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The Medieval Heart 

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The Medieval Heart 


Yale University Press

New Haven and London
Published with assistance from Arts & Humanities at The Ohio State University.
Copyright 2010 by Yale University.
All rights reserved.
This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any
form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright
Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from
the publishers.
Designed by Mary Valencia.
Set in Monotype Fournier type by Duke & Company, Devon, Pennsylvania.
Printed in the United States of America by Sheridan Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Webb, Heather, 1976
The medieval heart / Heather Webb.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-300-15393-4 (alk. paper)
1. Civilization, Medieval. 2. Human body (Philosophy)History. 3. Heart
Symbolic aspectsHistory. 4. Medical literatureHistoryTo 1500. 5. Heart
in literature. 6. Mind and bodyHistory. I. Title.
CB351.W43 2010
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.481992 (Permanence
of Paper).
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To the memory of Ellen Falk and Eugene H. Falk,
in gratitude for their courage and generosity.
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Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1. The Sovereign Heart 10
2. The Porous Heart 50
3. The Engendering Heart 96
4. The Animate Heart 143
Epilogue 182
Notes 187
Bibliography 223
Index 237
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This book owes its existence to countless conversations over many

years. Robert Harrison, as my mentor and as my friend, has continued
to ask the hardest questions. I am endlessly grateful to him for draw-
ing me into conversation, for teaching the art of insistent listening, and
for modeling an inimitable eloquence and clarity of thought. And I
should mention that he read and commented on more versions of these
pages than either of us would like to remember. I began to work on
these ideas at Stanford, while I was completing my PhD in Italian. My
committee was a real dream team that has continued to sustain me even
after I moved on to Ohio State. Affectionate thanks are due to Philippe
Buc, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Jeffrey Schnapp, and Carolyn Springer.
Many others have read and commented on my thoughts on the medieval
heart, and Id like to thank Nancy Caciola, William Christian, Elena
Coda, Richard Davis, Marilynn Desmond, Rick Emmerson, Ronald J.
Falk, Giorgio Ficara, Thomas Harrison, Rachel Jacoff, Gbor Klani-
czay, Charles Klopp, Joshua Landy, Trina Marmarelli, Judith Mayne,
Giuseppe Mazzotta, Barbara Newman, Lucia Re, Dana Renga, Cyn-
thia Robinson, Antony Shuttleworth, Miguel Tamen, Matthew Tiews,
Eugene Vance, the members of the department of French and Italian

ac k now ledgm en ts

at The Ohio State University, and my chair, Diane Birckbichler. Id

like to thank Theodore H. and Frances K. Geballe and the Stanford
Humanities Center for their generous funding of a years work at Stan-
ford. Audrey Martinko did beautiful, careful work helping me with
formatting. Two anonymous readers for Yale University Press gave
helpful suggestions. I am very grateful to Jennifer Banks, editor, for
her enthusiasm for the project and to Jack Borrebach, production edi-
tor. And finally, thanks to my dear friends and family for their loving
support throughout this project.


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 prag-
matically 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, thought,
or sensation. The medieval heart was a considerably more complex, and
more vulnerable, organ. Guido Cavalcanti (c. 12551300) writes:
Love pulled sighs from your eyes,
shooting them into my heart so strongly
that I fled, confounded.1
This is no mere poetic conceit; for Cavalcanti, the heart is literally open
to sensation. The arrows of love, now a timeworn trope devoid of mean-
ing, are in this case real trajectories of breath and spirit, relentlessly in-
vading the poets porous body. His heart was a heavily trafficked space,
host to myriad entities that we would now divide into the categories of


physical, spiritual, and psychological. One thing it did not do, however,
was circulate blood.
Western scholars in the medieval period traced the nourishing flow
from the heart outward into the members but did not detect any path
back to the source.2 It was only in the seventeenth century that William
Harveys discovery of circulation supplied the Western world with what
has often been described as the missing piece of a completed puzzle. Nar-
ratives of completion, such as the one we have crafted about Harveys
discovery, work precisely because they obliterate from memory scores
of other pieces that no longer have a place in our supposedly final-
ized picture. In fact, while scholars before Harvey did not see a path
for blood that led back to the heart, they did see myriad other pathways
leading into and out of the heart. Spirits issued from and returned to
the heart through the pores in the skin and the gateways of the senses,
forming circulations that were not limited by the confines of a single
human body. This book explores such lost circulations, relics of a time
when life was defined by extension into the world rather than effective
protection from the worlds invasions.
I use the word circulation here in a way that reflects the broader
cultural notions of cardiocentric outflow and return that I believe per-
meated medieval visions of body and soul. Harveys work has led us to
a highly specific notion of circulation as the one-way motion of blood
through channels that complete a circuit. The medieval circulations that
I explore in the following pages might best be defined in a much more
general fashion: as the movement of any thing that returns again to the
point of departure after making its way through intermediate points. By
this deliberate opening of a restricted semantic field, we may examine a
whole range of physical and spiritual entities in motion, variously routed
out of and into the heart.
Such relics would be of no use to us today if we could be sure that
we now know everything there is to know about the life of the body.


But this is not the case. As in the seventeenth century, we are once again
posing basic, unresolved questions: Where is life located? What does
it consist of? How is it maintained? When does it begin? How does it
end? We are, again, engaged in the process of forming new concepts
to address these issues. But new concepts do not arise spontaneously;
they are born from the material of our ancestral conceptions. At any
given time, we find ourselves in the presence not only of our dominant
concepts, but also in the shadows of those ancestral concepts and the
rudiments of future ones. If we resist the temptation to forge a narrative
of progress and completion, of forward jolts and revolutions, if we allow
ourselves instead to examine the tangled spaces in which contradictory
concepts coexist, we may uncover vast resources to aid us in our current
rethinking of the nature of life, organs, organisms, and environment.3
Harveys De motu cordis of 1628 documents a particular coexistence
of two contradictory sets of dominant conceptions: those that had fully
permeated the medieval world for centuries and those that, introduced
by Harvey, still belong to our own time. To give just one example: we
no longer think of the heart as a breathing organ, a notion so deeply
ingrained in medieval thought that theology and poetics were grounded
in this physiological truth. But we may approach the breathing heart if
we are attentive to its shadowy presence in Harveys text alongside the
alternative he prepares. From this unique point of departure, we may
move in either direction; forward to the modern heart or back to the
medieval heart.4 It is Harveys text that gives us the heart we know, ren-
dering the medieval hearts modes of being the mere stuff of metaphor.
For this reason, the present study employs the De motu cordis as a lens,
a means of approaching alternate systems of function that underlie an
entirely different view of bodily interaction with the environment.
A recovery of the circulations that described life some seven centu-
ries ago does much more than illustrate earlier views of bodily function.
If we can, through the process of this work of recovery, think our way


into positioning the body within a larger circulation of any kind, rather
than positing it as a self-perpetuating, self-limiting source, we may
begin to approach a sense of individual corporeality as sustained by a
radical state of relatedness to the external world. It may become possible,
again, to conceive of different boundaries and sources for the life of the
body. Today, in a world that takes for granted Harveys closed-circuit
model of heart function, in a society committed to a certain inaccessi-
bility of our inner selves, we are nonetheless becoming interested in
understanding the body as influenced by and influencing its environ-
ment in countless ways that we cannot yet entirely fathom. The circula-
tion concepts to be presented here, concepts that were prevalent in the
medieval period and still debatable if out of fashion in Harveys time,
are again surprisingly germane today.
These varying pathways that begin and end in the human heart
track the changing landscape of our perceptions of what it means to
interact with the external world and, above all, the way in which
we understand life. While Harvey sought to show that only blood and
nothing else entered and exited the heart, today we are asking how the
heart might be susceptible to numerous emotional and environmental
agents. In short, we are describing new routes back into the heart. Even
if we no longer think of the movements of the heart as designating the
beginning and the end of life, our changing concepts of the degree of
relation between the heart and the external world function as an indica-
tor of changing notions of the autonomy of individual life.
But how can we examine ancestral concepts? To begin with, how
do we define the parameters of a study of ancestral concepts without
anachronistically imposing our modern disciplinary or, better, stylis-
tic divisions upon the subject? In the late medieval world, ideas of the
heart and its circulations were elaborated and solidified by a group of
people who shared the structuring principles of Aristotelian natural
philosophy. Such a community would include theologians, philosophers,


anatomists, physicians, and poets engaged in considering the principles

and ramifications of that philosophy. In order to get fully inside this
thought community, a broad range of texts must be taken into consid-
eration.5 Anatomical treatises, while useful, are not sufficient to map the
boundaries or locate the center of this space that we no longer inhabit.
Philosophical treatises and religious writings speak to us from within
its boundaries. Poetry and narrative usher us into its most shadowy
Physiological subject matter was discussed in medical, natural
philosophical, and theological works from this period. Many of these
works asked similar questions, used the same scholastic apparatus of
arguments, objections, and solutions, and cited the same authorities.6
As autopsy and dissection were rare at this time and had limited impact
on the body of physiological knowledge, anyone with access to texts
could interpret and assemble the wisdom of ancient authorities. The
interpretation of a physician was not necessarily any more valid than the
interpretation of a theologian, or for that matter of a poet. By consider-
ing this broader community defined by certain foundational principles,
it is my hope that we may avoid the usual and rather fruitless burden
of establishing cause and effect between what we now see as radically
divided disciplines: Do poetic images reflect scientific discoveries? Or
is it the opposite? Rather than addressing these sorts of questions, ques-
tions that ultimately impose our present thought style onto the past
while subordinating one discipline (in its modern definition) to another,
I propose to reconstruct a thought community relevant to the subject
at hand and, in so doing, approach a series of concepts derived from a
thought style at variance with our own.7
In various ways, these texts explore and render vivid a mode of
understanding the relational powers of the body that gave way as Har-
veys theories were accepted, absorbed, and incorporated into a new
general sense of bodily function. Rather than attempting to offer an ex-


haustive catalogue of visions of the heart, I have focused my inquiry on

those philosophical, theological, political, poetic, and medical texts that
best illuminate four central concepts of medieval heart function. These
concepts, I argue, alter the ways in which we understand the interaction
between individual bodies and the world. This was no esoteric discus-
sion among specialists, but a dialogue between images, metaphors, and
models that could defi ne or shift such understanding. My emphasis,
therefore, is on vernacular understandings of these concepts and not
on technical treatises circulated between anatomists. I consider medi-
eval encyclopedias, preachers manuals, a manual of dissection, works
of natural philosophy, works of theology, lyric and epic poetry, short
stories, the lives of saints, the writings of mystics, and plague tracts.
The thought community featured in this study is predominantly
Italian. The major centers for teaching and studying medicine in the
Middle Ages and Renaissance were located in Italy, from the Salernitan
School that led the so-called twelfth-century Renaissance to the univer-
sities at Bologna, Padua, and Pisa.8 Italian physicians of the medieval
and Renaissance periods participated in philosophical and theological
debates such as those on the nature and location of the soul as part of
a greater university community. In this way, specific notions of heart
function were widespread in learned circles all throughout Italy. Har-
vey studied in Padua with Hieronymus Fabricius; his treatise directly
engages Italian anatomical and philosophical thought.
Over the past decades, there have been numerous studies of the
metaphors and analogies connected to the human body. Scholars have
shown how writers in various countries, in various periods, have
viewed writing, social structures, and so on through the prism of the
human body.9 The present study differs in that the human body is not
treated as a prism through which we may better see our true object of
study. In the texts examined here, physiology in itself is very much at
issue. In medieval thought, the body does not stand only for the world,


it is defi ned, above all, by the way in which it stands in the world.10
Politics, philosophy, poetry, theology, and medicine are each founded
on a definition of the nature of the relationship between the individual
and the world. Thinkers of all kinds thus became interested in under-
standing and writing about the workings of the heart as the principal
way to interpret that relationship.
The main chapters in this book focus on four fundamental medieval
conceptions of the heart and its circulations; I frame each of the worlds
and communities these conceptions illuminate with Harveys efforts to
shift the borders of those worlds. Though this is not a book about Wil-
liam Harvey, I employ Harveys text as a singularly useful vision of a
moment when opposing dominant conceptions came into conflict. This
is our entry point into a thought community of the past, a point of access
into our ancestral concepts, from which vantage point we may perhaps
discern the movement of our own present into its future ancestry.
The first chapter considers the notion of the heart as sovereign of the
body and as source of power. Today, we are firmly convinced that the
brain is in charge of our physical being and have built countless political
ideas, metaphors, and images within the borders of that concept. The
political configurations that grow organically from within the bound-
aries of a cardiocentric body are not simply relocated; they offer an
alternate vision of power and governance. I argue that a cardiocentric
body, body politic, and body of the church each defy the hierarchical,
vertical notion of a head that rules absolutely over a subjected body and
instead propose a centralized model of unity through shared resources.
The cardiocentric model embraces pluralities and multipolar structures
by recourse to notions of source and nourishment, rather than control.
While Harvey stands on the medieval side of this divide in terms of
his political metaphors, his work reveals the heart to be a different kind
of source than previously imagined, setting the groundwork for a later
shift to our current physiological and metaphorical models.


The second chapter focuses on the concept of the breathing heart.

The medieval heart is a respiratory organ, open and porous, radically
available to the outside world and host to varied intercorporeal circula-
tions. Sensation was often described as occurring by means of a flow of
airborne spirits into the heart. I propose that there are two cardiocentric
models for vision in particular that coexist at this time. One conceives of
vision as a stamping or inscribing of images upon the heart, while the
second model posits a kind of vision that may occur between humans, or
between a human and a divine entity, in which the act of seeing becomes
a reciprocal, and potentially generational, mixing of foreign and innate
spirits within the heart of the viewer. Harvey seeks to limit the space
of the hearts activity to the interior of the body, a limitation that would
redimension configurations of poetic inspiration, divine possession, and
human interaction.
The third chapter examines the concept of the heart as a gendered
and generative organ. It is the seminal heat and seminal action of the
heart, rather than genital difference, that determines sex in the Middle
Ages. The medieval heart is of necessity a double-gendered organ; it
must be both receptive, as described in chapter two, and projective.
Health depended upon an individuals ability to push spirit from the
heart into the world beyond the skin. Just as receptivity is a feminine
characteristic essential to hearts of both sexes, the propulsive action of
the heart is a masculine quality that is necessary to both women and men
(if in varying degrees). Harveys rhetoric speaks to medieval notions
of the hearts virility; at the same time, he clearly delimits the scope of
the hearts action to the interior of a single body. For Harvey, it is the
solidity of the boundary between an individual and the environment
that makes us human. Autonomy, equated with sterility and death in
medieval mappings of human action, is in Harveys analysis a sign of
human superiority over the lower animals.
The fourth chapter considers the idea that the heart, as the seat of


the soul, is the last part of the body to die. I examine medieval accounts
of the experience of looking at an extracted heart; from tales of hearts
served to and eaten by unfaithful wives to Mondino de Liuzzis dis-
section manual to stories of the dissections of saints hearts, I note two
alternatives in this experience. As the heart is the seat of the soul and
thus the locus of identity, the living either come into contact with the
horror of recognizing that a loved one has become mere unidentifiable
flesh or have a privileged opportunity to interact briefly with the flee-
ing soul or the signs left by that soul. Harveys work with vivisection
prolongs this liminal period. As he allows a doves heart to stop and
then brings it back to life with the heat of his finger, he shows that the
heart is not, in fact, the last to die. If the heart is no longer the last part
of the body to die, where, then, is the soul lodged?
This brings us to a set of very contemporary questions. To put the
problem in secular terms, where is life located? An epilogue to the book
considers a few attempts to shift our present dominant conceptions of
the role of the heart, the brain, and the life of the body. Much of what
the medieval world attributed to the heart we now attribute to the brain,
but we are beginning to learn that the brain is not as self-sufficient as
we once imagined. Perhaps the medieval heart, in its openness, vul-
nerability, and radical state of relation with the environment, still has
something to teach us.

C H A P T E R on e

The Sovereign Heart

What Rules the Body?

The heart of creatures is the foundation of life, the Prince of all, the Sun of
their Microcosm, on which all vegetation does depend, from whence all vigor
and strength does flow. Likewise the King is the foundation of his Kingdoms,
and the Sun of his Microcosm, the Heart of his Commonwealth, from whence
all power and mercy proceeds.1

William Harvey begins the dedication of his De motu cordis of 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 rein-
force Aristotelian ideas of the heart as source of all things, ideas that
dominated the medieval imaginary. Before Harvey can turn to the task
of putting new boundaries on the hearts function, he must pay tribute
to its perceived powers. In order to do so, he revives a medieval notion
of cardiac sovereignty.


As Thomas Fuchs has pointed out, our sense of Harveys vision of

the heart has been significantly colored by Descartes use of Harvey
shortly after the De motu cordis was published. The Passions of the Soul
of 1649 recast the heart as an automated machine, no longer a flattering
model for a prince, and designated the brain as the sole active force in
the body.2 The contradiction between these two texts was not based
on facts of physical function as might be demonstrated by experiment;
the disagreement was one of interpretation. Harvey and Descartes pre-
sented two alternative models of the human body and, simultaneously,
contrasting models of political power.
The brain, as Descartes imagines it, is an autocratic ruler that sends
down commands from on high. He explains that in a moment of intense
emotion, when one may feel a particular sensation in the chest, logic can
inform us that the actual location of this emotion is elsewhere: It is easy
to see that the only reason why this change [due to the passions] is felt
as occurring in the heart is that there is a small nerve which descends
to it from the brainjust as pain is felt as in the foot by means of the
nerves in the foot.3 For Descartes, the brain is entirely other to the rest
of the body. Rather than a source of some essence or substance shared
with the whole, it remains separate, sending out commands, not its own
qualities. As it does not occupy the physical center of the body, the brain
stands superior, remaining at a remove from the body that it governs.
The nerves that descend from the controlling brain create a vertical
structure, a simple two-part hierarchy of sovereign and subject.
In Harveys analogy, on the other hand, the heart-as-sun is the
source of shared heat, distributing its warmth to all parts of the organ-
ism. Rooted in the physical center of the body, the heart, by the virtue
of circulation, is connected to, and in communication with, every part
of the body. The entire body is thus naturally dependent on this fountain
of its most primary, common need.
The alternatives offered in these two seventeenth-century maps


of bodily power are not so different from those that were available
centuries earlier. Why would the body be ruled by the heart rather
than the head, or vice versa? From Aristotle on, scholars took sides in
the debate not only by weighing current ideas of physiology but also,
and perhaps primarily, by pondering what it meant, or should mean, to
rule a body or a body politic. In the late medieval period, the available
treatises on physiology authored by accepted authorities were divided
between those that championed the heart as the governing organ in the
body, those that championed the brain, and those that found a solution
somewhere between the two. Consider the effects of such hierarchical
instability on political metaphor: if one wished to use the body as a
metaphor for the state, as was common practice in medieval Europe,
one had to first describe and distribute authority within the body. Such
political writings were also necessarily treatises of physiology; the na-
ture of relations between organs had to be defined in order for mean-
ing to be fi xed. Figurative language in this category could not rely on
standard referents, but engaged instead in fresh interpretations of bodily
function and in so doing took on a theoretical, rather than descriptive,
If we contemplate the history of corporeal hierarchies, we may
discern two sources of tension that delineate a recurrent alternation be-
tween two sets of configurations of the human. The first is an alternation
between a sovereign brain and a sovereign heart and the corresponding
visions of rule paired with each. The second is an alternation between
the idea of a unitary source of power within the body and the concept of
a multipolar body with a plurality of control centers. This chapter looks
at convergences between physiologies and political metaphors in terms
of these two tensions. For most of Western history, the brain or the head
was the most common metaphor for the ruler of the body politic. In the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, the heart momentarily
took over the role as sovereign in political metaphor and in physiology


in a significant number of accounts. This required a deft negotiation of

the problem of unity versus multipolarity. While the brains importance
had to be acknowledged, the heart was nonetheless singled out as the
organ that unified and originated all life processes. What is at stake in
this alternate vision of the body and the body politic? What changes
when the heart is sovereign, rather than the head?
In order to address these questions, the chapter begins by sketching
out some useful terms and concepts that derive from a perhaps unex-
pected source, the psychologist philosopher William James (18421910).
James defi nitions of three kinds of function are singularly useful in
mapping the complex relations between organs in a multipolar body.
Our contemporary style of thinking bodily function and bodily control
is still decidedly encephalocentric, and therefore a more nuanced idea of
function is essential in order to begin thinking a body that is governed
by multiple sources of power. From here, we may delve directly into
medieval mappings of the body. The starting point for any such map-
ping is the origin of life, the infusion of the soul into the embryo. The
location of this infusion indicates the locus of primal force in the body.
From the theological writings of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas
to the vernacular poetry of Dante Alighieri, we may trace reflection
on the problem of a possible plurality of the soul and of its location and
modes of action within the body. Spirits, hybrid entities that bridge the
gap between the corporeal and incorporeal, allow for a compromise
between a unitary soul and the multiple diverse actions of the soul in
the body. With these maps established, the chapter turns to metaphors
of the body of the church and the body politic.
Here I am indebted to Jacques Le Goff s succinct catalogue of
a great number of these metaphors in the writings of the late medi-
eval period.4 I respond to his invitation to further inquiry into these
issues by pairing some of the texts he cites with vernacular rewritings
of these metaphoric bodies. I suggest that there are particular reasons


why authors of the late medieval period might choose to emphasize

the sovereignty of the heart, in both religious and secular contexts.
In short, whether the body under discussion was understood to be a
literal body or the metaphoric body of the church or state, late medi-
eval scholars had a choice in defining the source and nature of control
within that body. Choosing the heart meant choosing centrality over
hierarchy and, further, emphasized a certain plurality within a unity.
Now that our notions of physiology do not support such a vision of the
body, we have been deprived of a particular metaphorics of power. It is,
ironically, within Harveys embrace of the medieval notion of cardiac
sovereignty that he provides the foundation for a permanent shift away
from such concepts. He redefi nes the terms for designating a central
power as sovereign and, in so doing, supplies the means by which the
heart as center loses its nobility altogether.

