The Medieval Heart

The Medieval Heart

HEATHER WEBB
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npscc
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  • Book Info
    The Medieval Heart
    Book Description:

    Drawing from the works of Dante, Catherine of Siena, Boccaccio, Aquinas, and Cavalcanti and other literary, philosophic, and scientific texts, Heather Webb studies medieval notions of the heart to explore the "lost circulations" of an era when individual lives and bodies were defined by their extensions into the world rather than as self-perpetuating, self-limited entities.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15394-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The medieval heart was a very different organ from the one we know today. When we speak of the heart, we often find ourselves speaking from within one of two distinct categories: on the one hand, we pragmatically discuss that pump-like muscle hidden behind the rib cage; on the other, we speak metaphorically about the heart that loves, the heart that knows, or the heart that feels. We are quite secure in this division, assured that, in reality, the heart does a simple job (we hope it does so reliably) and has nothing to do with the messiness of emotion,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Sovereign Heart
    (pp. 10-49)

    William Harvey begins the dedication of hisDe motu cordisof 1628 with a bit of flattery for King Charles I. The heart, he explains, is the natural analogue of a sovereign, radiating power within the body just as the king confers grace upon his kingdom. He adheres to a very old story, describing the heart as a fountain or foundation. We will begin, then, where Harvey begins, when it seems that his treatise will reinforce Aristotelian ideas of the heart as source of all things, ideas that dominated the medieval imaginary. Before Harvey can turn to the task of...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Porous Heart
    (pp. 50-95)

    For William Harvey, the heart that his contemporaries knew had far too many holes in it. In order to explain the interconnections between the dual systems of the body, the venous and the arterial, anatomists had long pointed to invisible holes in the septum. Such pores would allow a small amount of blood to pass through to the left side of the heart and combine with air to form spirit. Another set of invisible holes explained how air could be drawn into the arteries. To counteract centuries of belief that the heart had as much to do with air as...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Engendering Heart
    (pp. 96-142)

    At the opening of Shakespeare’sAntony and Cleopatra, Philo remarks that Antony’s formerly virile heart,

    Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst

    The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper

    And is become the bellows and the fan

    To cool a gipsy’s lust

    Philo is suggesting, quite plainly, that Antony has been emasculated by his love for the Egyptian queen, even to the point of a reversal of gender roles: not only has the extrusive force of the heart been severely diminished, it is now merely a cooler counterpart to a woman’s ardor. From the ancient Greeks to...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Animate Heart
    (pp. 143-181)

    When so many aspects of the heart are understood to be invisible, from the spirits that inhabit it to the pores that connect the sanguinary and spiritual systems, what can actually be seen when a person looks directly at the heart? As the preceding chapters have shown, the medieval heart can have an immediate impact on another body while it is safely lodged within its own porous body. The relation, usually constituted by the traffic of spirits, is dynamic, reciprocal, and what I have called generational. Spirits, heat, and seminal entities were imagined as extending the heart’s direct and even...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 182-186)

    The present study has engaged in an exercise that I believe is a timely one. If we can approach an earlier thought style by examining a series of dominant concepts that seem impossible or incomprehensible today, we can perhaps find our way toward a new thought style at variance with our own. We stand once again in a space similar to the one in which William Harvey stood; many of our dominant concepts are holding on stubbornly against the rudiments of a new set of concepts that threaten to shift the entire style of cultural thought on the subject of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-222)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-241)