from the study of these sketches. One first reason
why I think that the adoption of digital humanities tools can be somewhat
useful, even in the case that it indeed just confirmed what we already knew, is
because these tools ?democratize? knowledge, synthesizing in a graphic and
accessible dress, decades of studies on some specific subject. Moreover, they allow
to easily show scale and density of a certain phenomenon. In addition to these
illustrative virtues, and more importantly, the process of building one?s data,
deeply reflecting upon how to classify ties and nodes, and the explorative
circularity between sources and visualisations can have heuristic virtues, as I hope
I have been able to show. Nonetheless, the choice to adopt such a methodology
depends essentially on what one?s research question is about, and this kind of
approach should not be undertaken for the sake of it.
What I have presented in this article has no ambition to represent a manifesto,
nor does it want to dismiss the outstanding scholarship that has preceded my
work, and to which I owe my (limited) knowledge and my (strong) passion for
these subjects. This paper has just tried to highlight what kind of
methodologies and tools are available today and how they can be integrated within an
interdisciplinary approach to intellectual history. In particular, I have provided
a few case-studies from my personal ongoing research, in order to describe a
methodology which can actually be fully exploited only when applied to large
collective projects?. The next steps towards a social history of religious dissent
? See for instance the Mapping the Republic of Letters project carried out at Stanford
University, the Cultures of knowledge project based at the University of Oxford (http://www.
culturesofknowledge.org/, http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/), or the Six
Degrees of Francis Bacon platform, developed at the Carnegie Mellon University (http://www.
sixdegreesoffrancisbacon.com), just to mention some of the most famous (webpages visited
on Nov. 23, 2018).
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could include mapping the entire heretical network in Venice, over time and
through a spatial perspective, in order to evaluate how religious heresy could
shape a sense of urban secret community and solidarity. While a more
intellectual dimension could be tackled by considering the whole set of ties that
heretical physicians cultivated, not only among each other and with people involved
in the heretical movement, but also with important members of the Republic of
Letters in Europe. This would allow to better understand and evaluate how the
medical profession could help develop connections which in turn fostered the
scientific and theological debates.
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