Rethinking Function
How was it ever possible, one might ask, to imagine that the heart
governed the principal functions of the body, in itself and in its rela-
tions with the external world? One would imagine that the example of
individuals who had sustained a brain or spinal cord injury might have
offered ample visible proof to permanently refute Aristotles notion that
the heart ruled motion and sensation, for instance. But many late medi-
eval philosophers, theologians, and physicians found ways to insist that
the heart ruled the brain, even if they accepted the idea that the brain
governed the nervous system. Scholars have often sought to reconcile
this tenacious inconsistency by suggesting that notions of the hearts
dominion were limited to the metaphorical realms while medicine held
to a more strictly delimited sense of the hearts physical powers. This is,
however, an overly simplistic distinction for a time when natural phi-
losophy, theology, poetry, and medicine worked within the same frames


of terminology and asked many of the same questions. If, at times, we

find a debate on physiology that divides along the lines of the physicians
adherence to Galen and the philosophers adherence to Aristotle, it does
not mean that the philosophers meant to speak metaphorically. They
simply had different authorities and different procedures for arriving at
what was understood to be a literal, physical truth of bodily function.
Another frequent explanation of such inconsistencies, until much
too recently, went something like this: During the Middle Ages beliefs
about physiology were always based on Galen. They were frequently
confused and often the result of a misunderstanding of his work.5 These
are the fi rst lines of Singers chapter in his Short Hist ory of Medicine
entitled The Rebirth of Science (From about 1500 to about 1700): The
Anatomical Awakening, and such sentiments were, and in some sense
still are, pervasive. Even for those of us imbued with a hypersensitivity
to differing historical paradigms, late medieval physiology presents itself
as a frustrating hodgepodge of coexisting theories that would seem, on
the face of it, to be consistent only in their contradictions of one another.
The very same thinker, whether physician, philosopher, theologian, or
poet, will at one moment attribute a certain function to the brain and at
another moment attribute precisely the same function to the heart. One
is tempted to use words like confuse, conflate, or contradict to
describe the mess, or to line up one set of described function under the
category metaphor and another set under the category medicine.
But any of these neat solutions ultimately robs us of the beautiful
complexity of medieval constructions of the body and its cohabitation
with the soul. Worse, it renders exploration of these worlds a mere
pleasure trip into the quaint errors of our predecessors, engendering
an attitude that prevents our engagement with systems that demand us
to think bodily experience in a different way. To begin to open a way
into this intricate and challenging interweaving of corporeal function-
ality, it is necessary to linger for a moment on the concept of function


itself. What do we mean when we claim that the heart or the brain has
a certain function? We are all too accustomed to imagining that if the
brain has a certain function, or does something, then the heart does
not. In assigning function to an organ, we often isolate it, content in
thinking that we have found the source of a specific action. But this is
not the way the medieval world understood organ function. To begin
to get back behind our own limiting notions of function, we might do
well to begin much closer to our own time, with a few images derived
from William James Ingersoll Lecture on the Immortality of Man,
given in 1898.
In his lecture, James addresses two principal objections to the doc-
trine of immortality, the first being an isolationist notion of the brains
function, or as he puts it: How can we believe in life hereafter when
Science has once for all attained to proving, beyond possibility of escape,
that our inner life is a function of that famous material, the so-called
grey matter of our cerebral convolutions? How can the function pos-
sibly persist after the organ has undergone decay?6 He suggests that
we are limited by a narrow definition of function; we must inquire into
the possibility that there are different kinds of functional dependence.
James offers three varieties: the first is productive function (a tea kettle
produces steam); second, releasing or permissive function (the trigger
of a crossbow releases an arrow); and the third, transmissive function
(colored glass filters light). In general, our ideas of brain function have
assumed that it is productive. But what if the brains function is instead
James proposes two analogies for imagining transmissive function,
colored glass and the keys of an organ: The keys of an organ have only
a transmissive function. They open successively the various pipes and
let the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways. The voices of the
various pipes are constituted by the columns of air trembling as they
emerge. But the air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper, as


distinguished from its air-chest, is only an apparatus for letting portions

of it loose upon the world in these peculiarly limited shapes.7 Another
analogy for describing this transmissive function is that of the voice of
the speaker: The air now comes through my glottis determined and
limited in its force and quality of its vibrations by the peculiarities of
those vocal chords which form its gate of egress and shape it into my
personal voice.8 Rather than producing consciousness, thought, or
inner life, the brain acts, in this analysis, like the organ or the vocal
apparatus. It sifts, determines, and limits something that comes from
beyond itself.
According to this theory of transmission, the brain renders thought
and inner life particular. When the brain decays, that which is personal
is irreparably lost. After death, the mechanism of transmission, like a
particular color in a prism, is no more, but the light continues to exist.
To return to the air analogy, the particular sound of a personal voice has
disappeared, but the air that constituted that voice is still with us.
This notion of immortality wouldnt appeal to the medieval Chris-
tian world, in which an individual soul must survive the death of the
individual body in order to enjoy rewards or suffer personalized pun-
ishments in eternity. But James transmission theory aptly introduces
the sophisticated and subtle ways that many late medieval thinkers en-
visioned inter- and intracorporeal circulations. On the intracorporeal
level, the heart was the organ credited with productive function in the
body. It made blood, created heat, formed semen, and generated spirits,
those volatile entities that carried out the work of the soul.9 The brains
function was entirely transmissive; it did not create but merely refined
input received from the heart. The medieval world could explain pa-
ralysis due to head or neck injury by suggesting essentially that the
transmitter was damaged. Motion was still being produced in the heart;
it simply couldnt be communicated to the limbs.
James terminology is also well suited for describing medieval


notions of intercorporeal circulations. He notes that the ordinary

production theory of consciousness holds that the action of bodily
sense organs on the brain leads to brain action in the form of sensations
and mental images that in turn lead to higher forms of thought and
knowledge. However, in the case of events such as religious conver-
sion, miraculous healings, premonitions, apparitions, or visions, there
is no role for the sense organs. Perhaps, James suggests, these effects
are not produced within the body, but rather arrive from outside:
All that is needed is an abnormal lowering of the brain-threshold to
let them through. Further, we need only suppose the continuity of
our consciousness with a mother sea, to allow for exceptional waves
occasionally pouring over the dam.10
In medieval terms, it is not an abnormal lowering of the brain
threshold that permits access to a greater entity continuous with the
self (or to other entities), it is openness of heart. When it comes to inter-
corporeal circulation, the hearts function is both productive and trans-
missive: sensory processes involve the traffic of spirits into and out of
the heart, while divine intervention into an individual human soul takes
place in the heart. In fact, medieval accounts of the entire range of hu-
man experience, from the mundane to encounters with the supernatural,
suggest that very little was thought to be produced by the individual
body in isolation. Living in the world was understood to entail a funda-
mental condition of openness or availability to the things in that world.
Purely productive function of any kind is thus thrown into question;
thought cannot be an unadulterated production created as a response
to an entirely separate presentation of data. Thought (and particularly
speech) is always a curious admixture of the thinking, speaking subject
and the things themselves, as there is no absolute separation between
the sensory presentation of objects and the production of thought in
response to that data.
I will return to this essential reciprocity in bodily function in later


chapters. First, we must address the following question: How did we

get from the notion of an essentially productive heart to our current
certainty of an essentially productive brain? On the question of the
primacy of the heart and the quality of its function, William Harvey
had to find metaphors to match or to surpass the existing imagery of the
heart as productive source. In Harveys language, the hearts function
becomes permissive (the trigger on a crossbow), rather than productive
or transmissive. He defeats the metaphors of productivity and transmis-
sion through a deft rewriting and the substitution of powerful new
metaphors in place of the old ones.

The Unity of the Soul

Both Harvey and Descartes place a new degree of emphasis on central-
ized control. The accepted physiologies in place at the time that Harvey
publicized his discoveries tended to distribute powers generously, if not
equally, around the body. The heart, the brain, and the liver each had a
crucial role to play in maintaining life. Harveys rhetoric refocused such
multipolar systems into a body politic with a unified source of power,
a distinctly Aristotelian approach. At least in this regard, his concepts
have much in common with late medieval models. I noted previously my
intention to reconstruct a thought community organized around many
of the structures and principles of Aristotelian natural philosophy. But
in order to get at the central tenets held within that community, we must
first sketch out the varieties of possible systems and styles of thought that
coexisted in the late medieval West. Each of them hinges upon different
ways of thinking the soul, its infusion into the body, and its subsequent
inhabitation of the body.
For Aristotle, the hearts principality in the body was absolute.
Galen proposed a contradictory, multipolar model, suggesting that many
functions that Aristotle attributed to the heart were in fact functions of


the brain or the liver. Specifically, Galen asserted that blood was made
in the liver and that the brain was the source of movement and sensa-
tion. He further suggested that both veins and nerves initiated in the
brain, rather than the heart, thereby rejecting Peripatetic doctrine. In
the Middle Ages, this contradiction between two such trusted authori-
ties led to the coexistence of two different systems for interpreting the
body and, at the same time, tremendously creative solutions on the part
of medieval scholars who were at pains to reconcile these contradictory
Medieval knowledge of Aristotle was fi ltered through twelfth-
century translations of Avicennas Canon, written in the year 1012.
And, happily, Avicenna had already given considerable thought to the
problem of these conflicting authorities. His solutions were widely cited
by Western scholars as the most satisfactory responses to the debate. Al-
bert the Greats thirteenth-century De animalibus, one of the countless
medieval works to digest and comment upon the Canon, cites Avicennas
reasoned judgment on the organizing principle of the body: Galen must
have been mistaken. . . . We will prove the words of the First Master
[Aristotle] by setting forth the supposition that the soul is one power in
and of itself, from which flow all the powers of the members. Since it is
organic, there will necessarily be one member in which it is located and
from which it causes all powers to flow. And just as it is the principle
of the powers, so will that member necessarily be the point of origin of
the organs. Now it is agreed that the soul, with respect to the act and
power of life is in the heart. It is therefore necessary that the heart be
the point of origin of all the nerves and the veins through which the soul
accomplishes its operations in the members.11 The soul is described here
as the organic source of power for all the members of the body, located
in a single space within the body.12 Natural philosophers referenced the
fact that observation of embryos in chicken eggs revealed that the heart
was the first organ to form. Harvey mentions that, in the first seven days


of the incubation of a chick, first of all there is in it a drop of blood,

which moves, as Aristotle likewise observd.13 As the heart contains
the soul and the origin of the other organs, it must also be the origin of
all nerves and veins, or the conduits for powers dispersed from the soul
and distributed to all the members. According to Avicennas formulation
of the problem, belief in the unity of the soul dictates that there must be
a single point of origin for each of the organs and powers of the body.
Albert even intimates that denial of the primacy of the heart would
indicate belief in three separate souls in the three principal organs: the
heart, the brain, and the liver.14 In other words, supporting the Galenic
thesis of multipolarity was practically heresy.
The heart was further established as the principal organ of the body
by means of reference to the belief that the soul was responsible for
movement and intellectual capacity. Aristotle stated that the heart was
the principle of movement and of sensation. As both of these tenets were
held as truth, the heart had to be the dwelling place of the soul.15 Or,
as Pietro Torrigiani, a Florentine physician who was frequently cited
throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, puts it, the soul must
be united with the body through the heart because the heart is the prin-
ciple of all the faculties and the source of pneuma.16 In short, the hearts
primacy was constantly being proved as an article of faith. The soul is
in the heart, and therefore the heart is the principle of the most important
bodily functions; the heart is the principle of the most important bodily
functions, and therefore the soul must be located there.
For Thomas Aquinas, motion is the key to addressing the hearts
importance in the body and the relationship between the heart and the
soul. He cites Aristotles On the Motion of Animals as proof that the
movements of all the other parts of the body are caused by the heart.
Aquinas then considers how the heart itself is moved: As the animal
has a particular kind of form, namely the soul, nothing prohibits it from
having a natural motion as a result of that form. . . . I myself say that


the motion of the heart is a natural motion of the animal. . . . Thus, the
motion of the heart is a natural result of the soul, the form of the living
body and principally of the heart.17 In other words, the motion of the
heart, a primary movement that in turn moves all the other parts of the
body, is caused by the soul. The soul has its principal connection to
the body in the heart.
Aquinas was a major source of theology and philosophy for Dante,
who agreed that the heart was the place where body and soul come
together. In his Purgatorio, Dante has the soul of the poet Statius de-
scribe the formation of an embryo, and particularly of the soul of an
embryo, at great length.18 That passage deserves our attention here,
as Dantes tremendous erudition allows him to synthesize and inter-
pret the debates of natural philosophy and theology in terms adapted
to a rather general, if educated, audience. These descriptions are in no
way reiterations of a commonplace at the time Dante was writing, as
there was no single accepted version of this process. His sense of the
formative principle is Aristotelian: The perfect blood, which never is
drunk by the thirsty veins and is left behind as it were food which one
removes from the table, acquires in the heart an informing power for all
the bodily members, like that blood which flows through the veins to
become those members.19 Dante divides blood into two varieties, that
which is consumed by the veins and that which is perfected within the
heart. This perfect, or perfected, blood, which is imbued with forma-
tive power, will be transformed into semen so that it may shape another
body. As in the Aristotelian and Avicennian iterations of the workings of
the human body, Dantes poem describes the heart as the single source
of all the members. PseudoAlbertus Magnus De Secretis Mulierum
states that sperm is excess food that has not been transformed into the
substance of the body. The treatise explains that there are four diges-
tions in man, but that natural philosophers disagree with the doctors
on this subject [that the fourth digestion is in individual body members]


because they believe that the primarythat is the last digestionwhich

is best and most perfect, takes place in the heart.20 Dante follows the
natural philosophers.
In conception, Statius continues, the semen begins to act on the
mothers blood in the womb, and the shape of the body and of the soul
begins to emerge: The active virtue having become a soul, like that of a
plant (but in so far different that this is on the way, and that has already
arrived) so works then that now it moves and feels, like a sea-fungus;
then it proceeds to develop organs for the powers of which it is the germ.
Now, son, expands, now distends, the virtue which proceeds from the
heart of the begetter, where nature makes provision for all the members.
But how from animal it becomes a human being you do not see yet: this
is such a point that once it made one wiser than you to err, so that in his
teaching he separated the possible intellect from the soul because he saw
no organ assumed by it.21 Here Statius describes first how the active
virtue, or the force that quickens and gives form to the passive blood in
the womb, becomes first a vegetative (plantlike) soul and then an animal
(or sensitive) soul; but, before explaining how the fetus is transformed
from the level of animals to that of humans, he makes a point of reject-
ing the error of Averros, who interpreted Aristotle as maintaining that
the possible and the active intellect were separate from the individual
human soul. The discourse is interrupted by an urgent warning: You
do not see. In fact, the speaker will not show the truth, but offers the
following injunction: Open your breast to the truth which is coming,
and know. The union of the various parts of the soul must be known
or incorporated within the heart. In fact, to come to know a truth such
as this is to undergo a process similar to that which takes place within
the embryo: So soon as in the foetus the articulation of the brain is
perfect, the First Mover turns to it with joy over such art of nature,
and breathes into it a new spirit replete with virtue, which absorbs that
which is active there into its own substance, and makes one single soul


which lives and feels and circles on itself [s in s rigira].22 The infusion
of something new, whether soul or a glimpse of the eternal view, as
Statius calls it, transforms that entity which preexists it, not canceling,
but incorporating, its incomplete predecessor. Here, the intellectual or
rational soul is breathed into the body by God himself, and at this mo-
ment a crucial unification takes place: the soul infused by God pulls
the preexisting souls into itself and makes one unified soul.23 This is an
important departure from Thomistic thought for Dante; Aquinas states
that the rational soul already contains vegetative and sensitive faculties
and thus replaces any preexisting soul in the embryo. Dante chooses
unification rather than replacement as his guiding principle. But how
is the unity of the soul to be understood? Is it a unified plurality or a
perfectly singular entity? Replacement suggests a singular entity, while
unification suggests a plurality.
William of Auvergnes authoritative 1240 text, The Soul, deals with
the problem of the unity or multiplicity of the soul or souls as follows:
But if someone asks whether such a [vegetative] soul is rational, I
answer that it is not, and as I have said, the rational soul of the em-
bryo is not created and not infused until its formation is completed
by the integrity of the members suited for it. . . . But if someone asks
what happens to such a soul when the rational soul comes to the em-
bryo, I answer that it ceases to be, for its existence would be point-
less after the arrival of the rational soul. The reason for this is that
the rational soul fully suffices for governing and vivifying the body
to which it comes. But if someone wants to say of the vegetative soul
that the same thing happens to it at the arrival of the rational soul
as happens to a smaller light when a far greater light overwhelms
it, he does not say something improbably. For the lesser light
seems to be, as it were, absorbed or extinguished by the greater.24
For William, there is clearly some amount of flexibility. While there is no


need for the vegetative soul after the arrival of the rational soul, if some-
one wants to say that it is absorbed, this solution may be acceptable.
He admits a possibility that would seem to contradict his first assertion.
A larger light does not extinguish a smaller one by its mere presence. It
simply makes it impossible to distinguish the smaller from the larger.
And Dante, clearly, wants to include the vegetative soul, along with
the sensitive soul, in the infused rational soul. In Dantes embryology,
the fact that nothing is replaced or discarded is absolutely critical. He
stresses that the souls derived from the liquid substance of the parents
blood are drawn into and made one with the divine breath. The product
is a plurality of three, twice over: three souls made one, three parents
made into one human individual. This is a perfected unification, mod-
eled on the Trinity; here the embryo is all three entities in one.
Such emphasis on integration and plurality leads to a vision of cir-
culation as the mechanism and manifestation of perfected unity. After
God breathes the rational soul into the fetus, its perfection and totality
is celebrated and demonstrated in its circular motion s in s rigira:
it turns itself back upon itself. The heart of the fetus has generated its
body and has the power to generate another heart and another body. Its
cyclical potential is one with the universal creative force. This perpetual
turning is, for Dante, the movement of the entire universe and all the
beings in the universe inspired by love for the creator. His vision of God
in the uppermost regions of Paradise is a revelation of the divine as a
point encircled by swiftly spinning souls. The circles of souls closest to
that point spin fastest, while the farthest spin slowest. His guide, Bea-
trice, explains: On that point the heavens and all nature are dependent.
Look on that circle which is most conjoined to it, and know that its
motion is so swift because of the burning love whereby it is spurred.25
The creation of the unified soul in the embryo is accomplished when
it begins to move with the universe in a plural circulation around the
central point of all things.


In his De motu cordis, Aquinas states that the soul follows the
circular motion of the heavens: Now the most subtle form on earth is
the soul, which is most like the principle of the motion of the heavens.
Thus, the motion that results from the soul is most like the motion
of the heavens. In other words, the heart moves in the animal as the
heavenly bodies move in the cosmos. Nevertheless the hearts motion
is not exactly like the heavens, in the same way that what follows from
a principle is never exactly like the principle itself. Now as the principle
of all the motions in the universe, the motion of the heavens is circular
and continuous. . . . In order for the heart to be the beginning and end of
all motions in the animal, it had to have a movement that is like a circle,
but not exactly circular, composed namely from a push and pull.26 The
motion of the soul follows the motion of the heavens; the motion of the
heart follows the motion of the soul. Aquinas vision of circulation refers
to the movement of the heart itself, rather than the blood or any other
entity moving into and out of the heart. As the heart is both the source
and the termination of motion, it works in a nearly circular state of
pushes and pulls, according to Aristotle. For Aquinas, circulation is the
natural quality of an originary force, of a principle such as the heavens,
the soul, or the heart. The heart is the only organ in the body that has
these characteristics, this continuous movement formed by the soul that
is dictated in turn by the heavens above.27

The Spirit(s) Between Body and Soul

Avicennas argument for the heart as center of the circulatory and ner-
vous systems, as we have seen, hinges on the location of the soul. It is
assumed that the soul dictates bodily functiona point of departure
that forces the reader to interrogate the nature of the soul itself. In what
ways could the incorporeal soul be imbricated in the quotidian workings
of the physical body? For medieval scholars, the Latin translations of


Avicennas work, along with the works of Costa ben Luca (fl. c. 912) and
others, stimulated new ways of thinking about the relationship between
body and soul.28 These works anchored their philosophies and physi-
ologies in the idea that the soul operated in the body through traceable
physiological systems centered in the heart.
Costa ben Lucas De differentia animae et spiritus was of particular
importance, as it was cited by respected twelfth- and thirteenth-century
natural philosophers such as Alfred of Sareshel and Albert the Great.
De differentia animae et spiritus, as the title suggests, focused on defining
spiritus as compared to the soul. Spiritus, Costa ben Luca explained, is
a body, while the soul is an incorporeal thing. But spiritus is entirely of
another order than the standard corporeal components of a human; it
is the proximate cause of life in the human body as life is produced
through this spirit, which is in the ventricles of the heart.29
Based on this text and others, medieval scholars came to the con-
clusion that the soul accomplished its works in the body by means of
this more substantial entity, spiritus, or the spirit. To quote Alfred of
Sareshels De motu cordis: It is necessary that the body, that is of a blunt
and solid nature, and the soul, that is of a very subtle [subtilissimam] and
incorporeal nature, should be joined by a certain medium that, partici-
pating in the nature of both, unites in a single substance so discordant
a variance.30 That certain medium was the spirit. Notions of the
spirit were originally derived from pneuma. Aristotles De generatione
animalium identified pneuma, translated as spiritus in Latin, as the airy
substance formed in the heart that rendered sperm fertile. According to
Galen, pneuma was a mistlike substance engendered in concert with the
environment, from a combination of blood and inhaled air. Avicenna
and Costa ben Luca integrated Galens insights regarding the formation
of pneuma into a cardiocentric system of spirits.
The 1225 text Anatomia vivorum is a good example of medieval re-
statements of these systems. The text describes the production of the


spirits as follows: Between these chambers [of the heart] is a central

opening called fovea by the authors, situated in the base of the heart,
in which the blood is mixed with air, making vital spirits which the
heart forces through all the organs of the body.31 The body was thus
divided into two systems: the venous system that distributed the blood
to the body, and the arterial system that distributed spirit, also manu-
factured in the heart. The heart was understood to be composed of
two ventricles separated by the septum. Pores in the septum allowed
a small amount of blood into the left ventricle, where spirit was made
from a combination of that blood and inhaled air. Some texts, such as
the Anatomia vivorum, suggested that spirit was made between the two
ventricles, in an intermediary chamber. The two systems, venous and
arterial, blood and spirit, were brought into contact only in the heart.
Spirit could be conceived of as a hybrid entity, comprising a mixture
of that which is innate, or proper to the body (the blood that had been
refined and purified within the intimate internal spaces of the heart),
and that which is foreign to the body (inspired air). On a second level,
the body as a whole is a sort of hybrid, with its dual systems of blood
and spirit maintaining separate trajectories and spaces. These systems
meet only in the heart, the single locus of fusion.
In the Anatomia vivorum, vital spirits are described as moving
throughout the body and into all the organs. But the spirits were often
subdivided according to location and function. According to widely
accepted late medieval models, there were three spirits at work in the
body. After the vital spirit was formed in the heart, some of this spirit
moved via the arteries toward the brain, passing through the rete mira-
bile, a network that purified and rarified the spirit. In this more subtle
state, it was known as the animal spirit. The animal spirit was believed
to relay sense perceptions and transmit them, via the nerves, throughout
the body. It was also thought to control intellectual responses in general.
The natural spirit, which inhabited the liver, maintained digestion. The


vital spirit, in addition to functioning as the primary source of all the

spirits, was responsible for regulating the heartbeat and respiration.
Despite its diverse functions in various parts of the body, the spirit was
nonetheless conceived of as unitary and heart-centered.32
Dantes Vita nuova provides a particularly clear example of the ways
in which the system of spirits was internalized by scholars.33 Dante
conveys the three spirits as unified but at the same time distinct from
one another. They are depicted in action at the moment in which the
nine-year-old Dante first sees Beatrice: At that moment I say truly that
the spirit of life [lo spirito de la vita], which dwells in the most secret
chamber of the heart, began to tremble so strongly that it appeared ter-
rifying in its smallest veins; and trembling it said these words: Behold
a god more powerful than I, who comes to rule over me. At that point
the animal spirit, which dwells in the upper chamber to which all the
spirits of the senses carry their perceptions, began to marvel greatly,
and speaking especially to the spirits of sight, it said these words: Now
has appeared your beatitude. At that point the natural spirit, which
dwells in that part that ministers to our nourishment, began to weep,
and weeping said these words: Wretched me, for often hereafter shall
I be impeded! 34 The spirits are granted the power of speech to react
to the apparition of Beatrice, but their other functions remain quite
within the bounds of what natural philosophy ascribed to them. The first
respondent to the stimulus of Beatrices presence is, in fact, the heart.
The other two spirits that speak, the animal and the natural spirits,
only perceive of this new and disrupting stimulus by way of transmis-
sion through the hearts vital spirit. The heart remains, throughout the
Vita nuova, the first receptor of Beatrices presence.35 The heart then
spreads the effects of this presence to other parts of the body: The shak-
ing appeared in the smallest veins most horribly. The use of the verb
apparire, to appear, indicates further that the sensory event produces
outwardly visible signs.


As these passages from the Vita nuova reveal, the spirits were
thought to play a primary role in sense perception. But their function
was certainly not limited to the sensory. In Dantes work, and in a
large segment of late medieval thought, the spirits had an impressive
range of possibility. Their intermediary status between body and soul
led to considerable scope for interpretation. A tremendously influential
work entitled De spiritu et anima, written in the 1160s but mistakenly
attributed to Augustine, explained that the soul is an intellectual, ra-
tional spirit, always living, always in motion, capable of good or evil
will. . . . It is known by various names according to its works. It is
called soul when it vivifies; spirit, when it contemplates; a sense, when
it senses; consciousness [animus], when it knows; when it understands,
mind; when it discerns, reason; when it remembers, memory; when it
consents, will. These are not, however, differences of substance, but
of names, for all these things are a single soul: diverse properties, but
one essence.36 In short, it is the very same entity that senses, gives life,
knows, understands, and so on. All of the diverse works of the soul were
thus integrated into a unitary substance within the body, centered in the
heart and circulating throughout the body. Just as the spirits were given
different names for different functions within the body, this respected
treatise suggested that perhaps the soul, the spirit, and the senses were
all simply different names for what was essentially a unitary essence.
While some, like Thomas Aquinas, cautioned against the conflation of
spirit and soul, others were eager to adopt just such a model for under-
standing the workings of the soul and body as a continuum, rather than
a binary pair.
It is perhaps due to this notion of continuity between soul and body
that many theologians in the later Middle Ages had such a strong interest
in physiology. Albert the Great and the encyclopedists, Vincent of Beau-
vais and Thomas of Cantimpr, were at times criticized for dedicating so
much time and textual space to the natural world. Not content simply to


cite the information available to them, they added their own interpreta-
tions and conclusions to debates on the precise role of the heart, or the
workings of the soul and spirit within the body.37 These thinkers were
important authorities for the period considered here, a period in which
physicians, philosophers, and theologians could all claim equal expertise
in the workings of the physical heart, from the production of blood to
the production of spirits to its modes of harboring the soul.
One language of life that had the potential to describe both the
life of the body and the life of the soul had obvious appeal for those
medieval scholars who wished to embrace the knowledge of the ancient
world that had recently become available to them.38 If natural philoso-
phy and theology could inform one another, then a potent mixture of
Greek, Arabic, and Latin texts might be brought together to explain
the cohabitation of body and soul. The intermediary of the spirit, an
entity that shared qualities of the body and of the soul, enabled a certain
fluidity of categories. From this perspective, the heart, as the source of
spirits and of life in the human body, was the true animae domicilium,
or the domicile of the soul.39

Christ as Heart
Now that we have seen how medieval natural philosophy managed
to impose centralizing structures and principles upon a multiplicity of
bodily and spiritual functions, we may turn to the political conjugations
of these concepts. From Greco-Roman antiquity to the present time,
discussions of governance and power in both church and state have
always been intimately related to discussions of governance and power
in the body. Livy reports that Consul Menenius Agrippa put an end
to a secession of plebeians by telling a tale of a rebellion of the bodily
members against the stomach (which here represents the Roman Senate),
a tale reminiscent of Aesops fable of the Belly and the Members. The


story reappears in Plutarch and eventually in Shakespeares Coriolanus,

where its telling is interrupted by a citizen who lists a veritable catalogue
of bodily metaphors: the kingly crownd head, the vigilant eye, the
counsellor heart, the arm our soldier, and so forth. Clearly, at this time,
the common view of bodily metaphor is fairly well established. Schol-
ars suggest that in Coriolanus, the inspiration for these roles for heart
and head is likely John of Salisburys 1159 text, Policraticus, in which
the metaphor appears as follows: The king indeed holds the place of
head in the state, subject to none but God.40 It would seem then that
governing power has to do with place or position. Anything beneath
the head would be subject to something, dominated.
But must the body politic be an upright body? In the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries, this simple vertical model was bowled over, so
to speak, by the surge of interest in Aristotelian notions of centraliza-
tion noted earlier in this chapter. In Bernard Silvestres 11471148 Cos-
mographia, the heart has the place of the emperor, located in an upright
body.41 But in the centuries that follow, many Aristotelian scholars chose
to de-emphasize verticality and emphasize centrality. They proffered
arguments of primacy as they reoriented questions of position. Refer-
ence to the visible proof that the heart is the fi rst organ to form in a
chicken embryo, for instance, placed emphasis on temporal primacy,
rather than vertical, physical hierarchy.
That primacy functioned within medieval structures of reasoning
as a principle, a fi xed point of reference in the search for truth. In his
political treatise, the Monarchia, Dante describes the methods by which
one may arrive at truth: Now since every truth which is not itself a
first principle must be demonstrated with reference to the truth of some
first principle, it is necessary in any inquiry to know the first principle
to which we refer back in the course of strict deductive argument in
order to ascertain the truth of all the propositions which are advanced
later.42 Within mappings of the medieval body and body politic, the


heart stood as this first principle to which every other organ or func-
tion must refer.
In the words of Albert the Great: Those who have held the opinion
that the point of origin of the veins is in the head have been in error. One
reason for this mistaken statement is that they posit many principles,
separate from one another. Their error lies in a lack of coherence; for
Albert, it is evident that there cannot be multiple principles: For a
principle should be the cause of other things and it should be alone (that
is, uniquely) the principle of all. It is also placed in the middle, for the
middle is the most suitable place for a principle. The middle is unique by
being equidistant, and by it the power is spread out proportionally into
all the members in one and the same way. Nor can anyone reasonably
say that the liver is the principle of the entire body or the principle of the
blood. For it is not positioned in a place suitable for a principle.43 Prin-
cipality, in this case, not only follows the theological logic of the unity
of the soul but also follows the political logic of nobility and the distri-
bution of power. The heart must be the source of power for the body
because it is uniquely positioned to spread its strength into all the mem-
bers, these scholars suggest.
As visions of bodily power structures were increasingly oriented
around the heart, spatial descriptions of governance underwent a corre-
sponding shift. The vertical binary model no longer applied. Thomas
of Cantimpr (12011272), one of Alberts students and also one of his
sources for the De animalibus, emphasizes the same point in his Liber
de natura rerum: And we may note that nature placed the heart in the
middle of the body and rightly so, as that which is noble is ordered in
the most noble place.44 The concept of nobility is not correlated here
with the highest position in the human body, the head. Rather, the body
is imagined as if supine in a horizontal plane, the heart like a king in the
center of that sprawling kingdom.45 Viewed from this angle, the head
is an appendage of the center, a peripheral member.


The Christian incarnation of this set of concepts most often portrays

the church as a body with Christ as its head. Paul is one of the main
sources of these images, as in Romans 12:45: For as in one body we
have many members, and all the members do not have the same function,
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members
one of another.46 Through Christ, individuals are brought into commu-
nity, joining their particular functions into one unitary body.
But the corporeal metaphors in Pauls letters take on a different tone
elsewhere, as in Ephesians 5:2324: For the husband is head of the wife
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its savior. As
the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be subject in everything to
their husbands; and in First Corinthians 11:3: The head of every man
is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ
is God. The emphasis here is on the head rather than the community
of the body. The head signifies power, controlling all that lies beneath
it. A vertical, hierarchical pair is established between head and subject.
The body is, indeed, subjected to its head.47
In the early Middle Ages, bodily metaphors of this kind became
prominent, notably in Gregory the Great, Bedes Commentary on the
Song of Songs, and Beatus Commentary on the Apocalypse.48 Following
the Aristotelian turn toward centrality and primacy beginning in the
twelfth century, however, some of these metaphors changed to fit the
unifying theories of the souls action within the body.49 Paul remained
an important reference of choice for describing the church as body,
but Pauline metaphors were, at times, shifted to suit the contemporary
focus on the powers of the heart. The letters of Catherine of Siena,
a fourteenth-century mystic and political activist, offer a particularly
revealing example of this shift.
Catherine rose to prominence in the church due to her mystical
visions and political activism.50 In 1376, she played a major role in con-
vincing Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy from Avignon to Rome,


the city that she saw as the center of the Christian world. Once he was
established in Rome, Gregory XI employed Catherine as mediator and
emissary. After his death in 1378, there was considerable pressure from
the populace to appoint an Italian pope. Bartolomeo da Prignano, arch-
bishop of Bari, was elected and took the name Urban VI. A few months
later, the Count of Fondi, Caetano Onorati, invited a group of mostly
French cardinals to his home, where another conclave was held. Car-
dinal Robert of Geneva (Clement VII) was elected in September, thus
beginning the Great Schism. Catherine was a staunch ally of Urban VI.
Her letters, seeking to convince the new popes enemies to accept his
controversial election, are sprinkled liberally with partial quotations
and rewritings from Pauls epistles.
Usually, Catherine does not directly reference her source; Pauls
language pours out of her spontaneously, melded inextricably with her
own thought. As with many medieval writers, whose texts were created
in the space between citation, commentary, and reference, Catherine
felt no need to clarifyor perhaps had no sense ofwhat was Pauls
and what was her own. An educated reader would recognize an overt
reference, but it was not, strictly speaking, necessary to distinguish
between Catherine and her source. Texts and images existed in order to
be reused. One senses that, from a young age, Catherine had internal-
ized the building blocks of sermons, probably with the voracious aural
memory of one who does not read. (Catherine learned to read later in
life, after her religious celebrity allowed her the possibility of instruc-
tion.) Those instances when Catherine does not simply redeploy Pauline
visions of the body of the church but instead transforms them are par-
ticularly significant as apertures into this very particular moment.
In one of her letters, Catherine describes proper relations between
Christ and his church by elaborating a vision of cardiac centrality: In
the middle of the vineyard [of the soul] He [Christ] placed the vessel
of his heart, full of blood, to water the plants with it, so that they dont


dry out. . . . What is [the vineyard] watered with? Not with water
but with precious blood spilled with much fire of love. That blood is
located in the vessel of the heart, as it is said.51 Christs heart features
centrally and prominently within the individual human soul, thereby
facilitating a series of implicit and explicit references to physiology and
to ecclesiastical politics.52 While Biblical accounts of the wounding of
Christ do not indicate that the lance reached Christs heart or that the
heart was in fact wounded, it had become commonplace by this time
for religious thinkers to assume that Christs heart was wounded on
the cross. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the fi rst to make it
clear that the lance wounding Christs side touched his heart, and Saint
Bonaventure speaks of living within the heart of Christ, envisioning
the wound as an entryway.53
The heart, here and in other letters, becomes a means of under-
standing and teaching spiritual and political responsibility. Catherines
vineyard houses a heart that links and integrates three levels of meaning.
First, the heart in the vineyard reflects concepts of how the heart works
within the human body. Second, the example shows that each individual
soul must take its nourishment from Christ, making his heart its own
source of life. Third, Christs heart is located at the center of the body
of the church, compelling each Christian to join under the care of the
leadership of the church or be severed from that life-giving body.
When Catherine locates the heart in the middle of the garden, her
letter is organized to conform to the standard pattern for discussing the
hearts properties; the entries in both Vincent of Beauvais and Thomas
of Cantimprs encyclopedias begin by mentioning and interpreting the
hearts central position within the body as a prelude to further conclu-
sions about its primacy as an organ.54 The bleeding heart in the middle of
the vineyard of the soul has the same function as the healthy heart within
the intact human body; it is the only source that produces, contains, and
gives forth life-giving blood. As in Albert the Greats De animalibus,


Dominican sources that would have formed Catherines immediate cul-

tural milieu repeated Aristotles correlation between physical centrality
and the center of power.
Blood is located in the heart, Catherine insists, referencing un-
identified sources: as it is said. Along with the centrality of the heart,
the issue of the location of blood was a topic of debate between the
proponents of Aristotelian and Galenic teachings on bodily function.
Both Vincent and Thomas cite Aristotle and Avicennas commentaries
on Aristotle on this issue, arguing against the Galenic assertion that
the liver also produced and held (nutritive) blood. This idea that the
seat of the soul was the only source of the substance essential for life
opened the way to more unified modes of thinking about body and
spirit. Christs heart is designated as the sole source of nutrients for the
vineyard, just as the human heart, in the Aristotelian vision, was said
to be the unique fount of blood for the body. As through the sacrament
of the Eucharist, Christs blood offers eternal life to the soul; the hearts
blood offers life to the body. Like Christ, the heart is the principle or
source of all power in the body. In short, the medieval recyclings of
Aristotelian centralized physiology, employed to counter Galenic divi-
sions of power between the heart and the liver (and also the brain), in this
context take on new importance: the body reflects Christian teachings.
Just as there is only one central source of life in the body, there is only
one way to salvation and only one Christ. This structure of the Christian
community recalls Paul: We, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another; but Catherine has departed
significantly from Paul here. Christ is not the head of the human; he is
the heart of the human soul and of the human body. He is the heart of
the church. Not father, not husband, not master, Catherines Christ is a
loving, maternal source of nourishment.55


The Distribution of Blood

Such a centralized theological structure found its reflection in an ideal-
ized central administrative body for the church. Papal politics of the time
fell far short of the ideal, however, and in themselves provide a fascinat-
ing study of tensions between concepts of center and multipolarity. I
will limit myself here to a very brief foray into cardiac notions of papal
authority as seen through Catherine of Sienas contribution in this tu-
multuous time.
In a letter to the Count of Fondi, which I have already cited above,
Catherine expresses her dismay over the Counts reception of the cardi-
nals who refused to accept Urban VIs election. In the face of this conflict
of curial authorities, Catherine describes what she sees as a natural
structure for the church: We have said that we are vineyards, and how
the vineyard is ornamented, and how God wishes it to be worked. Now
where have we been placed? In the vineyard of the holy church. There
He has placed the worker, that is Christ-on-earth, who distributes the
blood to us.56 Catherine has indicated clearly who this worker is, as
this is precisely the motivation for her letter: it is Urban VI.57 The pope,
as she saw it, was designated by providence; only he had the authority
to distribute the blood from Christs heart.
The personal vineyard is a microcosm of the whole: each individual
plot is placed within the larger vineyard of the church. Christs heart
stands at the center of each plot, but also, paradoxically, at the center
of the larger body of the church. The point that unifies each individual
plot with the whole is the source or heart that is simultaneously at the
center of the microcosm and the macrocosm. In this way, each Christian
has an individual relationship with Christ and a public relationship with
Christ. The latter is administrated by the pope and the ministers of the
church, principally through the sacraments, and particularly through
the community of blood.


Urban VI is, then, designated by God to work the garden and ad-
minister the distribution of life-giving blood. Catherine calls upon the
Count of Fondi to recognize this function and, in so doing, save both
himself and the church. In the production and distribution of blood, the
functions of Christ and the functions of the pope together correspond,
respectively, to the functions of the heart. As Catherine unfolds her
vision, it becomes clear that each Christian must understand himself
or herself as dependent on his or her status as a member of a universal
body. Since the heart was thought to be the source of heat, motion, and
sensation within the body, any member of the body that became discon-
nected from the powers flowing from the heart would lose the capacity
for movement, become insensate, and finally die. Vincent of Beauvais
cites the physician al-Razi on this point: The heart was made by God
to be the fount and origin of natural heat and the heat proceeds from the
heart to the entire body by the arteries, heating every member, and if
any of the arteries leading to a member are cut, they will congeal and the
movement and sensation beyond that point will harden and the member
will be rendered dead.58 An individuals power to move and to feel is a
divine gift in this analysis, a gift that depends on the connection of the
parts to their point of origin.
Catherine makes use of this unifying principle to try to convince
one of the priors of Florence, Niccol Soderini, to accept an offer of
peace from the pope: We putrid members . . . can clearly see that we
cannot do without him [the pope]. . . . He who scorns this sweet Vicar
scorns the blood. . . . How can you say that if you offend the body, you
do not offend the blood that is in the body? Dont you know that it [the
body] has within it the blood of Christ?59 Those who do not embrace
the pope are rejecting Christ himself. In their scorn, they become like
rotting limbs, having willfully disconnected themselves from the life-
giving, animating blood that flows from the heart. By seeking to remove
themselves from the body of the state, the rebels against Urban VI scorn


the blood of salvation that flows from Christ himself. Just as a severed
limb cannot survive on its own, there is no individual access to Christ
unless the individual is part of the greater community and is subordinate
to those who administer to the common needs of that community.
Catherine employs the figure of the heart to open the discussion
outwards, moving gradually from the necessities for an individuals
salvation to the greater, more general needs of the church and the com-
munity of souls in the church. By establishing the heart as center and
unique source of power and life in the body, Catherine crafts an argu-
ment for centralized political power in the church. If the soul can physi-
cally govern the body, the church should likewise govern the physical
state. But above all, the notion of power is conceived of here as deriving
from a natural or rightful source. Looking to the center for governance
is, in these terms, simply an acknowledgment of the order of things.
Catherine seeks to convince the noblemen that they are not being forced
into a body politic by a subjugating head. Instead, she urges them to
look inwards, to conceive of the papal role as a necessary part of their
own spiritual health.
Catherine does not wish to depict Christ or his agent, the pope, as
a controlling entity; her powers of persuasion work in an entirely dif-
ferent way. As a woman and as a person of humble origins, Catherine
was a canny ally of papal authority precisely because she could appeal
to powerful men from outside the conventional vertical hierarchical
structures that organized society. Rather than attempt to impose an
autocratic head upon the Count of Fondi, Catherine reminds the Count
of his own natural center. She refers him back to the source of his life.
Christs heart is his heart, she explains, the fount of his physical and
spiritual life. And only Urban VI can see to it that the blood from that
fount reaches him.


The Heart as King

As we have seen, physiological, theological, and ecclesiastical structures
that were organized around a life-giving source, rather than an authori-
tarian head, could be powerful tools in their coherence and their ap-
peal to centralizing styles of thought. But what of secular politics? And
what happens when a single body politic has within it two competing
authorities, religious and secular? According to Jacques Le Goff s study
of bodily metaphors for the state, power is almost always located in the
head of the body politic. But, as he notes, there are a few exceptions to
this rule, exceptions that are all the more notable for their density and
concentration as a period of aberration.
I propose that the importance of the heart as designated center of
power emerges as a response to a conflict of authorities. In natural phi-
losophy, there was a conflict between Galen and Aristotle. Avicenna and
his medieval readers found ways of acknowledging the brains role while
focusing on the heart as primary to the brain. In political philosophy, the
heart as metaphor for necessary or vital leadership appears, to give one
example, during the confl ict between Philippe le Bel, king of France,
and Pope Boniface VIII.60 Philippe le Bels sense of the importance of
the heart as a signifier of kingship even led him to begin the practice of
the tombeaux de coeur (heart tombs) with a special burial for his fathers
heart and instructions for the separate burial of his own heart upon his
death.61 An anonymous treatise, Rex pacificus, was written in 1302 by
one of the kings supporters. In response to this problem of two authori-
ties, religious and secular, the treatise describes man as an entity con-
trolled by two principal organs, the head and the heart. The pope is the
head, along with Christ. From the head come the nerves that distribute
theological decrees. The prince, on the other hand, is the heart, and
distributes law as blood through the veins. The author explains that, as
blood is the vital element in the body, the heart and the king are more


important. He goes on to offer this proof: the heart is the first entity to
appear in the embryo, and therefore royalty must precede priesthood.
Invoking the power of authorities to substantiate his position, he cites
Aristotle, Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Isidore of Seville. In each case,
his citations assert that the heart is superior to the head. A conciliatory
note appears at the end; in the body the head and the heart have distinct
functions and dont encroach upon each other, and the same should be
true of pope and king.62
Dantes Inferno, written around 1310 (roughly eight years later than
Rex pacificus), presents another conflict of powers and likewise correlates
the two powers with head and heart. In the eighth circle of the Inferno,
the pilgrim encounters a troop of gruesomely wounded sinners. As in
life these sowers of discord divided people from one another, they are
themselves divided, continuously carved up in various ways by a devil
armed with a sword. One is acephalous: Truly I saw, and seem to see
it still, a trunk without the head going along as were the others of that
dismal herd, and it was holding the severed head by the hair, swinging
it in hand like a lantern, and it was gazing at us and saying: Oh me! . . .
See now my grievous penalty, you who, breathing, go to view the dead:
see if any other is so great as this! And that you may carry news of me,
know that I am Bertran de Born, he who to the young king gave the evil
counsels. I made the father and son rebel against each other. . . . Because
I parted persons thus united, I carry my brain parted from its source,
alas! which is in this trunk. 63 Bertran de Born (c. 11401215), lord of
Hautefort, urged Henry II of Englands son to revolt against his father.
Or at least so says one of the Provenal lives of Bertran, an account
that Dante seems to have accepted, at least for the purposes of his poem.
Bertrans suffering, perhaps the paradigmatic example of infernal punish-
ment or contrapasso in the Inferno, reveals the true nature of his sin. His
decapitated body figures his actions: he divided two people who were as
a head and a trunk to one another and therefore is likewise split.


But rather than following the perhaps expected solution of align-

ing the reigning authority with the head, Dante has Bertran carry his
brain divided from its source . . . which is in this trunk. In the face of
these two conflicting authoritiesthe older and the young kingit
is the usurper that is figured in the head. Henry the Young Kingas
he was called to distinguish him from his nephew, Henry IIInever
in fact ruled, though he was crowned while his father was still alive and
fought against him in two rebellions, dying in the midst of the second.
The heart, as Dante explains in the passage of the Purgatorio cited ear-
lier, is the origin of all the other organs in the body. In this passage, it
is described as, specifically, the origin of the head itself. The old king is
thus the heart of the body, the generative source and seat of power, while
the son is the head. The head, as a dependent and derivative part of the
body, is shown in the futility of its rebellion, reduced to a lantern that
must be carried by the body it rejectedrather like the hands in Aesops
fable that decide not to feed the stomach. There can be no rule and no
life without the center in this analogy; the head cannot survive when
detached from the source of life that is also its origin. Bertrans speech,
issuing from the severed head, locates its selfhood in the headless trunk:
I carry my brain, he says, correlating the body that does the action
of carrying with the subject, the I. The decapitated head is impotent
without the body, a mere mouthpiece for the real self or origin in the
heart. As in Rex pacificus, an attempt to justify the relations between
two separate authorities inclines the author to designate one as the more
natural source of poweras, indeed, the origin of life. The argument,
corresponding with that of the natural philosophers who reference the
first pulsation of blood in an egg, is one of primacy.
The same rule of primacy applies in the symbolic mappings of torso
and head on the bodies of other sinners in the same circle. Dantes gory
description of Mohammed and his cousin Ali rehearses a parallel spatial
pattern of temporal precedence in the context of religious institutions:


Truly a cask, through loss of mid-board or side-piece, gapes not so

wide as one I saw, cleft from the chin to the part that breaks wind; his
entrails were hanging between his legs, and the vitals could be seen and
the foul sack that makes ordure of what is swallowed. While I was all
absorbed in gazing on him, he looked at me and with his hands pulled
open his breast, saying, Now see how I rend myself, see how mangled
is Mohammed! In front of me goes Ali weeping, cleft in the face from
chin to forelock.64 For Dante, Mohammed is a fallen Christian who has
divided Christian believers. His sin, figured so graphically and crudely
in his opened body, is that of splitting the body of the church in two. His
cousin, Ali, who split Islam into the Sunni and Shiite sects, is cloven only
from the chin to the hairline. His schism begins where Mohammeds
ends and is an appendage of Mohammeds schism. Mohammeds body
is the body of the church as a whole; Alis head is a sect that branches
off from that core. Here, as in the case of Bertran de Born, the head is
seen as younger, newer, and functionally peripheral to its origin in the
central trunk of the body. Mohammed opens himself, enacting his divi-
sion of the very heart of the church. When cloven at its core, the body
loses both integrity and nobility.
Henri of Mondeville, Philippe le Bels surgeon, wrote a treatise on
surgery at around the same time, between 1306 and 1320.65 Mondeville
likewise makes the heart the center of the body politic, describing a
monarchical state in which the most important thing is centralization,
not vertical hierarchy: The heart is the principal organ par excellence
[membrum principalissimum] which gives vital blood, heat and spirit
to all other members of the entire body. It is located in the very middle
of the chest, as befits its role as the king in this midst of his kingdom.66
Its hard to say whether politics is modeled on physiology or physiol-
ogy is modeled on politics. Perhaps it is both. While these texts may
represent a short-lived anomaly in the history of metaphors of the body
politic, this fourteenth-century shift seems to be rather significant.67 As


in Catherine of Sienas letter, these texts do not simply offer an alternate

metaphor; they propose a different concept of power. The cardiocentric
body politic presents authority as something other than control prof-
fered from above, to which the subject is required to submit. Instead,
these texts invite the reader to imagine their king, savior, or pope as the
most natural of internal sources, a necessary center that nourishes and
organizes their very existence.

The Seventeenth-Century Return to Central Sovereignty

In the seventeenth century, William Harvey returns to this early
fourteenth-century idea of the body politic. In the dedication of his
work, Harvey writes: I was so bold to offer to your Majesty those
things which are written concerning the Heart, so much the rather,
because (according to the custom of this age) all things human are ac-
cording to the pattern of man, and most things in a King according to
that of the Heart; Therefore the knowledge of his own Heart cannot
be unprofitable to a King, as being a divine resemblance of his actions
(so usd they small things with great to compare). You may least, best
of Kings, being placd in the top of human things, at the same time
contemplate the Principle of Mans Body, and the Image of your Kingly
power. I therefore most humbly intreat, most gracious King, accept,
according to your accustomd bounty and clemency, these new things
concerning the Heart, who are the new light of this age, and indeed the
whole Heart of it.68 Harvey references the rhetoric of heightplacd
in the top of human thingsbut detaches this rhetoric from concepts
of subjugation. Instead, the pinnacle of human affairs becomes a vantage
point for contemplation of the whole. The princes height allows him
a privileged view of the real center, of the prime mover at the core not
only of the body politic, but also of the age. A reading of Harveys text
allows the prince to see his true or ideal nature.


Within his treatise, Harvey praises Aristotle for his appreciation

of the principality of the heart, criticizing his contemporaries who
believe that the heart is secondary in some way to the brain or the liver.
It is due to this renewed sense of principality that the heart becomes once
again a suitable metaphor for the king. The heart does not depend upon
any other organ, in Harveys analysis, but instead stands as a source.
Harvey argues, as Avicenna did, that the heart appears before either the
brain or the liver in the embryo and therefore has blood, life, sense, and
motion prior to the existence of any other organ thought to be responsi-
ble for such. The heart is unique amongst the organs due to what Harvey
calls its publico usui, or public function. While other organs each have a
privato usui, or private purpose, only the heart has an innate disposition
toward the public good. The heart alone contains blood for general use
in the entire body, while each of the other organs receives blood for
private use.69 The king is, in this ideal vision, different from private
citizens because of his exceptional orientation toward the public good.
The newly conceived heart that Harvey presents to his prince is
a generous organ, the sole entity in the body dedicated to distributing
its power rather than reserving it for selfish purposes: a Prince in the
Commonwealth, in whose person is the first and highest government
everywhere; from which as from the original and foundation, all power
in the animal is derivd, and doth depend.70 Power, like blood, is shared
and distributed. The idealized king, modeled after the heart, does not
subjugate, does not rule from on high, but instead is both vital and cen-
tral to the entire body politic. Arguing against the dominant Galenic
approach to the body as a multipolar organism, Harvey finds new ways
to emphasize the unique powers of the heart. Principality and generosity
are concepts that would appeal to the king politically and, as Harvey
hoped, draw attention to a re-centered vision of the body.
At the same time, Harvey has critically altered the terms for put-
ting the heart at the center of the body politic. The medieval vision of


the heart as center imagined the heart as productive of both blood and
spirit. Harveys vision of heart function de-emphasizes production and
focuses on what we might call, borrowing William James term, permis-
sive function. According to Harvey, the heart spreads power throughout
the body through the action of setting the blood in motion. But when it
comes to stating whether the heart creates spirits, Harvey demurs, say-
ing that whether or no the heart contribute any thing else to the blood,
besides the transposition, local motion, and distribution of it, we must
enquire afterwards, and collect out of other observations.71
In the eighth chapter of his treatise, he states, rather dramatically:
Now as concerning the abundance and increase of this blood, which
doth pass through [from the veins to the arteries], those things which
remain to be spoken of, though they be very considerable, yet when
I shall mention them, they are so new and unheard of, that not only I
fear mischief which may arrive to me from the envy of some persons,
but I likewise doubt that every man almost will be my enemy, so much
does custome and doctrine once received and deeply rooted (as if it
were another Nature) prevail with every one.72 While much of his
language (and particularly the language used to appeal to his sovereign)
refers to the heart as a kind of source, Harvey wishes to redefine the
way in which his public understands the heart as source. That is, the
heart must be transformed in the public imaginary from a fountain, or
source in the sense of something productive of water or blood or spirit,
and imagined rather as the source of motion. The heart is to blood as
a crossbow is to an arrow, not as a kettle is to steam. It sets something
preexisting into motion.
In order to maintain notions of the hearts sovereignty, Harvey
attempts to transfer the prestige attached to productive function to per-
missive function. Production, in Harveys metaphorics, becomes the
animalistic stuff of basic nutrition: If any here can say that it can pass
through in great abundance, and yet it is not needfull that there should


be a circulation, since it comes to be made up by what we receive, and

that the encrease of milk in the paps may be an instance, for a cow in
one day gives three, four, or seven gallons, or more, a woman likewise
gives two or three pints every day or more in the nursing of a child or
two, which is manifest to be restord by what she receives, it is to be
answerd, that the heart is known to send out so much in one hour or
two.73 By this reasoning, the heart retains its nobility by not involving
itself in what is cast here as simple manufacture when contrasted with
Harveys characterization of the hearts work of creating motion and
therefore heat. Production, on the other hand, becomes the simple stuff
of consumption and nutrition, a far cry from medieval analogies with
Christs gift of his blood to mankind through his wound and through
the sacrament of communion. In short, while retaining the Aristotelian-
medieval language of source, sovereign, and center to describe the heart,
Harvey seeks to subtly shift understandings of these terms away from
the creation or production of blood, life, and spirit. If the heart is a deity,
it is not one that creates, but rather one that sets things in motion.
In both the fourteenth- and seventeenth-century iterations of the
vision of the heart as center of the body and the body politic, the phi-
losophers, politicians, physicians, and theologians cited here strove for
a model of power that would unify their society. An emphasis on the
heart as source of power allowed thinkers to reconcile desire for unity
and synthesis with the multipolarity of the world and the bodies they
inhabited. The heart could be justifiably designated as source (of some
kind) for everything within the body, thus satisfying the need for uni-
versals or principles, while at the same time allowing for a different and
distinct role for the brain. The heart, unlike the brain, was not allied
with total control but represented, rather, a model of connection that
shaped understanding of the bonds upon which the multiple parts of the
body and of society depend.
As we have seen, then, the designation of the heart as sovereign is


not a mere election of a different part of the body to rule over the rest.
An exploration of the conception of the heart as sovereign opens up
another thought style at variance with our own. Within that thought
style, physiological bodies as well as ecclesiastical and secular adminis-
trative bodies are organized according to principles we no longer share;
governance itself has a character that is foreign to us today. In this case,
Harveys text provides the terms for a mutation in thought style that he
himself does not embrace. Harvey stands with one foot in each world
but looks squarely back toward the vision of the heart as sovereign. By
disconnecting sovereignty from its defining characteristic as produc-
tive source, however, and seeking to redefine sovereign power around
permissive function, Harvey creates the foundation for a future and
perhaps definitive shift away from notions of the heart as ruler. Increas-
ingly mechanical visions of the principles of motion allow Descartes and
others following him to locate power elsewhere within the body, in the
autocratic head. It is, ironically, Harveys notion of the heart as prime
mover that opens the possibility of mechanistic descriptions of heart
function that dominate our discourse up to the present day.

C H A P T E R t wo

The Porous Heart

Holes in the Heart

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 with blood, Harvey
marshaled powerful images of the heart as an isolated creature, a her-
metically enclosed entity. He was so successful in his insulation of the
heart that the Western scientific world is still, to this day, reluctant to
consider the heart as susceptible in any way to the outside world, or even
to emotion (now located at a safe distance in the brain).1
The existence of holes in the heart or in the arteries was of necessity
debated through images. Harvey could not demonstrate that something
held to be invisible did not exist; he had to instead create new images
of the heart and its relationship to the body enclosing it. His language

T h e Porous H e a rt

is highly descriptive and allusive; he speaks of seals, whales, and the

depths of the ocean. In short, he waxes poetic.
In order to fully explore the dominant conception of the porous,
breathing heart, a concept that endured tenaciously through Harveys
time, we must excavate the images that made the heart what it was in the
medieval imagination, holes and all. This is not simply a problem of the
details of the hearts anatomy. These porosities in the heart and openings
in the arteries meant that each individual human heart was accessible
to air from the outside world, or in other words that each individual
person was open even to the very core of his or her being. The air that
moved between people, as it moved between the earthly and the divine
realms, could be imbued with spirits of all kinds, from the terrestrial
purveyors of sensation to divine entities or even demonic creatures.
Concepts and images of the porous heart were elaborated in religious
texts and in poetry, shaping the ways in which people understood the
relationship between their bodies and the external world.
Today, we imagine the heart that beats within us as generally in-
accessible to the outside world, sheltered deep within our bodies. As a
result, the phrase open heart conjures up either the trite notion of some-
one who is very emotionally available to others or, on the literal side, a
gruesome vision of sternotomy. The open medieval heart gave rise to a
different field of concepts. Poets, for example, described the experience
of the vision of the beloved as an intake of air, light, and spirit, sub-
stances that all found their way into the poets vulnerable heart. They
examined their sensory experiences of love as heart-centered phenomena
and analyzed the relationship between these experiences and inspiration.
Theologians also took a keen interest in describing sensory phenomena
in order to think through the souls relationship to the senses and to the
body in general. Religious writings were concerned with human avail-
ability to divine forces, to demonic possession, and to the potentially

T h e Porous H e a rt

dangerous sensory effects of other human beings upon the body and
the soul guarded within.
Senses in the Middle Ages were often imagined to work in patterns
of circulation that not only brought together diverse parts of the body
and soul but also brought input from the world into the body and from
the body back out into the world. This chapter will consider airborne
circulatory patterns that go beyond the individual body and include
other bodies or other elements of the world beyond the skin. I argued
in the previous chapter that two competing visions of governance co-
existed in late medieval thought. I propose here another pairing of two
cardiocentric conceptions of vision: the first is the concept of an image or
inscription within the heart or stamped upon the heart, and the second is
the concept of a visual spiritual exchange or circulation, in which both
viewer and viewed are reciprocal agents. Indeed, in the second case,
even distinctions between viewer and viewed are ultimately mislead-
ing. I will refer to the first model as the impression concept and the
second as the intercourse concept. I use the word intercourse to sug-
gest both literal reciprocal exchange between two bodies and a sense
of the potential generational outcomes of this type of visual event. The
second concept derives from the rather unique thought community of
late medieval Italy that is the particular focus of this study, a community
that can be identified by its interest in cardiocentric Aristotelian natural
Eric Jagers The Book of the Heart details numerous images of in-
scriptions or impressions upon the heart; from the Song of Songs to
the present day, poets and saints have imagined their hearts as signed,
sealed, and painted with the object of their desires.2 These tropes visual-
ize the heart as a flat tablet, an image that does not correspond to natural
philosophical concepts of the heart as a generative receptacle. It is my
intention, therefore, to dedicate the following pages to the other side of
that story, or to what I distinguish as a second concept of vision that,

T h e Porous H e a rt

unlike the first, is informed by natural philosophy and understands the

heart not as a tablet or generalized interior space, but rather as a specific
organ with defined capacities, openings, and depths.
The focus of this chapter will be on vernacular understandings and
associations with the porous heart. The sections that follow trace the
ways in which each of the senses was imagined to bring something from
the outside world into the heart. Such intake had a necessary correlate
in outbound response, in the form of voice or projective spirits issuing
from the eyes. This intercorporeal dynamism is quite at odds with the
ways in which we now think normative relationality. When I walk by
another person on the street, my senses may present things to me about
that person, but I dont like to imagine that any aspect of that person
takes up residence within me. My body remains utterly distinct from
hers. Anything else would be a violation, or more specifically a violation
of the boundary that constitutes my sense of self. The spiriti generated
in the medieval heart created different possibilities for the experience of
the world. They extended far beyond the boundaries of a single body,
reaching into other bodies and thus forming the potential for a certain
porosity of selfhood that corresponded to the porosity of the heart.
There is a contemporary correlate for such notions; recent and even
current images of infection share much with the darker side of the late
medieval model. For this reason, I propose a brief tour of medieval vi-
sions of pestilence and contagion before returning to Harveys effort to
circumscribe notions of inner vulnerability to the surrounding world.
Disease may invade according to our present metaphorics, but, as
Susan Sontag points out, we are likely to blame the victim for allowing
infection into the body by means of promiscuity or other lowering of
natural defenses.3 The medieval heart, on the other hand, was meant to
be promiscuous; the world rushed into it with every breath.

T h e Porous H e a rt

Taste and Touch

The concept of the heart as the center of sensory processes was already
problematic in the late medieval world.4 But it endured alongside the
competing encephalocentric model because of the degree to which it
pervaded a thought style that viewed physical sensation and spiritual
discernment as a unified process. Much like the debate on governance
within the body, concepts of spiritual and sensorial openness to the
outside world derived from Aristotelian and Galenic ideas. According
to Aristotle, the heart ruled both motion and sensation. In late medi-
eval accounts, the brain was acknowledged as a necessary mediator for
sensory function, but the heart, as the seat of the soul, was designated as
the point of origin and return for the trajectories of sensory processes.
Aquinas and Albert the Great both cite Aristotle on this point, from
his On the Parts of Animals. Alberts On Animals puts it as follows:
The heart is the one in whose movements there first appear the things
which are pleasurable and unpleasant through its expansion and contrac-
tion. Generally, the movements of each sense begin from it and return
to it.5
In order to look in detail at some thirteenth-century approaches to
the hearts role in sensory processes, Ill turn briefly here to the writings
of Giovanni da San Gimignano, a Dominican preacher born around
1260. Very little has been written about Giovanni da San Gimignano,
despite the immense popularity of his Summa de exemplis, a popularity
that lasted into the sixteenth century. The Summa, essentially a manual
of examples for preachers to employ in their sermons, was filled with
detailed accounts of physiology culled from the encyclopedias of Vin-
cent of Beauvais and Thomas of Cantimpr. This work is, therefore, an
important point of access to Dominican thought; not only did Giovanni
compile the most important texts available to him at the time, he also
assembled a work that was broadly disseminated to a literate and il-

T h e Porous H e a rt

literate public, as the Summa was widely copied and its examples were
employed in sermons.
The work displays an intense fascination with bodily processes
as a means of understanding and connecting into the life of the spirit.
Giovannis examples opened to the faithful the mysterious workings of
their own bodies, explaining how the soul was involved in every action
or physical process. For instance, Giovanni contributes to the debate on
sensory function regarding taste and touch in particular. He manages to
reconcile the heart-centered process described in Aristotles De anima
and De sensu et sensato with the competing Galenic theories, sustained
by physicians such as Constantinus Africanus:
The organ and instrument of taste (as the Philosopher says) is in-
ternal, in the area of the heart, and the same is true of the organ
of touch. All the senses derive sensitive powers from the heart by
means of the brain, such that from the heart they fi rst go to the
brain, and from the brain afterwards to all the senses.6 Touch and
taste bring their sensations to the heart by means of the connective
medium, the flesh. And yet Constantine says that the closest and
most evident instrument of taste, as far as the difference of flavors
is concerned, is the tongue, which leads the animal spirit to the
fullness of taste virtues. Taste, as he says, happens in this way: two
nerves are fi xed in the middle of the tongue and are dispersed by
many branches to the extreme edges of the tongue, and through
them, (as it is said) the animal spirit is brought to the tongue. Thus
when something tasted penetrates the tongue, the animal spirit is
there transformed according to the properties of that thing, which
it then re-presents to the judgment of the soul.7
Galenic physicians limited themselves to stating that the tongue was
the organ of taste and was endowed with this power by the cerebral
nerves running to the tongue.8 Giovanni does not refute this point of

T h e Porous H e a rt

view. Rather, he incorporates Constantinus account of the role of the

tongue and the nerves in the tongue into a larger system that begins in
the heart as the source of all things and ends in the heart as the seat of
The process of taste sensation becomes, then, a circulation, moving
from the heart to the brain to the tongue and back to the heart. The brain
mediates, or performs a permissive rather than productive function: All
the senses derive their sensitive powers from the heart by means of the
brain. The heart is the source of the spirit that becomes the animal spirit
in the brain and is the receptor of the properties of the tasted object, as
it houses the soul that acts as judge. Taste is not only a differentiation of
flavors; it is an act of discernment in the spiritual sense. In other words,
tasting is literally part of the process by which an individual may make
spiritual judgments about the world as she or he encounters it.
In this example, and indeed in many of Giovannis examples, the
body does not merely provide metaphors for the life of the spirit; it
takes part in the life of the spirit. If physical sensation is not limited
to the tongue alone but is part of a larger circulation that involves the
centerthat involves the soulthen every action gains consequence.
For Giovanni, the Galenic insistence on the connection between the
tongue and brain is not wrong; it is simply incomplete. By focusing
only on a simplistic discrimination between flavors, the Galenists are
neglecting the source and the final objective of all physical experience.
Physiology melds with theology when the heart is involved.
Systems that intertwined body and soul were very fruitful for theo-
logians and for preachers; physical life, they argued, could not be sepa-
rated from spiritual life. By coming to a more complete understanding
of the mechanisms of bodily function, the faithful could arrive at a more
complete understanding of the soul. Giovannis example continues as
he explains that the individual must taste or judge that which enters his
body and manifest that judgment, or sapientia, by means of that same

T h e Porous H e a rt

access point to the body, the mouth. Speech or praise is, then, the result
of an inner circulation and heart-centered discernment within the body.
In the same way that we know the world through the mouth, others
know us by our mouths as well, by those words that we send out into the
world. Giovanni describes an immense circulation: the heart produces
spirit (in part from air that has entered from the outside) that moves to
the brain and from there to the tongue, where it is transformed by the in-
trusion of an external thing that penetrates the tongue; it is presented
to the heart and is subsequently transformed into words that exit from
the tongue back out into the realm of external things.9
Giovanni describes the sense of touch in related terms. Quoting
Aristotles De sensu et sensato, Giovanni says that the organ of touch is
not the flesh but something internal in the area of the heart. Later in
the same passage, he expands slightly but significantly upon this, saying
that the organ and principle of touch is not the flesh, but is something in
the area of the heart. (One proof that he offers for this, incidentally, is
that when a wound occurs in the area of the heart, it is more painful.) By
following the Aristotelian attribution of sense perception to the heart in
this case as well, Giovanni is able to make a very clever example about
love: In the same way love that is caritas is not carnal love, but a spiri-
tual love rooted in the heart, according to that verse: Love your lord
God with all of your heart. Thus it seems that the very organ of caritas
is in the area of the heart. As the Apostle says, the caritas of God is dif-
fused in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Augustine
says that the love between you must not be carnal but must be spiritual;
thus the organ of spiritual love is not the flesh, but the heart.10 Accord-
ing to Giovannis description, the sensation of touch must be routed to
the heart for two reasons: first, only in this way can it be comparable
to the other senses (and this is Aristotles argument), and second, if the
sense of touch is not routed to the heart and not processed properly, it
is a moral malfunction, a carnal love or an erotic sensation. Giovannis

T h e Porous H e a rt

reasoning is based in physiological and philosophical knowledge, fol-

lowing rational arguments and referring, at the same time, to scripture
as another source of proof that may be added to the mix. Again, the
physiological and the spiritual are blended in the search for the organ
of spiritual love.
Spiritual texts (and by that I mean any of those texts that take spiri-
tus for their subject matter) that route the senses to the heart are not
committing themselves to an anachronistic Aristotelian view of the
world. This is no simple conflict between two systems for describing
sense perception, the Galenic and the Aristotelian. Nor can we designate
specific roles (medical versus philosophical or spiritual) to each of those
systems. We find, rather, that these systems can coexist and converge,
as they are of an equivalent ontological status. Late medieval notions
of the integration of body and spirit and the desire to centralize and
synchronize physiological and spiritual function created the concept of
a totalizing cardiosensory circulation.

There is no more dramatic representation of sensory openness and
openness of heart than what we may fi nd in the letters of Catherine
of Siena. Catherine employs notions of expanded sensorial function to
position herself as a crucial link between an individual sinner (soon to
be penitent) and Christ, and between that individual and the church.
Smell is a particularly important sense for Catherine in her descrip-
tions of moments of mystical union. One of her letters, addressed to
her confessor, Raymond of Capua, describes the execution of a young
man and Catherines role in his salvation.11 The young man, referred
to in the letter only as the person you know about, was identified by
one of Catherines biographers as Niccol di Toldo, a Perugian noble-
man sentenced to death for supposedly creating discord in the city of

T h e Porous H e a rt

Siena.12 Niccol was thought to be an agent of Perugias vicar general

and to be working to keep Siena from joining the league of republics
against the papacy.13
Catherine begins by recounting her offer of spiritual comfort to
the prisoner prior to his execution. The prisoner responds eagerly to
her, which Catherine explains as the result of a divine trick: But
the immeasurable and fiery love of God fooled him, creating in him
such affection and love in the desire for God that he could not endure
without Him, saying, Stay with me, and do not abandon me. And thus
I will only fare well, and I will die content. And he laid his head upon
my breast. I felt then a rush of pleasure [un giubilo] and the odor of his
blood; and it was not without the odor of my own, which I wish to spill
out for our sweet spouse Jesus.14 Niccol is filled with such desire for
God that he cannot be apart from Him, saying to Catherine: Stay with
me. By citing the young mans words to her immediately after the
male pronoun, Catherine asserts that, for Niccol, she is Christ. The
divine trick allows her to take Christs place in the condemned mans
affections and desires. In this privileged moment of intimate contact,
with Niccols head upon her chest, Catherine smells his blood mixed
with the odor of her own.
This inhalation is the first in a series of sensory encounters along
the way to the young mans salvation. In its entirety, the letter depicts
Catherines sensory experience of the execution as analogous to Christs
reception of the soul upon Niccols death. The parallel, establishing
Catherines status as an earthly agent of Christ, can only be appreciated
in light of the hearts role in respiration and sensory perception. Thomas
of Cantimpr states that the heart is the origin of life, as Aristotle says,
and the origin of every movement and every sensation is in the heart.
. . . And breath occurs through the lungs by means of the origin that
is in the heart, as inhaled air first goes to the interior of the heart.15
In Thomas account, the heart is the primary recipient of unmediated,

T h e Porous H e a rt

inhaled air.16 Perceptual matter rushes into the heart along with the air;
in the words of William of Auvergne, The senses are like gates into
the body through which ingressions and egressions . . . are made.17 In
moments of particular sensorial intensity, the gates were opened and
the heart was flooded with spirits. In the embrace between Catherine
and Niccol, breath and spirits circulate between the two bodies, com-
mingling the odor of two bloods.18
As Niccol meets his death by decapitation, his mouth said only
Jesus and Catherine. And, as he spoke, I received his head in my
hands, fi xing my eye on the divine goodness and saying, I do! 19 In
Catherines breathless narration, Niccols naming of his desires, Jesus
and Catherine, merges them into one entity in the moment he is de-
capitated by the executioners blade and his head falls into Catherines
hands. This climactic moment is figured as the marriage of Niccol to
Catherine-as-Christ and to Christ himself. Looking up into the sky,
Catherine witnesses the following: And then I saw God-and-Man,
just as brightly as the sun, and He was open [at the side] and received
the [mans] blood. . . . After He had received his blood and his desire,
He received his soul, which He put into the open cask of His side . . .
with what sweetness and love He awaited this soul departed from its
body! The eye of mercy was turned toward his soul as it entered into
His side, bathed in his own blood which gained its merit in the blood
of the Son of God! . . . As soon as he became concealed, my soul rested
in peace and quiet, in such an odor of blood that I could not bear to
remove the blood that had come onto me, from him.20 Niccols death
and salvation have melded his blood with Christs. The two bloods
are made one within Christs heart (Catherine refers to his heart as
the open cask of his side) such that the substance pouring forth onto
Catherines waiting body, and into her receptive soul, is the product
of that union. She is covered, both inwardly and outwardly, soul and
garments, with this blood; she states that she could not bear to remove

T h e Porous H e a rt

the blood on her (presumably on her clothing) and that her soul rested
in the odor of blood. As she physically receives Niccols head, her soul
breathes in his blood in simultaneity with Christs gathering in of that
blood and the soul into his wounded, open heart. Just as the odor of
Catherines blood mixed with Niccols during their embrace, Christs
heart effects a unification of his blood with the prisoners blood. In two
stages, as Catherine breathes in Niccols blood and is subsequently
drenched in his blood, her physical interactions with the repentant soul
mirror Christs reception of the soul and blood into the open cask of
his heart. In these moments of particular proximity to death and to the
possibility of salvation, blood, spirit, breath, and air circulate between
three bodies. Catherines receptive body is an intermediary between
the two violently opened bodies of the criminal and his redeemer. Her
heart is as open as Christs but remains within the range of heightened
natural function. Christs wound is the ideal of availability and openness
to penitent souls; Catherine as his agent on earth can practice openness
to the penitent through the portals of her senses.

Descriptions of secular love also stressed an essential availability to
sensory experience and particularly to visible phenomena. In fact, secu-
lar elaborations of sensory events were not very different from theo-
logical or mystical explorations of the potential interactions between
two individuals, or between a human individual and divine love. The
perceptions that stimulate love and the physiological effects of love are
a central topic of interest for scholars of all varieties in the later Middle
Ages (and on into the Renaissance).
I noted earlier that the vernacular production of late medieval Italy
seems to present two coexisting models for conceiving of the act of
vision, focused around notions of impression on the one hand and a

T h e Porous H e a rt

reciprocal intermingling or intercourse on the other. In either conceptual

field, sight was understood to be both active and passive and always
potentially transformative.21 Within the field of the impression model,
sight had the power to make the viewer similar to the viewed object.
Francis of Assisis contemplation of the crucifi x between the wings of a
seraphim, for example, results in the appearance of stigmata in his own
body. As Saint Bonaventure tells it in his Life of Saint Francis: When
the vision left, it left him a wondrous feeling of love for Christ and, in his
body, a wondrous impression of signs, such that . . . signs of the wounds
of Christ remained in his members, just as he had seen in the vision.22
The iconography of this event often shows the seraphim hovering above
Francis, with lines connecting the wounds in the crucifi x to the cor-
responding places on Franciss body, visibly pressing the signs of the
passion into him. Franciss perfect passivity and softness is paired with
a perfect focus upon a proper object of contemplation.
In other cases, malleability was understood to be a danger; pregnant
women were thought to run the risk of marking their fetuses with the
images of things they observed during pregnancy. Often, vision was
described in terms of stamping or impressing some form onto matter;
external objects emitted forms that penetrated the viewers body and
made an impression on blood, brain, and spirit. Images or forms were,
in fact, thought to be capable of traveling great distances; according
to Albert the Great, cameos and fossils were the likenesses of the dis-
tant constellations, impressed into mineral matter. If stone could be so
marked (and at such a remove), the porous body was infinitely suscep-
tible to the world that pressed around it. In a human body, images could
travel swiftly from the eyes to the heart or the uterus.
Intense reflection upon the function of the heart in a broad commu-
nity of fourteenth-century thinkers led to an alternate concept of vision:
rather than a stamping of active form onto passive matter, the perceptual
encounter could be conceptualized as an entering-into, a transformative

T h e Porous H e a rt

commingling of two reciprocal entities. This alternate concept of vision

must be approached by means of a consideration of the broader cardio-
centric circulation that is sight; focus on the aperture of the eye alone
deprives us of the density of the encounter, found within the open heart.
The end result of vision conceived in this way does not produce similar-
ity or likeness, but rather, in a generative mode, produces something
new, something that is not reducible to the agency of the seer or the
seen. This notion of intercourse vision challenges the impression
concept of vision in two ways. First, it necessitates a reconsideration
of visual effects within the heart; and, second, it introduces notions of
reciprocal vision. If the contact between foreign and innate takes place
within the heart as an organic, receptive container, rather than upon the
heart as tablet, then such contact can be understood as mixing, blend-
ing, or coalescing.23 Given that the heart was thought to be a space in
which refined blood produced within the individual body mixed with
foreign air brought in from the external world, the notion that vision
might consist of the same sort of mixing creates a harmonious alignment
of function. Unlike the finalizing notion of impression, the intercourse
concept suggests a potentially uninterrupted intercorporeal circulation
that mixes the world beyond the skin into the individual who is in turn
mixed into her or his surroundings.
This concept proved particularly fruitful for a group of Tuscan
poets, sometimes known as the Stilnovists, who were particularly in-
debted to Aristotelian natural philosophy and, further, had an interest in
redefining inspiration, or the moment of vision that gives rise to poetry,
in generational terms. In so doing, they ascribed to themselves a degree
of radical openness to the external world. I will trace several of their
concepts of transformative, natal vision in the pages that follow.
Guido Guinizelli (d. 1276) was a Bolognese jurist, described by
Dante as the father of me and of the others my betters who ever used
sweet and gracious rhymes of love.24 Since Dante defi nes his own

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poetry by its dolce stil novo [sweet new style], Guinizelli has often
been labeled the caposcuola, or head, of the Dolce stil novo school
that would include Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni, Cino da Pistoia,
and Dante.25 Guido Guinizelli sketches out a crucial distinction between
the cor gentil (noble heart) and its natural opposite, the cor villan (base
heart). This opposition is likely derived from the standards of Provenal
finamor, in which cortesia referred to the young men refined enough to
live at court, while the vilans baseness relegated him to the country.26
But for Guinizelli, the distinction is not based on class or nobility in the
sense of lineage. Nobility, for Guinizelli, is a quality of the heart. It is
above all to be discerned in the hearts susceptibility to love and availa-
bility to the presence of the beloved.
Guinizellis description of natural processes is highly technical as
he describes the way in which the noble heart is susceptible to a lady:
Loves fire catches in the noble heart,
Like the power of a precious stone [come vertute in petra prezosa]
Whose potency does not descend from the star [che da la stella
valor no i discende]
Until the sun makes it a noble object:
After the sun has drawn out
Everything base with its own force,
The star confers power on it.
In such a way, a lady,
Like the star, transforms the heart [lo nnamora]
Chosen by Nature and made pure and noble [gentile].27
Here, Guinizelli puts theories of mineralogy to work in order to liken
the noble heart and the transformations it undergoes to the formation
of a precious stone. Precious stones were thought to have particular
powers and to have received these powers from the stars, as Albert the
Great describes in his treatise Book of Minerals, in which he draws on

T h e Porous H e a rt

Aristotelian, Avicennan, and alchemical sources.28 The stars will only

distribute their virtues to those stones that have already been made
worthy by the sun. The lady, like a star, will only make a noble heart,
a cor gentil, fall in love, while the cor villan has a completely different
experience of the presence of the donna. Guinizelli explains: The sun
strikes the mud all day long: / but it remains base, nor does the sun lose
any heat.29 In other words, both the cor villan and the sun (or love) are
left unaltered by their interaction. The mud has no way of containing the
suns heat, just as the cor villan has no space in it for love. The crucial
characteristic of a noble heart is thus its openness to external powers.
Mud remains base because it cannot absorb the virtues of the sun. A
precious stone, or a noble heart, is able to be transformed by the sun,
the stars, the lady, or Love that can enter into it, just as the bird finds
its way into the gentle green foliage of the harsh forest, to use one of
Guinizellis metaphors.
Through reference to mineralogy, then, Guinizelli sets up a system
of innate and potential capacities that are necessary for the poet who
would author a new kind of poetry. But one of the most important in-
novations of this poetry is the guiding concept that the individual poets
capabilities are inadequate to produce the sort of lyric envisioned here.
This is an important mutation or shift away from the poetics that had
come down to the Sicilians and later to central Italy from the Provenal
tradition. Guilhem de Peitieus (William IX of Aquitaine, 10711126)
famously crows:
I will make a vers of exactly nothing:
therell be nothing in it about me or anyone else,
nothing about love or youth
or anything else.
It came to me before, while I was sleeping
on my horse.30

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Guilhem boasts that he can create something out of nothing; the recur-
ring element is the will of the subject that speaks. A product of pure
volition, Farai un vers proclaims the poems right to speak of nothing
at all. Guinizelli and his poetic sons, as Dante would defi ne them,
emphasize that poetry must come from somewhere and must speak of,
and indeed embody, that source. It is not enough for the poet to be a
noble in himself; he is only noble in that he is available to the external
source of his poetry.
Lapo Gianni, a friend of Dantes and fellow poet on the Floren-
tine scene, takes a timeworn poetic trope, the wounding glance, and
contextualizes it in a much expanded system, describing an interactive
itinerary of sensation and of the experience of love:
From within your heart a little spirit moved,
exited through your eyes and came to wound me,
when I looked at your lovely face;
and it made a path through my eyes so fiercely and subtly,
that it made the heart and the soul flee away.31
Here we see that the woman addressed in the poem is actively involved in
the visual experience. Rather than describing his own powers of crafts-
manship, the poet sets a dialogic scene. In the place of a single poetic ego
that creates alone, Lapo depicts two hearts and two sets of eyes in inter-
action. The poet is a victim in the battle of love, defenseless against the
attacking spirit that flies from his beloved. The trajectory or path begins
in the womans heart and moves out through her eyes, in through the lov-
ers eyes and into his heart. The little spirit, not reducible to an image,
is described as the source of the experience that creates the poem.
While there was still a debate raging at this time over whether vi-
sion worked by extramission (rays exiting the eyes), as argued in Plato
and Galen, or by intromission (rays entering the eyes), as argued in Aris-
totle, Avicenna, Averros, and Alhazen, intromission had largely taken

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over as the dominant paradigm to describe sight.32 So what is going on in

Lapos poem? If he is describing vision alone, it would seem that the lady
sees by extramission while the poet sees by intromission. This apparent
retrogression to notions of extramission may be explained in part by
reference to Albert the Greats description of a rather unusual beast, the
basilisk, which kills by sight: for everything upon which its sight falls
dies. . . . Nor is it the cause that it kills by seeing, as some say, namely,
that the rays exiting from its eyes corrupt those things upon which they
fall: because it is not the opinion of natural philosophers that rays exit
from the eyes: but rather the cause of the corruption is the visual spirit
[spiritus visivus], which is diff used exceedingly far on account of the
subtlety of the substance [substantiae subtilitatem], and this corrupts and
kills all things.33 In Lapos poem, the spiritello that exits his ladys eyes
is described as snello, thin or subtle. Subtlety is, in fact, a very important
topos for many of the Tuscan poets and is used to describe spirits and
their ability to pass into the poets body. The concept of subtlety may
be traced back through the reception history of Galens descriptions of
pneuma as a material but highly rarified substance. Akin to the concept
of spirit itself, the word subtle itself came to suggest an intermediary
quality, something that can be volatile, active, and powerful as the soul,
but that has substance at the same time. In short, an entity that is subtle is
a body that acts as a soul, an entity that enables the natural philosopher
or the poet to speak of the physiological, psychological, and salvational
effects of its movements.
Peter of Limoges, who, like Giovanni da San Gimignano, filled his
fourteenth-century preachers manual with the latest in physiological
theory, likens the basilisks powers to those of a libidinous woman: It
seems probable that similar kinds of poisonous rays are given off when
a woman looks at a man lustfully, for then a libidinous vapor arises from
the heart of the woman up to her eyes; henceforth the vapor infects her
visual rays, which so infected as they are emitted, come to the eyes of

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men and infect them, whence the infection enters the heart of man.34
Jean Fernels later sixteenth-century recasting of notions of vision re-
veals the ways in which this tale of a venomous gaze remained wrapped
up with changing ideas of vision in general. In his Physiologia, Fernel
explains that vision is not a ray of spirit that comes out from the eye:
How could a ray extend out large enough to aim instantaneously right
to the stars, and to occupy all the air between, however vast? A tale
commonly told to support this, about the basilisk, or a woman whose
menstrual flow is going on, seems entirely invalid and void: neither does
a basilisk kill a man, nor does a menstruating woman stain a mirror
(especially a bronze one) with visual spirit emanating from her eye.35
Fernel appeals to our sense of bodily limitations; how could our eyes
be capable of projecting a ray that can reach the stars? The fact that
these ideas still had to be refuted in the sixteenth century is testimony
to their enduring appeal.
In the later medieval period, this elaborate language of vapors,
infection, rays, subtle substances, and spirits provided a foundation for
a new concept that would transcend the boundaries of the impression
model and suggest intercorporeal invasions into the porous heart. While
the impression concept does not depend on any consideration of physio-
logical structures in its abstract, metaphorical declension of vision as
stamping upon the heart, the intercourse concept of vision makes use
of known channels and gateways in the body to trace the movement
of foreign bodies into the heart.
The Stilnovists praise the power of their beloveds to send forth
ennobling and even beatific spirits, capable of penetrating to worthy
hearts. Of course, in this there was also a kind of boasting about the
poets own qualities, a boasting that claims sensitivity and susceptibility.
In contrast to those possessing a cor villan, likened to mud in Guinizellis
Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore, the poet with a noble heart is
characterized by his ability to be transformed.

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Visual encounters, enriched by increasing reflection on the subtle

and volatile nature of the spirits, remained the foundation of almost
every poetic notion of love. At the same time, the notion of visual is
perhaps no longer adequate to contain what occurs in such an encounter.
Spirits, after all, are more than simply the conduits of vision. The traf-
fic of spirits between the lady and the poet is then something beyond a
mere seeing. Synesthesia is an inadequate term as well; more than a
layering of the senses as we know them, this encounter between bod-
ies surpasses the sensual. In short, it is not simply what the spirits do,
but how they do it; they pass from the lady to the poet and vice versa.
In addition to enabling sight, they create subtle and invisible connec-
tions between beings. Without touching, two bodies come into contact.
Without breaking the codes of courtly love that hinged upon the inac-
cessibility of the lady, the notion of spiriti allowed for imaginings of the
most purified, rarified, and yet somehow substantial union.
In fact, the visual might almost be considered symptomatic of a
more essential encounter. In Dantes Vita nuova, the poets heart be-
comes aware of the presence of the lady before he actually sees her: I
seemed to feel a wondrous tremor that began in the left part of my chest
and spread itself swiftly into every part of my body . . . I lifted my eyes
and . . . saw the most noble Beatrice;36 or later: I felt the beginnings of
an earthquake [tremuoto] in my heart, as if I was in the presence of this
lady . . . and then I saw the wondrous Beatrice approaching.37 The spir-
its that radiate from Beatrices eyes penetrate to the poets heart before he
has time to lift his eyes and see her. It is no longer, then, the sight of the
beloved that sets the love-encounter and its resulting poetic production
in motion. The crucial first component of the poetic analysis of romantic
love is a spiritual invasion of the poets body. The result of this traffic of
spiriti is also striking when compared to earlier lyric tendencies. Dantes
tremuoto makes it clear that he is speaking of a sensible manifesta-
tion, and not any sort of representation of Beatrice in his heart; he is

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not the author of that which his heart contains. Dantes heart is instead
a receptacle of some real presence of Beatrice herself. The poet of the
Vita nuova does not, in fact, describe himself as creator, but rather as
one who is trasfigurato (transfigured) by his encounters with Beatrice.
In his Purgatorio, Dante theorizes the relationship between inspira-
tion and the creation of poetry directly. When questioned by the soul of
the poet Bonagiunta about his identity, Dante describes his own poetics
as the direct result of openness to inspiration:
But tell me if I see here him who pulled forth [fore trasse] the new
rhymes, beginning: Ladies that have understanding of love?
And I to him, I am one who, when Love inspires me, takes
note, and goes setting it forth after the fashion which he dictates
within me.38
Bonagiunta cites one of Dantes earlier lyrics, Donne chavete, as his
example for this new poetry, characterized by the fact that it is pulled
forth. Dante replies with an explanation of where it is the rhymes
are pulled from: Amor mi spira (Love inspires me). In Italian, the
verb spirare indicates a double meaning for the phrase: Love breathes
into me, or, Love inspires me. Then I take note of that and signify that
internal speech outwardly. Dante thus describes the passivity of the
poetic body that receives inspiration, the internal work within that body,
and fi nally the birth of the new thinga creature of both flesh and
spirit, style and sweetness. The ingression of the breath of love creates
a reciprocal pull, an egression of breath in the form of poetry, moving
outward from within.
This process is clearly expressed as parallel to the process of the
creation of human life, as may be seen in the discourse in Purgatorio
on the creation of an embryo.39 As I noted in the previous chapter, the
formation of the fetus culminates in a direct encounter with God: The
First Mover turns to it with joy over such art of nature, and breathes into

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it a new spirit replete with virtue.40 Inspiration is the breath within,

of love or of the divine, that provides the soul of the human creature or
the soul of the poetic voice. And it is stressed that this is no traumatic
entrance into the body: rather it is compared to the suns heat, which is
made wine when combined with the juice that flows from the vine.41
This description is reminiscent of descriptions of Marys virgin concep-
tion of Christ, likened to the passage of light through glass.42 Each hu-
man is the product of a conception that is both earthly and divine, and
poets, according to Dante, must attempt in some way to be Mary-like,
to open themselves to this experience in order to give birth to poetry
with a soul, poetry that is not simply spiritless matter.
In the Paradiso, Dante discloses the nature of fully perfected vision
in the pilgrims conversation with one of the souls he encounters: God
sees all, and your vision inheres in him [sinluia], I said, blessed spirit,
so that no wish may hide itself from you. Then why does your voice
. . . not satisfy my desires? I would not await your question, if I were
in you, as you are in me [sio mintuassi, come tu tinmii]. 43 Dantes
neologisms, his invented in verbs, sinluia (inheres in him), mintuassi
(I in you), and tinmii (you in me), accumulate here to demonstrate what
the pilgrim is lacking. The souls in Paradise see within the pilgrim and
thus essentially are within him, just as God sees within all creatures,
leaving the pilgrim infinitely available to those surrounding him, while
they in turn are closed to him.44 Seeing in Paradise is made equiva-
lent here with knowing, understanding; but most important, seeing is
conceived of as an entering into another space, or in this case another
body.45 Vincent of Beauvais Speculum Naturale states that God can pour
himself into the human soul and unite with it; the blessed souls have a
lesser but similar capacity.
When the pilgrim is finally granted a vision of God in the uppermost
region of Paradise, that vision is described as leaving traces in the poets
heart. From the center of the poets body to the center of universe and

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back, the circulation that forms earthly sensory perception is stretched

to reach into divine spaces, to interrogate the limits of the human and
the limits of poetry: As is he who dreaming sees, and after the dream
the passion remains imprinted and the rest returns not to the mind; such
am I, for my vision almost wholly fades away, yet the sweetness that was
born of it is still distilled within my heart [ancor mi distilla nel core il
dolce che nacque da essa].46 The comparison in this passage exposes the
divergence of its terms while it sets up their expected correspondence.
After a dream, only passion remains impressa, or imprinted, but Dante
describes a sweetness born of his vision that is distilled within his heart.
Dantes truth claims for the Commedia, no matter how the reader may
choose to interpret them, hinge on the belief that this is not the retelling
of a mere dream, and likewise the effects of the divine vision are of a
different order than those of a dream. A dream may have the power to
leave seals or signs of its passion upon the dreamer, but Dantes vision
asserts its unique status through the power to instill some product of
that vision into the heart. The heart, therefore, is a receptacle, a fully
three-dimensional object that retains its function as an organthat
of containment. Even in this most mystical moment of Paradiso, the
heart still works as the medical treatises describe.47 It is the container
of blood and of life forces. In Paradise, this normal, organic function
has been enhanced to the point where the heart can actually contain
divine inspiration. More important, it can pour forth that inspiration in
a poem in which both heaven and earth have had a hand.48 Thus the
divine, by means of a human heart, circulates back into the world.

Such outward movements from the heart are often conceived of as voice.
While a commonplace of literary history tells us that poetry fell silent as
it moved from the great halls of Provence to the notarys desk in Italy,

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from the traveling troubadours lips to the pens of the jurists, Tuscan
poetry still proclaims itself song. And we have reason to suspect that
this is more than just a poetic conceit. In Purgatory, Dante is met by a
friend who sings one of his earlier poems to him. The Commedia itself,
like most poetry, was most frequently memorized and recited, rather
than read. We must, then, seek to imagine late medieval poetry not as
a silent lyric, but as a dynamic vocal movement between bodies, from
the heart of the poet toward and into his or her audience.
As we have seen, the circulation that produces poetry begins, in
the elaborations of the Stilnovists, in the ladys heart. To put it in the
terms of the push and pull movements that Aquinas outlines to describe
the almost circular movement of the heart itself, the arc from the ladys
heart to the poets constitutes a push. On the poets part, the comple-
tion of the circulation will be a reciprocal pulling forth, to use the
formulation that Dante places in the mouth of Bonagiunta. This pulling
forth usually comes in the form of voice. Dantes experience of Beatrice
in the Vita nuova includes the sound of her voice in greeting, described
as movement toward his listening body: Her words moved to come to
my ears.49 To complete the circulation of this natal sensory encounter,
the poet must move words back toward his beloved and the world at
large. That which he pulls forth from his heart will be the product, or
even the progeny, of this encounter.
It is worth our while to note here, given the metaphorical remnants
of this once physical phenomenon in our contemporary language, that the
voice from the heart, like poetry as song, was also no mere poetic conceit
at the time. Mondino de Liuzzi, a fourteenth-century anatomist, explains
that the heart is indeed involved in speech: The voice, although it de-
pends on the brain as the principle of voluntary movement, also depends
on the heart as [the organ] in which concepts are formed; thus, given
that this is a communal action of the brain and the heart, the nerves that
are the instruments of the voice must communicate with the heart and

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brain.50 Mondinos rather complex mechanism for the voice had a sim-
pler correlate in the broader community; in the same way that inhaled air
was understood to go first to the heart, so it came forth outward through
the mouth, carrying sighs, spirits, and voice. Whereas Shakespeares
Cordelia proclaims, Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart
into my mouth, Mondinos contemporaries believed that at least the
products of the heart could indeed be heaved forth from the mouth.51
Guido Cavalcanti (c. 12551300), whom Dante called his primo
amico, or fi rst friend, dedicates a considerable portion of his stun-
ningly beautiful and famously enigmatic verse to reflections on the po-
etic voice.52 In his work, we may see the shape of a circulation in which
spirits, born of the heart, journey from one body to the next, triggering
a desire for a return to their source. For Cavalcanti, the heart, wounded
by his ladys gaze, becomes dangerously open to the external world.
The poet speaks from the brink of death, as his spirits flow from the
wound as well as the usual portals of eyes and mouth. The poets body
becomes exaggeratedly porous, vulnerable, and generous, promising
either prodigious poetic production or death.
The heart responds to the entry of, or even possession by, a foreign
spirit by sending forth its own spirits, but in an excess of volume that
responds to the magnitude of the ladys virtue, power, or value. The
poets spirits issue forth in floods of sighs and tears:
I never thought that the heart
could have so much torment from sighs
that tears could be born from my soul
showing, through my face, death to my eyes.53
This perceptual event has provoked conditions entirely beyond the
ordinary. The body has been disrupted in its functionsbigottito, or
confoundedby contact with an overwhelming force, the presence
of the beloved. The poet is made aware of his mortality through the

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intensity of the encounter as his heart is tormented by sighs, a sign of

the malfunction of regulatory systems in the body designed to maintain
According to Avicenna, sighs are instruments of the soul, necessary
for bringing cool air into an overheated heart and for transporting heat
out of the heart. But here, their very excess torments rather than heals.
The soul responds to the inner turmoil by sending forth tears from the
heart. The tears present themselves to the poet, displaying death (back)
to the eyes. In other words, tears exit the body in order to show them-
selves to the body. In this smaller-scale Cavalcantian circulation, the
soul in the heart reacts to the intrusion of the lady by producing sighs
and tears and externalizing them, so that the poet may view his own
suffering and may bear witness to his own slow, excruciating death.
Cavalcanti dramatizes the escape of his spirits almost as a form of
incontinence in the presence of the sympathetic gaze of a group of ladies:
They turned with their eyes so that
they saw how my heart was wounded
and how a little spirit, born of tears
came forth from that wound.54
The spirit issues from the heart and enters into the presence of the la-
dies. Poetry, for Cavalcanti, is precisely this act of speaking through
the wound. His poetry appears in a public birthing from the womb of
the heart, where the material of the spirits is the tears contained in the
heart, released through the wound that his beloved has opened in him.
Tears thus emerge by two routes and outlets. They exit by means of the
eyes, but also issue directly from the heart into the world. The wound
opens up another doorway for these spirits. The wounds of love allow
for a new kind of expressionin the literal sense of entities that are ex-
pressed, or pressed out of the body. Cavalcantis lyrics depend on such
wounding to open a passageway between his heart, where the spiriti

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of the mixed presence of the lady and of his own body are stored (their
substance is both blood and tears), and the public. His ostentation of
vulnerability is, at the same time, a demonstration of poetic prowess.
The gesture of displaying his wounds is clearly reminiscent of the
ostentation of Christs wounds. The poet thus claims great suffering
suffering that in some way serves the observer who contemplates these
wounds. In Cavalcanti, the pain of his wounding opens a space where
the spiriti are rendered clearly visible. When created from the powerful
mixture of a virtuous lady and a cor gentil, the spiriti display themselves
as something entirely remarkable:
Your wound, that is visible in your heart
Was made by eyes of such value
That they left inside you a brilliance
Such that I cannot look upon it.
Tell me if you can remember
Those eyes.55
The brightness noted in the ladys stunning appearance has been trans-
ferred, by the penetration of her spirits, into the poets heart. In the later
Assempri of Filippo degli Agazzari, the wounds of Christ are perceived
as similarly shining: And right away he showed him the wound in his
side, and his hands and his feet, from which so much splendor shone that
that of the sun is nothing in comparison, and they all were bloody.56
The splendor of the wounds indicates great value in great suffering.
In the Assempri, the brilliance of the wounds testifies to the divinity of
Christ within his completely human suffering. In Cavalcanti, the sug-
gestion is that the attack of the lady has left some of the substance of
her virtue within the poets all-too-human body.
The wounds of love open the way for the poetic voice, often issuing
directly from the heart itself:

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You, feeble and terrorized voice

that crying exits my pained heart
with my soul and with this ballad
go forth to speak of my destroyed mind.57
The poetic voice, formed of the spirits generated in the heart, is sus-
pended between the possibilities of a short circuit and a larger circula-
tion that would return to the lady herself. Where does the voice go when
it goes forth along with the poets soul and his ballad? In Cavalcantis
more pessimistic moments, the spirits seem incapable of doing anything
more than simply escaping the dying body (and of course, if all the
spirits leave the body, the body dies). But in his more optimistic mo-
ments, he imagines his voice and his poetry returning to its generative
Go to Toulouse, my ballad
and go stealthily into la Dorata.
Go before the one I asked you to go to
and if she receives you
tell her, with a gentle voice
I come to you for mercy.58
To be received by the lady, to be heard and to be offered mercy, would
constitute a return into the heart of the beloved; this is the ultimate
aspiration of Cavalcantis poetry. Merz is, of course, troubadour termi-
nology; in the tradition that precedes Cavalcanti, poetry had long been
figured as a means of courtship and access to an otherwise inaccessible
and impossible love-object. The Cavalcantian revolution is that this
is no longer a unidirectional trajectory of male desire, projected onto
an unwilling or potentially inexistent object. Here, the song that goes
forth to seek the lady is described as returning to its point of genesis.
It seeks to return to the heart that began the circulation it would only

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complete. Poetry is a reaction to an inexorable force, to an inhabitation,

a possession of the poets body.
Cavalcanti remains committed to suffering as a necessary tool for
opening up the capacity for speech. And it is this commitment to the
wound that I believe Dante indirectly condemns in Inferno XIII. In the
Inferno, Dante takes the opportunity to condemn various philosophies
of poetry by putting them into the mouths of the damned. Pier della
Vigna speaks through a wound inflicted not by Love, but by the pilgrim:
Then I stretched my hand a little forward and plucked a twig from a
great thornbush, and its stub cried, Why do you break me? And when
it had become dark with blood, it began again to cry, Why do you
tear me? Have you no spirit of pity? . . . As from a green brand that is
burning at one end, and drips from the other, hissing with the escap-
ing air, so from that broken twig came out words and blood together;
whereon I let fall the tip, and stood like one who is afraid.59 Closed
within the stiff bark of a thorn bush, Piers only outlet for speech is his
wound. Words must be accompanied by blood, and the ability to speak
must be violently inflicted upon the speaking subject by an outsider. The
phrase came out words and blood together is reminiscent of a perverse
wounded Christ figure. Here, the dispersion of the self is an occasion
for both pain and the pleasure at that release from the confines of the
body. While Pier complains of his wounding, Dante is only reenacting
Piers own sin. Dantes suicides sought to release the spirit from the
bodythe Harpies eating at the leaves of the suicides trees display
this desire in a perfect example of contrapasso: They give pain and to
the pain an outlet.60 Cavalcantis masochism is of this same variety.
When the pilgrim encounters the soul of Cavalcantis father in the circle
of the heretics in the Inferno, he is asked whether Guido Cavalcanti still
lives: Does the sweet light no longer wound his eyes?61 For Guido,
sensory interaction with the world is perceived as a wounding. The re-
ception of a wound in the heart is occasion for both pain and the release

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of that pain. Poetic pleasure is precisely this excess of sensation that

opens the self to the point where it is no longer a unified or contained
entity. Rather than seeking to contain the presence of the lady, the heart
fi nds itself incapable of or uninterested in the containment of its own
The evolution of Dantes vision of the poetic act is dependent on his
developing sense of how the outside world, other people (particularly
Beatrice), and the divine impact his individual corporeality. Like Guini-
zelli and Cavalcanti before him, he carefully documents the physio-
logical effects of his beloved, as we have seen. It is the encounter that
is productive of poetry. Dante sets out to describe the sensory event in
all of its significance in order to understand what kind of poetry can
come forth from it:
She shows herself so pleasing to those who look at her
that through the eyes she gives a sweetness to the heart,
that may not be understood by he who has not experienced it:
and it seems that from her lips moves
a gentle spirit full of love,
that goes saying to the soul: Sigh.62
Rather than enflamed spirits, Beatrice delivers dolcezza, or sweet-
ness to the heart, given the eyes rather than wounding them. This
change may signal a rejection of the old symbols belonging to the battle
of Love scenarios so common to the Dolce stil novo and brought to an
extreme of violence in Dantes own rime petrose. There is no aggression
in Beatrices presence here. The spectator regards her entrance into
his corporeal space as a gift, an endowment of blessings rather than an
intrusion. Her beatific status and her capabilities for sharing beatitude
grow as the poet becomes increasingly open to her presence.
There are, here, two different pathways for the spirits that move
from the beloved to the poet. The first is the visual, moving from

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Beatrice to the eyes and from there to the heart. The second is associ-
ated with breath and speech. A spirit moving from Beatrices lips speaks
to the soul in the poets heart, telling it to sigh. This second movement of
spirits begins to sketch out a circulation: the spirit that leaves Beatrices
lips comes from her heart, as do all spirits; it enters the poet and goes
to his heart, where it provokes a sigh that will in turn emerge from the
poets own lips. In addition to Lapo Giannis design of the movement
of spirits from the ladys heart to the poets via the eyes, Dante (like
Cavalcanti before him) adds the reciprocal movement, the sigh.
Inspiration thus depends on the physical presence of Beatrice, a
mode of poetic production that is thrown into crisis by Beatrices death.
The Vita nuova stages a temporary silencing of the poetic voice in the
absence of the beloved. Without sensory input, what can poetry consist
of? In the last sonnet that appears in the Vita nuova, Dante describes a
vision that allows him a mediated experience of the presence of Beatrice
in beatitude:
Beyond the sphere that circles widest
penetrates the sigh that issues from my heart:
a new intelligence, which Love,
weeping, places in him, draws him ever upward.
When he arrives where he desires,
he sees a lady, who receives honor,
and so shines that, because of her splendor,
the pilgrim spirit gazes upon her.
He sees her such that when he tells me of it,
I do not understand him, so subtly does he speak
to the sorrowing heart, which makes him speak.
I know that he speaks of that gentle one,
for he often remembers Beatrice,
so that I understand him well, dear my ladies.63

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The sigh that leaves Dantes heart is referred to as a peregrino spirito, or

pilgrim spirit. It is not just a spirit of the old variety but is characterized
as a new intelligence. As a pilgrim spirit with new capabilities, it man-
ages to distance itself from the body and travels to heaven to find and
view Beatrice.64 When it returns, the sigh speaks directly to the heart,
which alone elicits the sigh or spirits speech, but it speaks so subtly that
the poet does not have complete conscious comprehension of it. The only
thing he knows is that it authentically speaks of Beatrice.
This is the language of the heart and for the heart that he sets out
to acquire before writing of Beatrice again. Oltre la spera promises a
renewal of Beatrices presence after her death and a new language that
can transform that inspiration into outward signification. The circula-
tion of spirits here takes on a much broader scope. As Beatrice is now
physically absent from the earth, Dante describes a grander scale for
his inspiration. The spirits gain the capacity to venture forth beyond
this realm and into the next, returning to his heart. It is at this point that
Dante breaks off the Vita nuova. He resolves to write no more of Beatrice
until he is able to access the proper language to do so.
Beatrice reappears in the Commedia, as Dante continues to ponder,
theorize, and rearticulate his ideas of the nature of interchange between
people. From the descriptions of the sin-laden bodies in the Inferno to the
luminous and ethereal souls in Paradiso, Dante explores the possibilities
for one body to impact another, by means of a text or through physical
presence. The reader navigates a sea of possibilities that range from the
sick, cannibalistic coexistence of the sinners at the bottom of the Inferno
to the ideal seeing-in or entering-in described in Paradiso. All along the
way, variations on interpersonal exchange in the registers of sensory
experience, love, and poetic inspiration and creation are continually
presented and modified. But to get a sense of Dantes circulatory poet-
ics, we need look no further than the form of the Commedia itself. Terza
rima, the circular rhyme structure of the poem, is a model of healthy

T h e Porous H e a rt

circulation, infinitely open to gathering in new sounds and new material

from outside itself.65

Plague and Contagion

Thus far, we have seen a largely positive characterization of this broad
vision of individual intercourse with the world beyond the skin. The
bodys sensory pathways are constituted by their transcendence of the
borders of the individual. Availability to the outside world and a corre-
sponding overflow of ones being into the world are signs of physical
and spiritual vigor. We might characterize such concepts as participating
in dominant notions of a circulatory drive, or as part of a circulatory
But there is, of course, another side to this emphasis on expanded
relation that I have alluded to only in passing. Peter of Limoges warning
of the hearts vulnerability to the infection of female lust is indicative of
the darker side of the circulatory imaginary; or, to use R. Allen Shoafs
term, it points toward an anxiety of circulation.66 The porosity and
availability of the heart had the positive potential to open the body to
inspiration or to colloquy with the divine and the negative potential to
open the body to attacks of lust or even literal infection. As Nancy Caci-
ola shows in her book Discerning Spirits, most theologians assumed that
the heart and the soul it harbored were safe from demonic possession (it
seems that demonic spirits lodged themselves in the digestive system).67
But even if it was untroubled by demons, the heart was vulnerable to
possessions of other kinds, such as human lust and human disease, and
particularly the ravages of plague. In this section, Ill examine the ways
in which the dominant concept of intercorporeal sensory circulation
pervaded discussions of the Black Death and of contagion in general.
The plague tractates, as they are known, were a set of texts authored
by Islamic, Christian, and Judaic practitioners. These tracts prolifer-

T h e Porous H e a rt

ated from 1348 on in the hopes of diff using knowledge of the causes and
symptoms of plague, as well as preventative and curative treatments.
According to these texts, individuals fell ill due to their own particular
complexional weaknesses and vulnerability to environmental contami-
nants. This so-called miasma theory looked to alterations in the air to
explain the emergence and spread of plague. One 1348 plague tract, by
Abi Gafar Ahmed ibn Ali ibn Khatimah of Almeria, an Andalusian
physician, explains that plague is caused by the inhalation of corrupted
air. Air itself figures as a victim of contagion or corruption, becoming
tainted when it is mixed with foreign things. He posits that while the
pure element of air cannot be corrupted, that which surrounds us, what
we call air, is in fact a compound of fumes, smoke, and other things.
Elemental air, in its pure condition, could potentially only be found
above the level of circulating air currents. Water is also vulnerable to
contamination from the plague, as it mixes with air currents.68 As we
have seen in other contexts, circulation in the terrestrial sphere entails
a kind of mixing or melding of elements.
Since inspired air was thought to pass principally to the heart, physi-
cians believed that putrefaction could be quickly carried into the core
of the human body. In Book IV of the Canon, Avicenna explains that
when the air that has undergone such putrefaction arrives at the heart,
it rots the complexion of its spirit and then, after surrounding the heart,
rots it. An unnatural warmth then spreads all around the body, as a result
of which a pestilential fever will appear. It will spread to any human who
is susceptible to it.69 It is, therefore, the hearts availability to air that
renders the body so vulnerable to plague. In a perverse imitation of the
hearts natural warming and life-giving properties, the plague spreads
unnatural warmth from the bodys center, causing fever rather than sup-
porting or maintaining life. Subsequently, in the extrusive mode, the
heart puts forth this contagion or putrefaction, sending it into other
susceptible bodies.

T h e Porous H e a rt

The Paris medical masters pointed out that bad air was even more
dangerous than food and drink, as air penetrates the heart more quickly.
They thus stress the respiratory functions of the heart in its susceptibility
to and promulgation of the disease.70 According to Gentile da Foligno,
one of Avicennas principal commentators who eventually died of the
Black Death in 1348, the vital spirit abandons the heart when the poison
reaches it, resulting in the death of the infected individual. For others,
such as Jacme dAgramont, the poisonous air corrupts both the blood
and the vital spirit in the heart, thus spreading its poison to all the parts of
the body through the movement of the vital spirit. He explains that inter-
personal infection happens through poisonous vapors that exude from
the infected body and enter into other bodies through breath and skin.71
The senses thus become highly suspect. The Florentine chronicler
Matteo Villani wrote: It seems that this pestiferous infection is caught
by the sight and by touch. It was believed that the skin of an affected
individual could emit a foul substance. If a healthy person were to touch
the skin of an infected person, this foul substance could be absorbed
by the pores and thus enter the body and eventually reach the heart of
the formerly healthy person. But sight? According to an anonymous
practitioner of Montpellier, the most virulent moment of this epidemic,
which causes an almost instant death, is when the air spirit emitted from
the sick persons eyes, particularly when he is dying, strikes the eye of a
healthy man nearby who looks closely at him; then the poisonous nature
. . . passes from one to another, killing the healthy individual.72 The
anonymous practitioner cites the cases of the basilisk and the Venom-
ous Virgin as precedents for this toxic gaze. Comparisons between the
gaze of a menstruating woman and a basilisk are found in the thirteenth-
century De secretis mulierum by PseudoAlbert the Great; aspects of
both examples reappeared in the Venomous Virgin stories that circulated
widely at the end of the thirteenth century.73 Just as lust, venom, or
impurities could infect the female gaze, the plague could fuse with the

T h e Porous H e a rt

spirits circulating into the world and thus turn the natural mechanisms
of life and sensation into a deadly vehicle of contamination.
It is within this world of horrific cardiosensory vulnerability that
Giovanni Boccaccio sets his Decameron. His text reveals just how the
experience of the Black Death colored understandings of intercorporeal
circulatory relationality. The Decameron begins with a vivid descrip-
tion of the havoc the Black Plague wrought upon the human body, the
social order, and the city of Florence, stressing the necessity of such a
frame narrative, a frame that the reader too often forgets as she passes
on to the lively, humorous, and enchanting tales that lie beyond. But as
the narrator establishes here, the plague is not only the situation from
which his ten storytellers depart; it is the situation to which they must
return. The plague is only very rarely mentioned in the hundred tales
told within the frame, but it has already determined and predetermined,
defined and redefined, the visions of life, of the body, and of the bonds
that bind society as they appear within those tales. Whether the tales
seek to distract the reader or listener from the prospect of death, or to
remind the listener of that precise fate and the necessary preparations
for that fate, they each have, as their constitutive reference, a mortality
that is latent in the very breath that conveys them.
In his introduction, Boccaccio describes the horribly contagious
nature of the plague: And the plague gathered strength as it was trans-
mitted from the sick to the healthy through normal intercourse, just as
fire catches on to any dry or greasy object placed too close to it.74 The
mere act of comunicare insieme (normal intercourse) transmits the pes-
tilence from the sick to the healthy, and it is the realization of this peril
that causes the breakdown of the bonds of society. Worse, the fear of
contagion through normal intercourse dissolves not only the relation-
ships between citizen and neighbors, but also those fundamental bonds
between family members: One citizen avoided the next, there was
scarcely a man who would take care of his neighbor . . . but this was not

T h e Porous H e a rt

all: men and women alike were possessed by such a visceral terror of this
scourge that a man would desert his own brother, uncle would forsake a
nephew, sister her brother, and often a wife her husband. What is more,
believe it or not, mothers and fathers would avoid visiting and tending
their children, they would virtually disown them.75 On the one hand,
Boccaccio decries the isolation of individuals through the dissolution of
normal relations, but on the other, he denounces an equally disturbing
promiscuity. Women who were unable to find female servants exposed
their bodies to male servants without restraint, privileging the needs of
their ailing bodies over social mores. Groups of people gave themselves
up to debauchery, roaming in and out of other peoples homes. As the
houses of the dead or those who had fled were abandoned, they became
sites of revelry for those who gave free rein to their appetites. These
roaming merrymakers existed alongside other groups that barricaded
themselves into their houses. Whether seeking to seal themselves off
from the world (or specifically the bodies in that world) or circulating
aggressively and intrusively even into the homes and private properties
of others, many Florentines ended up nonetheless in the worst sort of
bodily promiscuity: the mass grave. Here, Boccaccio says, the bodies
were packed in layers, just like goods in a ships hold. It was as if these
corpses were reduced to so much unwanted or tainted merchandise.
Boccaccio describes the manifestation of the disease on a single
body with almost clinical detail. The first sign in his semiotics of plague
is a swelling in the groin or the armpit. Boccaccio does not venture to
analyze the cause or nature of this particular apparition of the disease,
but others of his time found the location of these swellings, or apos-
temata, very significant. One main point of diagnosis was precisely the
location of the apostemata. Several tractates suggested that practitioners
ought to pay careful attention to swellings under the left armpit, behind
the ears, and in the right groin, as these were linked to injuries of the
heart, brain, and liver, respectively.

T h e Porous H e a rt

Others interpreted the swelling in the area of the groin as an indica-

tion that the genital organs were diseased.76 As always in the medieval
world, direct experience was mediated by ancient authority. Boccaccios
description of the plague (though he witnessed it firsthand) draws heav-
ily on Lucretius rendering of Thucydides description of the plague that
struck Athens in 430 B.C. Lucretius explains in Book VI of The Nature
of Things that the plague would infect the heart and could eventually
descend to the genitals. Some sufferers survived by excision of the
virile organ.77 As Giuseppe Mazzotta shows in his The World at Play
in Boccaccios Decameron, there is a certain metonymic continuity be-
tween the aegritudo amoris invoked by Boccaccio in his proem and the
plague.78 Like love, the plague enters through the eyes; like love, the
plague is as volatile as fire.
Certainly, the remedies prescribed for both maladies sound quite
similar. Tommaso del Garbo and Giovanni Dondoli recommend the
same sort of divertissement to prevent plague that Arnaldus of Villa-
nova, Avicenna, and Constantinus Africanus recommended for those
suffering from lovesickness. Here is what Dondoli suggests for plague
prevention: Avoid the embraces of women and all disordered exercise
. . . and flee all stench of rotting things, of human bodies and animals
and invalids . . . and as far as it is possible, man should endeavor to flee
all those things that make the mind sad. This is because melancholic pas-
sions make the heart despair and make our dreams disturbing. Instead,
endeavor to do those things that make one laugh, that make the heart
delight, such as singing and playing and listening to entertaining and
diverting narrations. . . . Do . . . engage in table games and chess, but
other games are not helpful, because of the breath that is rendered one
to the other.79 In other words, melancholy makes the body dangerously
susceptible to the plague. Those who are suffering from lovesickness are
not merely depressed, they are in grave danger. The cure for melancholy
(and therefore a powerful plague preventer) is distraction. As Boccaccio

T h e Porous H e a rt

explains in his proem, women have fewer distractions available to them

and therefore suffer more from melancholy as a result of love than do
men. Women (along with children) were also considered to be most
susceptible to plague. Highly sensual women were in particular peril,
and at the same time they presented a particular peril to those around
them. The plague tractates urged everyone to avoid sexual activity,
along with excesses of every kind.
The Decameron is offered as both a source of distraction and as a
model of the sort of lifestyle one ought to lead in order to avoid both
melancholy and plague. The young ladies in the Decameron follow these
instructions to the letter. They live virtuously as they laugh, sing, play
music, and tell entertaining tales that delight the heart. While there are
men in the group, Boccaccio stresses the propriety of the interactions
between the sexes. The tales the young people tell derive a great part
of their capacity to distract from the description of behavior that is not
only improper but even, given the context of the plague, dangerous.
The narrators, on the other hand, limit themselves to a promiscuity of
language, carefully regulating their actions.
But what is the telling of tales if not an exchange of breath? Further-
more, how is it possible to tell tales that are not, themselves, contami-
nated? The novelle of the Decameron do not merely tell of promiscuity,
they participate in a circulation of foreign matter. In some way, each of
the hundred tales of the Decameron figure a circulation of infection on a
number of levels. From the breath that relays them, to their description
of sexual transgression, to the promiscuity of sources for each story, the
tales also infect one another, as tropes reappear from one story to the
next, as obscenity and violence escalate.
One of the most emblematic moments in this sustained exploration
of contamination occurs in the third story of the sixth day. It is the tale
of a young womans biting remark to a bishopa story that is entirely
symptomatic of the anxieties of circulation that rule plague-devastated

T h e Porous H e a rt

Florence. As the story goes, a certain Dego della Ratta became in-
terested in a young Florentine woman and offered her husband (the
bishops brother) five hundred gold florins for one night with his wife.
The man acquiesced, forcing his unwilling spouse to acquiesce as well.
In return, he gets both il danno e le beffe, or, in this case, cheap silver
coins gilded for the occasion, and innumerable jokes at his expense. One
day, as the bishop and Dego are riding around town, they come across
the beautiful and recently married Nonna de Pulci. Here the plague
explicitly rears its ugly head in the midst of the tale telling, as the nar-
rator pauses to mention that Nonna died in the current pestilence. The
bishop asks Nonna in a joking manner what she thinks of Dego, and if
she thinks she could handle him. Nonna feels that those words . . .
would contaminate her in the souls of those, and many there were, that
heard him (quelle parole . . . la dovesser contaminare negli animi di
coloro, che molti verano, che ludirono) and so responds that she doesnt
know if Dego could handle her, as she would want good coinage. The
remark literally silences the bishop.
The moral, according to the narrator, Lauretta, is, Therefore it is
important to take care how and when and with whom and also where one
exchanges words.80 Within the scope of this brief tale, we see the varied
threats of the promiscuity of bodies, contamination, coinage, and words.
By the tyrannical actions of her husband, the unwilling wife in this tale
is forced, like the victims of the plague, into the role of merchandise,
her body reduced to something that can be circulated, returning to her
husband devalued. The explicit mention of the plague in the midst of
this tale, something that happens very rarely in the hundred stories of
the Decameron, signals the confluence of the themes of death and pro-
miscuity. Nonnas retort contains the threat of contagion in the forms
of rumor and of sexual impropriety by stalling the excessive, abusive
freedom of the bishops tongue and Degos actions.
The tale recalls, in a grimmer tone, the comic story of Alatiel told

T h e Porous H e a rt

on the second day. Alatiel, like the wife in this tale, is a passive object
of circulation. Sent from home a virgin, she is possessed by nine differ-
ent men located variously along the Mediterranean trade routes until
she is finally returned to her father. The comic twist on that tale is its
rewriting: Alatiel tells an alternate tale of a virtuous circular path that
leads her back to her father as virginal as when she departed from the
paternal household. Clearly, then, concerns about the free movement
of goods and bodies appear in numerous places in the Decameron. The
path that Alatiels words trace out is a virtuous one, but this is a sure sign
that words themselves are detached from deeds and liberated to move
as they will. The moral ambiguities in the Alatiel story are no longer
ambiguous in the tale of Nonna de Pulci. In that tale, the flow of words,
like the movement of bodies, merchandise, and cheap coinage, is seen
as entirely too free. The only way to avoid contamination by words is
to silence the speaker, to remind him that he must reduce the space of
his verbal intrusions.
Circulation in each of these cases is a process that is defi ned by
fallenness. Circulation is devaluation, the loss of truth. While some-
thing may return to its source, or husband, or father, its essence, if not
its appearance, has changed. Like a cheap, gilded coin, the things of the
world and the bodies that inhabit it are definitively darkened within by
their congress with the external world. Scholars have tended to point
to Girolamo Fracastoro (14781554), Veronese physician and professor
at Padua, as the first to properly understand contagion. As Jon Arriza-
balaga has explained, however, Fracastoro merely managed to systema-
tize Galens ideas on contagion and to fit them to his context. Like many
others credited with a new theory, his work was rather more coherent
than original. Medieval people were aware of the problem of contagion,
as these plague texts amply demonstrate. As often happens in the late
medieval period, they simply had it both ways. While recognizing that
plague spread from one body to another, they saw this as a subsequent

T h e Porous H e a rt

phase in the diff usion of the epidemic. In short, plague got into bodies
from corrupted air in the atmosphere and from the corrupted air that
was exhaled by other people. It could also be communicated, as medieval
medical practitioners understood it, through the exchange of humors,
through touch and even sight. Not only did the medieval world under-
stand contagion, the medieval world was haunted by the idea.
But as we have seen previously, examples of the potentially deadly
effects of the visual spirit also gave rise to theories of the salvific effects
of the gaze. In the space of Dantes works alone, we find reference to
the Medusa, a creature that contains all the gynophobic aspects of both
the basilisk and the menstruating woman, but also the divine power of
Beatrices gaze. As the functional opposite to the Medusa, the visual
spirit that flows from Beatrices eyes has the power to give life, to inspire
poetry, to effect salvation. If the gaze is a ray or is somehow constructed
by the extramission of the visual spirit, the thirteenth and the first half
of the fourteenth century saw this gaze as potentially dangerous or
potentially beatific but usually neither. But in plague and post-plague
narratives, a ray coming forth from a body becomes a phenomenon that
elicits horror in the context of a terrifying contagion.81 The senses have
become apertures to be guarded with the greatest care.

Secret and Invisible Porosities

Harveys heart was immune to such invasions. Its principal function,
after all, was to move blood; he specifically wanted to deny that the
heart received anything. To convince his readers of a circulation of the
blood within the body, Harvey had to reject two kinds of suppositions
about other functions of the heart. First, he had to deny that the heart
constantly received freshly made blood from the liver that was then
used up. Second, he had to deny that half of the hearts function was
the creation and distribution of spirits alone, made from the reception

T h e Porous H e a rt

of air in the heart. These lingering notions, embedded in the cultural

consciousness by the works of philosophers, poets, mystics, and theo-
logians, convinced the public, and even physicians, that the heart was
accessible to air and other entities.82
At the time that Harvey was writing, most physicians were con-
vinced that air entered the arteries through pores in the flesh and the
skin. The arteries were also thought to emit fuliginous vapors through
those pores.83 In other words, the heart and the arteries were thought to
have a respiratory function. Arteries held air and spirit while the veins
held blood. The two substances met and melded in the heart. Harvey
explains that there was a logical reason for this false system that had
endured for so long: when dissections were performed upon corpses,
little blood was found in the arteries or in the left ventricle. He reasons
that this happens because the heart continues to work for some time after
a person or animal ceases to breathe, and therefore the left ventricle and
arteries go on distributing blood without receiving any blood from the
lungs. The medieval world, lacking this explanation, believed the empty
spaces to contain invisible spirit.84
While this had been the prevailing belief since Galen, Harvey asked
how it was possible for air to penetrate: Likewise since all the arteries,
as well those which lye deeper as those which are next to the skin, are
distended with the same swiftness, how can the Air so freely, so swiftly,
pass through the skin, flesh, and habit of the whole body, into the depth,
as it can through the skin alone? And how shall the arteries of Embryons
draw the air into their concavities through their mothers belly, and the
body of the womb? And how shall Whales, Dolphins, and great Fishes,
and all sorts of Fishes in the bottom of the Sea, take in the air, by the
swift pulse in the Systole and Diastole of their arteries, through such a
great mass of water?85 After centuries of images of openness of heart,
such as those presented in this chapter, images from philosophical, lit-
erary, and religious texts that described the heart as open to air and to

T h e Porous H e a rt

sensations understood as ingressions of spirit into the body, Harvey

attempts here to present his own set of images. He focuses on a sense of
depth, attempting to describe the heart and arteries as enclosed within
an impenetrable body. The arteries of the fetus cannot draw air in, as
they are divided from the air by two layers, the body of the womb and
the abdomen of the mother. The image of this isolated fetus is utterly at
odds with Dantes description of the embryo in his Purgatorio, entirely
open to the breath of God that fills it with spirit. For medieval people,
the air was fi lled with spirits of all kinds, of human origin, of divine
origin and of demonic origin. These spirits had the power to penetrate
within bodies, unobstructed by the barriers of skin and flesh, entering
subtly and swiftly through the sensory portals, or even through the
pores of the skin.
Harvey insists that the body of the womb and the abdomen of the
mother are adequate to stop air from penetrating to the fetus arteries.
While he does not speak of spirits, the work that he does with images
seems aimed at counteracting the culture of susceptibility and porosity
that dominated previous centuries. Envisioning seals, whales, and the
great fishes in the very depths of the seas, the reader is led to connect
the murky deep of the ocean with the amniotic fluid of the womb. Both
spaces, linked together by their proximity to each other in Harveys text,
hide the creatures within in mysterious occlusion. In this declension of
metaphor, the heart and arteries appear as unutterably distant from the
surface of the skin as the whale from the surface of the sea, as secret as
the embryo masked and guarded by layers and walls of flesh.
Harveys strategy is one of simplification.86 He seeks a unique
function for each anatomical structure. In Galenic medicine, multiple
functions were attributed to many parts of the body. For example, the
arteria venosa brings pneuma to the heart, but at the same time, it carries
fuliginous vapors from the blood in the opposite direction. The valves
that lead from the arteria venosa to the ventricle do not fit tightly, so

T h e Porous H e a rt

that the vapors may exit. Harvey found these two-way systems and
multiplicities of purpose inelegant and indeed false. As the examples in
this chapter have shown, the medieval heart and its veins and arteries
constituted perhaps the most complex system in the human body. The
heart had long been thought to govern the very broadest range of human
functionality. While the veins were rarely attributed with more than the
distribution of blood, the porosity and multi-functionality of the arteries
made them the channels of numerous kinds of circulation that Harvey
wished to eliminate from the medical and cultural imaginary.
Harvey makes the point that he is not denying the presence of spir-
its. But he cannot tolerate a duality of systems within the body, with
spirits on the arterial side and blood on the venous side. He instead sug-
gests that all blood is full of spirits. In this way, he brings together the
two systems. It is not his intention to destroy the notion of spirits, and
he is even willing to concede that the arteries may be richer in spirits.
He integrates the two substances by stating that they are inseparable.
Again, he brings imagery to bear to create this conceptual possibility
in the mind of a reader who is accustomed to imagining the spirits as
entities in their own right, as a substance derived in part from blood,
but entirely distinct from blood. Harvey explains that spirits and blood
are like whey and butter in milk, or heat and water in warm water.87
According to his principles of internal coherence, the idea that spirits
are only found in the left ventricle simply does not work. He fi nds it
ridiculous that the heart is commonly believed to be the workshop and
fountain of vital spirits and yet that people believe that it is only the left
ventricle and not the right that produces spirit.88
Harvey also disputes the idea that blood oozes from right to left
ventricle through numerous porosities: And why, I beseech you, have
they their refuge to hidden, invisible, incertain and obscure pores for
the passage of blood into the left ventricle?89 Or later: But by my troth
there are no such pores, nor can they be demonstrated.90 The septum

T h e Porous H e a rt

that separates the ventricles is very dense, he explains, more compact

than anything except for bones and sinews. Instead, Harvey proposes
an internal circulation of the blood and a solidly divided heart. Blood
is transmitted from the vena cava to the arteries in such a quantity that
it cannot possibly be supplied from the ingesta. In half an hour, the
quantity of blood that moves through the heart is more than the quantity
contained in the whole body. The blood could be furnished in no other
way than by making a circuit and returning.
Harvey thus does away with two different kinds of porosities, the
porosity of the arteries and the porosity of the septum. He establishes
impenetrable boundaries on the skin and within the heart. Simplifica-
tion, in this case, means creating divisions and eliminating intermedi-
aries. While Harvey does not reject the existence of spirits, he unites
them with the blood and aligns them within the same circuit as the
blood, thus effectively diminishing their range of possibility and their
status as an intermediary entity. Furthermore, their access to the ex-
ternal world is limited by Harveys insistence that air does not enter
the arteries through the skin. The commingling of blood and air in
the body to produce spirit was, in the medieval world, a microcosm of the
relationship between body and soul. The duality of systems within the
body, blood and spirit, made each human individual a functional model
of the relationship between the corporeal and the divine. The existence
of an intermediary substance allowed for interactions with the world
that were physical and spiritual at the same time, as the circulation of
spirits linked each body into other human beings and potentially into
divine spaces through sensory interaction. The images of depth and
solidity that govern Harveys rhetoric in these passages establish, in-
stead, an internal, unitary circulation, isolating the individual. The heart
is divided and sealed within the body. In the absence of concepts of a
porous, breathing heart, the notion of an open heart, must, of necessity,
become a mere metaphor.


The Engendering Heart

Virile Hearts
At the opening of Shakespeares Antony and Cleopatra, Philo remarks
that Antonys 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 gipsys lust.1
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 womans ardor.
From the ancient Greeks to Harveys time, the heat of the heart and the
hearts power to push that heat into the rest of the body and into other
bodies were considered distinctly masculine qualities. At the same time,
the hearts receptive capacities aligned it with the functions of the female
womb. Harvey, working according to his guiding principles of delimita-
tion and simplification, rejected the receptive, or feminine, capacities
attributed to the heart by working through images of inaccessibility, as

The Engendering Hea rt

we have seen in the previous chapter. Concepts of the masculine capaci-

ties of the heart, on the other hand, served Harveys purposes better.2
He transformed the complex ways in which the heart was gendered
and the even more complex ways in which the heart gendered the body
from within preexisting frames of reference. The heart might be phal-
lic and ejaculatory, but its reach, he argued, went no further than the
boundary of the skin.
As Harvey sought to rededicate the heart to the single, corporeally
delimited process of moving blood through the interior of the body, he
harnessed significant portions of the long history of the hearts prolific
functions for his own purposes. Rather than violently sweeping away
all of these notions in one bundle, Harvey brackets certain questions
regarding the products of the heart. I noted in chapter 2 that he de-
clines to pronounce a verdict on whether the heart adds heat, spirit, or
perfection to the blood. He chooses his battles carefully and not only
leaves aside this question, but indeed assumes, elsewhere in his treatise,
that the heart does produce heat for the blood, as had been asserted
for centuries. He employs this cultural certitude for his own purposes,
explaining the necessity of circulation by recourse to long-familiar no-
tions of vital heat. As he describes it, blood that comes into contact with
other parts of the body becomes refrigerated, coagulated, and made
as it were barren [effetum], from thence it returns to the heart, as to the
fountain or dwelling-house of the body, to recover its perfection, and
there again by naturall heat, powerfull [potenti] and vehement [fervido],
it is melted, and is dispensd again through the body from thence, be-
ing fraught [praegnans] with spirits, as with balsam.3 As the heart is
the source of heat in the human body, the farther blood gets from that
source, the cooler it becomes. Due to this drop in temperature, the
blood grows thicker and even effete. Effetus is derived from ex- and
fetus, or fruitful. The word has markedly gendered connotations; it has
a secondary meaning of effeminate, intimating a lack of fruitfulness

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in a specifically masculine reproductive sense. Upon its return to the

heart, the blood regains its naturall heat and becomes powerfull and
vehement, having regained perfection. In the Aristotelian world-
view, these were all gendered terms that in fact constituted the very
definition of masculinity. Apart from his introduction of the notion of
return, Harveys terms correspond closely to the male side of medieval
vocabulary for describing heart function.
It is the issue of return, however, that changes everything. This
chapter will examine medieval concepts of the heart as a gendered and
generative organ, an organ that, of necessity, had commerce with the
outside environment. As numerous examples in the previous chapters
have shown, medieval notions of healthy circulation involved circula-
tion beyond the body, to it and from it, with the world. Circulations
that remained within the body, on the other hand, were understood to
be indicative of sterility. Harveys limitation of the hearts virile propul-
sions operates from within a different concept of masculinity. It assumes
a phallic character for the heart, while divorcing the heart from a literal
role in generation, the most fundamental extension of the individual
into the world.
Robert Erickson, in his book The Language of the Heart, suggests
that the notion that the same heart operates in both women and men
is equivalent to a concept of an ungendered heart.4 I will argue that
the heart is never ungendered in the late medieval thought-style under
consideration here, but rather is, of necessity, double-gendered. A heart
that is not temperate enough to be receptive or womblike is a source of
spiritual and physical danger. At the same time, a heart that is not able
to push spirit out from the body and into the world in the form of new
life or simply spiritual participation in the circulation of things is equally
in peril. The medieval heart must be both receptive and projective, both
male and female.
Studies of sex difference in the Middle Ages have tended to examine

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the parallelism or lack of parallelism between descriptions of male and

female reproductive organs.5 It is my contention that such comparisons
neglect the core of the issue. Passive and active, warm and coolthe
central terms that defined sex difference in medieval thoughtare deter-
mined by the heart. By examining the primary source of sex differences,
we may come to understand more of what is really at stake in the gen-
dered terms in play in medieval texts. The greater the heat of the heart,
the more a person of either sex could take an active role in the world.
Heated and thus volatile spirits could push themselves beyond the bound-
aries of the individual body and into other bodies. The medieval gen-
dered body presented in the following pages is remarkably sympathetic
with the most recent theories of sex and gender. After centuries of fi xa-
tion on the genital organs as markers of sexual alterity, we are returning
to a vision of the body that looks beyond those often ambiguous signs to
gradations of difference in the bodys relation to the external world.
The now long-lost cardiocentric model for generation must be ap-
proached by means of multiple layers, beginning with theological defi-
nitions of primary causes of heat in the body and moving from there to
descriptions of the hearts anatomical capacities to contain, create, and
externalize heat and heated spirit within the body and beyond. With
these sources and pathways established, it becomes possible to think
descriptions of gendered relationality differently as they appear in the
poetic and mystical texts of the same period. As an outline of the cardio-
centric model for sex and gender takes shape, Harveys redeployment of
certain medieval, Aristotelian notions about vital heat may be viewed
from the perspective of a new set of consequences. Harvey strives to
limit the outward flow from the heart to the confines of the body, as in
his view, the self is maintained by the containment of powers within
the body. In the medieval world, the ability to relate ecstatically to what
lay beyond the skin was the constitutive basis of life. The greater the
capacity to move spirit through the boundaries of the body, the more

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perfect (and more masculine) the individual. The individual is asserted

only by relationality, only by self-overreaching.
This chapter seeks to unearth this alternate sense of the human,
one that precedes the isolated individual familiar to us now. By tracing
the outward flow from the heart as it was envisioned in the medieval
period and positioning such a mapping against the contours established
in Harveys treatise, we may comprehend the radical transformation in
concepts of the boundedness of the individual. The individual that is
now defined by containment within the skin was once determined by
the ability to push her- or himself beyond that enclosure and into rela-
tions with the world.

The Sources of Heat

Before engaging these complex problems, it is necessary to sort out the
relationships between the confluence of qualities and entities that flow
forth from the medieval heart. It is, after all, the heat of the heart that
determines sex difference and permits both circulation into the world
and generation. As noted above, Harvey offers that fluidity, heat, power,
and spirits may potentially be acquired in the heart; at this point in his
treatise, his statements correspond perfectly with late medieval ideas.
How are these qualities and entities related to each other and how are
they infused into the body by the heart? Thomas Aquinas De motu
cordis is a useful starting point in addressing these questions. As always,
Aquinas seeks to categorize, sort, and distinguish between causes and
effects, and, further, between primary and secondary effects. From the
perspective of such definitions and distinctions, we may subsequently
examine how medieval thinkers blurred Aquinas neat boundaries as the
concepts of the hearts heat were employed in different settings.
Aquinas attacks the problem of principality in the relationship be-
tween heat and motion, seeking to clarify that heat, generated by spirit,

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is not the cause of the motion of the heart, as some say. Rather, it is
the motion of the heart that creates warmth; the motion of the heart is
a deeper principle than warmth. Aquinas points out that heat . . .
does not move something else into another place except incidentally.
For an essential feature of heat is to warm, and incidentally to move
something from one place to another. In other words, although heat
may move things, this is not its essential feature.6 For Aquinas, as
we have already seen, it is the soul that moves the heart and thus by
extension warms the body.7
To describe the nature of this motion, Aquinas explains that
whereas the heavenly movement is always uniform, the hearts move-
ment varies according to the different emotions and sensations of the
soul.8 While the circulations of the heavens follow a divinely ordered
pattern, the individual soul is subject to emotions and sensations that
alter and vary the imperfectly circular movement of the heart. The push
and pull that constitute the imperfect movement of the heart as well as
the intercorporeal circulations we have been describing thus far are fal-
lible motions, dependent on the passions. Above all, human circulations
depend on a duality of motions, a reciprocity; emotions and sensations
result from interaction with the outside world. The movement of the
heart thus depends not only on the individual but also on other bodies
and the surrounding environment. Only heavenly circulation is a uni-
tary circular movement that is fully self-sustaining.
Aquinas establishes another causal relationship as he specifies that
it is the soul that affects the heart, and not the reverse: For the sensa-
tions of the soul are not caused by changes in the heart, but just the
opposite is the case. This is why in the passions of the soul, such as
anger, there is a formal part that pertains to a feeling, which in this
example would be the desire for vengeance. And there is a material
part that pertains to the hearts motion, which in the example would be
the blood enkindled around the heart.9 The distinctions that Aquinas

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sets out are infrequently maintained in the writings of scholars that

followed him in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The formal
part, desire for vengeance, and the material part, blood enkindled
around the heart, are often used interchangeably in texts of all kinds to
mean precisely the same thing. These two parts of the passions of the
soul are understood to go together; the formal does not exist without
the material and vice versa.
While Aquinas philosophy is dedicated to establishing such prima-
cies and causal relationships, even followers of Aquinas were often more
apt to emphasize the connections between the formal and the material
and to seek intermediaries between overly distinct categories. Aquinas
was one of the scholars who sought to maintain a clear distinction be-
tween the soul and the spirit, but, as we have seen, the intermediary
notion of the spirit overflowed the boundaries of its more restrictive
definitions for numerous other thinkers. Philosophically and theologi-
cally, the spirit brought together and integrated body and soul rather
than enforcing the distance between the two. In terms of the passions as
well, the notion of spirit in the non-Aquinian sense melded the formal
and material in the intermediary space of the heart and its environs.
Aquinas continues: Although someone does not desire revenge
because his blood is burning around the heart, he is more prone to be-
come angry because of it. But actually being angry is from the desire for
vengeance.10 In this statement, Aquinas presents us with three orders
of things that proceed from the material to the formal: blood burning
around the heart, becoming angry, and desiring revenge. For Aquinas,
the material part, or burning blood, can make a person more prone to
anger but cannot provoke the desire for revenge. In other words, the
physical heart can influence our passions to some degree but cannot
influence the sort of formal thought that is required to desire revenge.
Aquinas is careful to keep thought at some distance from the material
and to emphasize a unidirectional chain of influence.

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But for Plato, Aristotle, and Galen, as well as for most scholars
working in the scholastic tradition, the passions were thought to follow
a cardiocentric and thermodynamic model.11 According to this model,
rage is the boiling of blood and spirit in the heart. These substances are
then pushed to the periphery of the body. In the case of fear, the reverse
happens. Spirits, natural heat, and blood return to the heart and collect
there, depriving the limbs of their strength. Aquinas chooses to examine
the primary causes of these phenomena. Rather than simply imagining
that thermodynamic processes are the cause of the passions, he seeks a
different source of these manifestations. Which come first, the move-
ments of the blood and spirit or the passions themselves? Aquinas logic
promotes the soul as the primary cause of bodily effects, from emotion
to the movement of the heart.

The Anatomy of Heat Distribution

These philosophical and theological notions of vital heat were rede-
ployed and adapted in order to interpret anatomy. Mondino de Liuzzi,
a professor of medicine at the University of Bologna, is credited with
introducing human dissection as a means of instruction there. Mon-
dino began the first official dissections of human cadavers in 1315 and
wrote the Anothomia, his treatise of human anatomy, a year later. The
Anothomia had great impact; it was used as a textbook for three centu-
ries and as such gives us access to dominant concepts perceived in the
structures of the body as they were taught for generations.
The Anothomia begins with a reflection on the greatness of man,
something that, at least at first, is stated a priori: As compared to other
animals of the same size [man] has greater heat, the purpose of which is
to lift him up to higher levels.12 Such capacity can be seen, as Mondino
explains, in the organization and positioning of the organs of the body,
mapped according to delicate balances of heat and cold. The hearts

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output of heat dictates, among other things, the size of the brain: Once
you have eliminated the membranes, the brain will appear to you, which
in man is of larger dimensions than in any other animal of the same size
because man has a hotter heart than other animals and for this reason
needs more animal spirits for the activity of the intellect. . . . Its function
is to mitigate with its complexion the vital spirit so that it may become
animal spirit.13 Mondinos Anothomia reveals the strange admixture of
Aristotelian and Galenic ideas that ruled the Middle Ages. It was Aris-
totle who suggested that the brains function was to cool the blood and
thus the heart, an idea that Galen ridiculed. Here, Mondinos otherwise
Galenic treatise returns to Aristotelian principles, bolstered, inciden-
tally, by tangible evidence. Any butcher would assert that the brain
of an animal (by the time he gets to it) is cool. There are two primary
reasons why experimental evidence fails here: Blood drains rapidly from
the brain of a hanging animal. Furthermore, the cranium presents an
obstacle to the butcher such that by the time the brain is accessed, it
feels cooler than other organs.14 Mondino explains that the brains size
is defined by the heat of the heart, which depends not on the size of a
living being, but rather on its perfection. It is only due to this heat that
man has greater intellectual activity; the brain cools the great stream of
vital spirit from the heart, thus transforming it into the animal spirit.
One traditional medieval account explained that the transformation
from vital to animal spirit was performed by the rete mirabile. The rete
mirabile was derived from Galens solution for the problem of cognition
and was widely accepted in the Middle Ages.15 Mondino speaks of the
rete mirabile at length later in his treatise, specifying that the rete is
woven of little nerves or very small and thin arteries [arteriis parvissi-
mis et subtilissimis], so that the spirit contained in them is easily altered
and cooled by the brain and is converted into the animal spirit.16 For
Mondino, the principal action of the rete is to cool the vital spirit, not
to purify or rarify it. By this analysis, the brain has a similar function

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to the lung. The heart is covered by the lobes of the lung so that it may
be cooled by the inhaled air from the same [lung] and the heat and the
spirit generated in it may be tempered.17
In fact, rarification, according to Mondino, is a process fueled in
the heart by means of great heat. The left ventricle of the heart has a
thicker and more compact wall than that of the right ventricle for several
reasons. One is that it must generate the spirit from the blood, but spirit
is generated from blood by means of a great heat that has the capacity to
purify it and to make it evaporate. But heat is greater when in a denser
material and structure, for which reason the wall of this ventricle is
thick and dense.18 Heat, according to Mondino, purifies the blood,
and thus the spaces of the heart are designed to prevent the dispersion
of this precious heat. But while it has this positive effect, heat must be
tempered by corresponding organs in the body, such as the brain and
the lungs, that work to cool the heart and the spirits exuding from it.
Balanced bodily heat is derived from the relationship between the heart
and the other organs.
Despite Aquinas careful reasoning, most physicians were content
to state that the heart was the source of heat in the body. Taddeo Alde-
rotti, Mondinos teacher, leaves aside Aquinian reflections on motion
as productive of heat and the soul as productive of motion. He writes
simply, The heart is the root and source of heat. Mondino further
explains the hearts capacity to contain more heat than other organs: the
heart has more heat thanks to its dimensions, as will be clear to you
by observing its form, as it has the shape of a pine cone or a pyramid;
because all those things that have a considerable heat must have this
shape, given that the initial form of primordial heat is the pyramidal
shape.19 The shape of a flame is roughly pyramidal; the heart is a kind
of embodiment of the principle of heat in its elemental essence. Heat was
thought to be more at home within a structure that reflected its own
properties. Within the space of the same text, Mondino both describes

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how the thick walls of the ventricles preserve the heat of the heart, and,
in a seemingly different register, identifies the heart with heat.
Most important, the heart must distribute this heat to the rest of the
body. As the heart was not a pump for Mondino, it was necessary to de-
scribe the ways in which it distributed heat and spirit, not merely blood.
Numerous different concepts and terms were introduced to describe this
distribution of rarefied and non-material entities. Mondino explains that
the base [of the heart is inclined] towards the right, in order to exhale
[insufflare] heat and spirit toward the right part that must be hotter than
the left. The heart is imagined as a breathing organ (Shakespeares
bellows), exhaling heat and spirit into the rest of the body.
Alfred of Sareshel, in his De motu cordis, written before 1200, de-
scribes the externalizing force of the heart in different but related terms:
Indeed the Sun provides light and heat when it hurls its rays and brings
the variety of colors into actuality; the heart also, in the middle [of the
body] with the veins, nerves, and arteries, hurls out [eiaculans] the ac-
tion of the first virtue [primae virtutes] and distributes all the rest [of the
virtues] into the receptacle of each one.20 For Alfred, the heart hurls
out or ejaculates virtue to the surrounding body through the veins,
nerves, and arteries. This vital outward motion is described in distinctly
masculine, reproductive terms. Until and through Harvey, the outward
leg of the various circulations the heart was thought to engender was
closely associated with masculinity. The prototypical model for a gen-
dered approach to outward movement derives from Aristotle. Harvey
cites Aristotles observation that the seminal fluid of all animals, or the
prolific spirit, leaves the body with a bound and like a living thing.
In medieval Aristotelian natural philosophy, mobility was associated
with heat and the ability to externalize, or to relate ecstatically to the
Albert the Great quibbles with Alfred on the exact nature of spirit.
He rejects the vision of spirit as similar to sunlight. For him, its a more

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substantial entity: The spirit that is in animals bodies is the vapor that
is dispersed from seminal humidity during generation.21 Spirit can-
not move as light does, but rather it moves according to its properties.
A fine vapor, made of seminal humidity, moves with less immediacy
than sunlight. On both sides of this disagreement about the nature of
its motion, however, Albert and Alfred tie spirit to the seminal. In all
of its functions throughout the body, spirit vivifies through its essential
reproductive qualities. The procreative nature of spirit is not reserved
for the act of creating a new life alone; the spirits power to vivify and to
enable relationality in the individual is essentially procreative. In order
for an individual to survive, life in the human body must be continually
renewed, as if recreated. Interactions between individuals, enabled by
the spirit, are shadows of the reproductive act. The creation of a new
life, then, through the act of intercourse, is but a subset of the quotidian
prolific movements of the spirit from the heart.

Cardiocentric versus Phallocentric Models for Gender and Generation

The identification of the hearts outward propulsions with notions of
masculinity brings us to a point in which we must sort out in greater
detail the ways in which gender was related to the properties of the
heart. Our vernaculars retain traces of the association between the heart
and specific virtues: courage, corage, and coraggio are derived from the
Latin cor. Courage was directly related to the size and heat of the heart,
though perhaps not precisely as expected. Albert the Great explains
that hares have very large hearts in respect to their size and thus are
timid. A smaller heart can contain and distribute greater heat that would
otherwise be prematurely dispersed in a larger heart. Greater capacity
for heat signified greater courage, active force, refinement of nutrition,
and masculinity; the basic assumption was that gender differences arose
from differences in body temperature.

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Most theorizations of sex differences were organized around

designated roles in generation. Heat is the necessary fi rst ingredient
for the life of the body and for the creation of new life, as Aristotles De
generatione animalium claims: In all cases the semen contains within
itself that which causes it to be fertilewhat is known as hot sub-
stance.22 This substance for Aristotle is pneuma (or spiritus) and is
generated in the heart. So how is it that the male heart renders blood
capable of forming semen and the female heart does not?
Medieval analyses of male and female roles in procreation were just
as complicated as discussions of the location and source of powers in
the body.23 Again, scholars faced a similar conflict of authorities. Those
who followed Aristotle (Dante, for one) held that the male heart refined
blood capable of making seed while the female heart produced only the
passive material for generation. Other scholars followed the Galenic
line transmitted through Avicenna and Haly Abbas, maintaining that
women produced seed as well that played a secondary, but nonetheless
important, role in procreation.24
Temperature was the determining factor between active and passive
roles. According to the Aristotelian notions that were widely accepted
in the medieval period, the perfect heat of the fathers heart produces
the formative power for life from blood contained in the heart. Women,
who are naturally cooler, lack the sufficient heat to produce seed from
blood, and instead make menstrual fluid, the passive matter necessary
to constitute a fetus. A series of oppositions were thus developed and
valorized: as men are hotter, they are stronger, and they produce semen
that gives form and has the active role in creating life.25
The medieval treatise On the Secrets of Women states: Male sperm
is hot because it is of the same nature as air and when it is received by
the woman it warms her entire body, so women are strengthened by
this heat.26 In the medieval account, pneuma is replaced with spirit or
spiritus and made more substantial, but its essential qualities remain

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the same. Heat not only encourages (in the etymological sense) but
also strengthens, and in the proper potency can even create a new life.
The competing Galenic view, holding that women also produced a seed
and that two seeds were necessary for conception, was still party to the
same Aristotelian valorizations of heat. Galen believed that women were
cooler and thus less perfect than men, retaining the fundamental basis
for gender differences while suggesting a slightly more active role for
the woman in generation.
While this may at first appear to be a simple binary oppositionhot
and active versus cold and passivein reality, medieval constructions
of sex difference are complex and anything but binary. Sex is defined
by terms of scale, of gradations of qualities: mens hearts are hotter than
womens. As both men and womens hearts produce heat to varying
degrees, sex is not a question of difference in the sense of alterity but is
rather a question of proportion, a position on a scale or spectrum.27
The prevalent theories of heart function in Italy in the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries reveal much about notions of masculinity as a
quality that is not proper to the male. The heart was, in many ways, the
very center of masculinity, producing vital heat, and, at least in terms of
prevalent philosophical accounts, the organ in which blood was refined
adequately to produce semen. Male sex organs did not inherently contain
the qualities and potentialities of masculinity; they were subordinate
to the heart that alone could supply such qualities. As only male hearts
were believed to create enough heat for the production of semen, it was
assumed simply that womens hearts did not produce quite enough heat.
But the heart remained the hottest part of the female body, the mas-
culine within. In symmetrical terms, the heart within the male body
was often viewed as the feminine within, in terms of its passive and
receptive capacities. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the poets
of the Dolce stil novo described their hearts as womblike receptacles of
the spirits flying into them from their ladys eyes. The heart is thus both

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a passive feminine reservoir for blood and spirit and the masculine
center of the bodys active life force, producing animating spirit and the
materials of procreation.
Until recently, we have had a rather Freudian way of looking at sex:
either one has a penis or one does not. Alternatively, we have looked
for the presence or absence of the Y chromosome to determine sex. The
logic of this dividing line posits a definition that hinges on the feminine
lack of a very specific thing. Those definitions are now changing. Ann
Fausto-Sterlings book Sexing the Body tells the story of Maria Patio,
Spains top woman hurdler, who was barred from the 1988 Olympics
when she was found to have a Y chromosome. According to the In-
ternational Olympic Committees defi nition, Patios chromosomes
made her a man, despite her visibly female form. In the days before
cheek scraping, women athletes paraded naked in front of examiners
to display visible signs of their sex. Fausto-Sterling argues that both of
these contradictory definitions and tests are fatally flawed: There is
no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference.28 And these shades
of difference are precisely what we find in the medieval cardiocentric
concept of sex and gender.
Thomas Laqueurs Making Sex argues that a one-sex model ex-
isted until 1750, when our current two-sex model took over. Until
that point, he claims, woman was understood to be a degenerate form
of man, as her reproductive organs were an inverted version of the male
organs.29 Katharine Park and Robert A. Nye have refuted this theory,
showing convincingly that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were
very clear on the systematic differences between male and female re-
productive organs.30 I agree fully that as far as the reproductive organs
are concerned, woman was not located on a spectrum of similarity with
man. Furthermore, it seems clear that medieval natural philosophers
firmly believed in two distinct sexes. But Id like to simply shift the focus
here to the designated source of that dimorphism. A slight difference

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in the temperature of the fathers heart, according to many accounts,

determined the sex of the embryo.31 However, even once the sex of an
individual was established in utero, the medieval world expected huge
variation in the masculinity or femininity of males and females. These
variations depended on the heat of the individuals heart.
When gendered terms are based on something that both sexes pos-
sess, the quality of the dividing line between categories must change.
The female heart is not as hot as the male heart; this is the difference that
many anatomists and philosophers alike focus upon when delineating
the sexes. The sexual organs take a decidedly secondary position in this
logical scheme. Furthermore, this scenario of a spectrum of heat levels
allowed for considerable flexibility; while male hearts were generally
hotter than female hearts, some male hearts were cooler than others.
Likewise, some female hearts were hotter than others. Of course, the
warmest female was generally thought to be cooler than the coolest
male, as Albert the Great asserts. Like his student, Aquinas, Albert
is interested in drawing clear boundaries, boundaries that the public
imaginary could not entirely respect. Others, in fact, suggested that
there were possible exceptions to this definitive distinction.32
The shades of difference formula that Fausto-Sterling offers for
a contemporary way of thinking about both sex and gender fi nds its
correlate in the ways in which this late medieval community conceived
of cardiocentric sex difference. While there was little discussion of am-
biguity of sex, there was much discussion of manly or masculine
women, for example. Both men and women shared problems related to
complexion and the delicate balance between heat and cool, moist and
dry. Women could easily suffer from excessive complexionary heat or
cold, as could men. These variable boundaries were reinforced through
Avicenna and Albert the Great speak of the quantity and consis-
tency of chest hair as signs of the strength of the heart.33 They refer to

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a thermodynamic model to explain chest hair as output of the masculine

heart. In this view, natural heat produced by the heart makes vapors
that rise. These dense vapors pass through the pores in the skin and,
when they come in contact with the cold air outside the body, solidify
into hair on the chest or the scalp. As Michael Scot puts it in his Liber
phisionomie: A sign of a hot bodily complexion is a body that is natu-
rally hot . . . [and has] lots of abundant hair . . . that is thick and curly
and shows much heat of the heart, such as in a lion.34 The lion is, of
course, associated with courage. At the same time, there were signifi-
cant discussions of men who lacked beards and hirsute women.35 Hair
is thus more often aligned with qualities of heat and masculinity than
the male specifically.
Signs of heat were not always so obvious, however. On Treatments
for Women, part of the three-section Trotula texts produced in Salerno
during the twelfth-century Renaissance, explains that tests may be per-
formed to determine whether a woman is hot or cold: In order that we
might make a concise summary of the treatment of women, it ought to
be noted that certain women are hot, while some are cold. In order to
determine which, one should perform this test. We anoint a piece of lint
with oil of pennyroyal or laurel or another hot oil, and we insert a piece
of it the size of a little finger into the vagina at night when she goes to
bed, and it should be tied around the thighs with a strong string. And if
it is drawn inside, this is an indication to us that she labors from frigidity.
If, however, it is expelled, we know that she labors from heat.36 This
practical manual, intended to promulgate information on the treatment
of specific maladies and problems (often problems conceiving), places
considerable emphasis on the variety of levels of heat in both sexes.
Excessive heat in the womb can burn semen, while sterility on the part
of the man is most frequently caused by a lack of heat.37

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Cold Hard Hearts

Joan Caddens authoritative study, Meanings of Sex Diff erence in the
Middle Ages, briefly mentions Dantes Commedia. She points out that
the long passage on embryology in the poem alludes only in passing to
the importance of heat in sex difference and focuses primarily on the
distinction between active and passive. For Cadden, this is an interesting
exception to the general rule of Dantes time, as the central opposition
that scholars noted in this process was the heat of the fathers heart
compared to the relative cool of the woman.38 While it is true that the
distinctions Dante makes between the male and female contributions to
the embryo do not consider temperature, heat is one of the governing
themes of the Commedia. Dantes extensive reflections on vital heat as a
physiological necessity for life, for new life and for the life of the soul,
are perhaps the most complete picture that we have of the medieval view
of this concept in all of its complexity. In the Commedias pages we find
a digestion of erudite and popular beliefs about the prolific movement
of heat and spirit and the potential impediments to such movement. By
examining these ideas, we will reach the very core of medieval notions
of the creative powers of the human, from the procreative to the poetic
to the prophetic.
Before we arrive at the Commedia, however, it will be useful to
begin with a brief look at Dantes own journey toward this more devel-
oped theory of vital heat. His corpus is a tremendous work of synthesis,
adapting poetic convention and innovation to fit a workable natural
philosophical scheme. The spirits that fly from the beloveds eyes are
often described as burning in the common language of Dantes stilno-
vist clan; they derive their heat, mobility, and force from the hearth
that is the ladys heart. Cavalcanti, for one, presents visible proof of his
beloveds virtue by describing the diff usion of spirits that emanate from
her: She makes the air tremble with clarity.39 His ladys virtue is not

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a quality that inheres within her alone; it is something so abundant and

generous that it overflows into the world, reaching beyond her and into
others. This excess of virtue makes the ladys presence masculine in its
externalizing character. While poets often made a male deity, the god
of Love, the agent in such encounters, the Stilnovists sometimes opted
to turn this agency over to the lady herself.
The angelic ladies of the Dolce stil novo are described as such pre-
cisely because they are relevant (and revelatory) to a larger public. Their
public impact is rendered visible by this overflow of spirits, revealing that
the individual womans virtue has the nature of a gift offered to the sur-
rounding environment. Her grace extends beyond the boundaries of her
individual body. It follows, then, that the spirits flying forth from their
bodies are not intended for a unique recipient. The poets cor gentil may be
more susceptible than others and thus uniquely qualified to receive and
respond to this invasion of presence, but a woman like Dantes Beatrice,
bringer of blessings, does not limit those blessings to the poet alone.
In the poets celebration of his own susceptibility and availability
to these blessings, the temperature of the receiving heart is very much
at issue.40 Beatrices effects on those who encounter her vary accord-
ing to the individuals capacity to receive those spirits. After Beatrices
death, Dante writes: He who does not weep, when he thinks of her,
has a heart of stone so base and low that no benign spirit may enter.41
The loss of Beatrices presence is an occasion for public mourning; any
person who does not participate must, by consequence, have somehow
been denied previous experience of Beatrices presence in the fullest
sense. The heart of stone in this case is one that was closed off to the
benign spirits that came forth from Beatrices living body as she moved
through the city. With no trace of that beatific presence in the heart, no
tears may be pulled forth. Such a heart is thus sealed to both intromissive
and extramissive functions.
Albert the Greats treatises on minerals tell us that stone is cold and

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dry, two characteristics that are together opposed to the proper qualities
of a heart: warm and moist. A heart must be moist to be permeable; if it
is too cold, it becomes stonelike and impenetrable. Dantes rime petrose,
or stony rhymes, reveal the nature of the physiospiritual dangers of a
hardened heart. Two canzoni, one sestina, and one double sestina, the
rime petrose have traditionally been grouped together for their com-
mon themesa wintry landscape and the poets obsessive desire for an
inaccessible, stony woman:42
High from the arid Ethiopian sand,
now heated by the bright sphere of the sun,
the pilgrim wind that disturbs the air arises;
it crosses the sea, whence it takes along
such copious mist, that, if by nought disturbed,
closes and seals all this hemisphere;
and then, disintegrating, falls in white
flakes of cold snow and most annoying rain,
at which the firmament grows sad and weeps.43
Such atmospheric blockage forecloses the hope for transcendence Dante
offered at the conclusion of the Vita nuova. I noted in chapter two that
Oltre la spera describes a new vision of poetic inspiration, in which
the sigh that leaves the pilgrims heart travels to heaven to view Beatrice
and then returns to the poet, envisioning a new kind of extracorporeal
circulation, reaching even into the heavens. Here, Dante employs simi-
lar terms to describe a pilgrim wind that lifts itself to the sphere of
the sun, clearly recalling the pilgrim spirit that passes beyond the
sphere that circles widest. But while the spirito of Oltre la spera
returns to its source after its journey to heaven, bearing the presence
of Beatrice back to the poet, the pilgrim wind of Io son venuto be-
comes bogged down in snow, does not pass above the limitations of
the earthly world, and does not ever return to its source. The dynamic

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cyclical motion in Oltre la spera is thus blocked, in the petrose, by a

sudden cold. The frozen landscape acts as a mirror to the poets heart
and body: The earth makes a floor that seems made of marble / and
the dead water is converted into glass / for the cold that locks it from
outside.44 In this universe, all circulation has ceased; the fog is such
that the entire hemisphere is closed and sealed.
The poets body, as microcosm of this frozen universe, is likewise
closed within itself: And thus before such cold / my blood is frozen
over for all time.45 An excessively cold heart is necessarily a hardened
heart, as another poem in the cycle reveals: Lord, you know that for
such cold / water becomes crystalline stone.46 This process, in which
materials are hardened and immobilized, occurs symmetrically in the
frozen landscape and in the petrified body of the poet. According to
Albert the Great, poor circulation can cause problems not only for the
health of the body, but also for the health of the soul. If the heart cannot
heat the blood and move the spirits efficiently throughout the body and
into the world, isolation sets in. The theological implications of this
bodily state can easily be inferred. Faith, Albert explains, is indicative of
a warm heart, while fear and sadnessdespair, in theological terms
indicate a cold heart: Thoughts that tend toward the joyful, such as
hope and good faith, signify a strong heart and a balanced complexion.
. . . If they tend towards fear and sadness, this means an excess of frigid-
ity in the heart.47 As I noted in my discussion of plague susceptibil-
ity and prevention in the previous chapter, this relationship between
thought, human interaction, and the qualities of the heart is dynamic.
Thoughts not only give an indication of the state of the heart, but may
also influence the state of the heart. In the plague tracts, happy thoughts
and pleasant, but circumscribed, interactions with others were meant to
strengthen the heart and to keep its action oriented toward the projec-
tive rather than the receptive. Here, we are given a complete picture of
what happens when lovesickness sets in.

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In his De vulgari eloquentia, Dante describes the stanza as a womb

or gremium.48 According to the poetic mechanism detailed in the Vita
nuova and the Commedia, poetry is understood to be conceived through a
union of spirits and to be brought forth (essentially birthed) from the site
of that union, the heart. The heart, the womb, and the stanza are thus
presented as analogous creative spaces. In the petrose, then, the hearts
frozen blockage to inspiration indicates a sort of infertility. The stanzas
are filled with repetitive images of frozen water and frozen hearts
sets of images that may be a double reference, both to theories of heart
dysfunction and to theories on the causes of infertility.
Albert postulates in his De animalibus that infertility may often be
traced to a cold womb. Lack of heat in the womb leads to the retention of
menstrual blood, essentially blocking the healthy cycle of fertility. The
female reproductive organs, he suggests, are chilled by excessive sexual
intercourse, as in the case of prostitutes, or may drop below the proper
temperature if a woman imbibes large quantities of cold water. In men
too, cold water was thought to cool and thus deactivate the sperm by
remaining within the body without being adequately heated or sweated
out.49 Infertile male and female bodies were imagined to be retaining
something unhealthy, like the poet in the petrose: I cannot unburden
myself / of a single thought of love, with which I am laden.50
Io son venuto elaborates a series of contrasts between the per-
petual procreative motion of the heavens and the burdened poet who
is immobilized at the point where he has arrived: I have arrived at the
point of the wheel / in which the horizon, when the sun sets / gives
birth to the gemmed sky.51 According to the Aristotelian and Aquin-
ian theory, the heart should imperfectly mimic the circulations of the
heavens. But here, the natality of movement in the skies serves to throw
into relief the paralysis of the poets frozen body. The trarre fuori (pull-
ing forth) that in the Commedia will be used to denote Dantes birthing
of rhymes from the poetics of inspiration appears in the petrose as an

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action beyond the poets realm of possibilities in an image later adopted

by Petrarch:
the cruel thorn
however, Love will not pull out from my heart;
so that I am sure that I will carry it always
as long as I am alive, even were I to live forever.52
The poets body cannot bring forth the sort of poetry described in the
Commedia because it is sealed, blocked by the retention of something
we have yet to define. The sort of closed circulation described here is a
nightmarish version of Harveys circulation that limits the hearts scope
of action to the interior of the body. In the medieval world, the notion of
a closed circulation, of an isolated, interiorized circuit means stagnation,
obsession, and compression. When the heart is blocked and cannot force
the spirit within it from the interior of the body to the external world,
the result can be death.
Alberts theory that infertility may be caused by excessive inter-
course also informs a crucial opposition in Dantes poetics, where mel-
ancholic, lustful sexuality is opposed to procreative sexuality. While
the properly conceived poetry of the Commedia is frequently linked
to reproduction, the sexuality of the petrose is continually exposed as
infertile lust. This poem is formed under the influence of Saturn, that
planet that comforts ice.53 Saturn, associated with melancholic sexu-
ality, was also thought to be the slowest and coldest of all planets.54 It
would seem, according to this characterization, to be the governing
force behind the entire petrose cycle.
In the medieval period, melancholia was considered to be one of
the inevitable results of obsessive love.55 Guglielmo da Saliceto, whose
Cyrurgia closely follows Avicennas theories, explains that lovesickness
overcomes a man when he thinks obsessively about the beauty of a per-
son, producing an abundance of the melancholic humor, which is cold

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and dry. The illness proceeds through depression, madness, and physi-
cal debilitation.56 The heart first overheats the body and brain, but this
flash of fire is followed by the equivalent of cold coals and dirty smoke.
The malady of the poet of the petrose is thus derived from disordered
thought: my mind, that is harder than stone / in holding tight an im-
age of stone.57 The normal cycle within the body, in which external
perceptions are constantly relayed to the brain, has been blocked. The
mind fixates on the contemplation of one particular image in an obsessive
manner, rejecting any new input. As the melancholic humor is produced
in response to this excessive thought, the brain only becomes colder and
drier. It is essentially petrified.
Even the forms of the poems figure this fi xation upon a single im-
age; the second in the cycle is a sestina, a form that enforces the repeti-
tion of six words. The third tightens the structure even further in a
double sestina, in which twelve-line stanzas repeat five rhyme-words.
It seems that the poets icy burden leads him to embellish and harden the
frame and the structure of his lyrics, while the content remains perfectly
staticwe might even say crystallized. The form of the double sestina
exasperates a restricted set of rhyme-words in a game of endless reflec-
tion in which the stanzas mirror the infertile body, laden with material
that cannot be expelled.
Whereas in the Vita nuova Dante suggested that his most worthy
poetry would be the product of direct inspiration received within the
heart, these lyrics exhibit a more cerebral mode of production: The
newness that through your form shines / has never been thought in
any time.58 In fact, the head was particularly vulnerable to the sort
of ailment described here. Albert the Great, when explaining why the
heart is the principle of life rather than the head, gives the following
rationale: Since cold is a deadly quality and it is the cause of immobil-
ity and since cold befalls the front area of the head most quickly, it is
clear that the principle of life cannot be here.59 The poet of these rime

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is consciously disassociating his current mode of production from the

principle of life and correlating it instead with vulnerability to the deadly
quality of cold.
Interestingly, this cerebral poetry is explicitly identified with imita-
tion and competition in the poets drive to demonstrate formal mastery.
The sestina was a form invented by a Provenal poet, Arnaut Daniel.60
The rime petrose cycle reveals Dantes wish to first replicate the masters
design and then to surpass it. Furthermore, Arnauts poetry is famously
playful; he depends heavily on the effects of repetition but does not allow
it to limit his range of signification. Arnauts sestina allows for variation
of meaning as long as the sound remains the same. This is the poetic
form that Petrarch later chose to emulate; only Dante insists on main-
taining the same meaning for each of the rhyme words in his sestinas,
ensuring a complete petrification of content. Endless formal refinement
in the articulation of an internal image is envisioned as blockage in the
hearts natural function in the poetic process, figuring a fi xation on a
single image that does not permit the heart to take in new inspiration
or to bring forth its burden. In the petrose, death looms large, canceling
out any sense of the future. The temporal horizon, while omnipresent in
the astrological references that frame the poets suffering, is completely
extinguished in the poets immobilized desire. The closed circuit of the
poets fi xated mind, figured in the sealed repetitive forms of these rime,
is unsustainable physically, poetically, and spiritually.
Just as the heart sends smoky fumes to the brain in the case of obses-
sive lovesickness, something similar occurs when the womb sends dan-
gerous fumes upward to the heart. Perhaps the most famous, if equally
incongruous, case is found in Shakespeares King Lear:
O how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy elements below.61

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Lear complains here of what the medieval world referred to as suff ocatio
matricis, or the suffocation of the womb, an illness that was a central
topic in discussions of womens health from ancient Greece through
Shakespeares time.62 Hippocratic gynecology held that the uterus could,
in fact, move through the body, rising far enough to put pressure on
the heart. Galen, who had done enough dissection and vivisection to
suspect that perhaps the organ wasnt quite that mobile, described the
phenomenon in terms of a buildup of female seed in the uterus that could
cause inflammation and difficulty breathing. Ibn al-Jazzars Viaticum,
one of the main sources for the transmission of Galens work in the
twelfth century, explained that putrefying menses or female semen in
the uterus produced a cold vapor that rose to the diaphragm.
The Book on the Conditions of Women weighs in as well: Sometimes
the womb is suffocated, that is to say, when it is drawn upward, whence
there occurs [stomach] upset and loss of appetite from an overwhelm-
ing frigidity of the heart. Sometimes they suffer syncope, and the pulse
vanishes so that from the same cause it is barely perceptible . . . this
[disease] happens to women because corrupt semen abounds in them
excessively, and it is converted into a poisonous nature. . . . This hap-
pens to those women who do not use men, especially to widows who
were accustomed to carnal commerce. It regularly comes upon virgins,
too, when they reach the age of marriage and are not able to use men
and when the semen abounds in them a lot, which Nature wishes to
draw out by means of the male. From this superabundant and corrupt
semen, a certain cold fumosity is released.63 The writer or writers of
this treatise want to have it both ways, a common medieval gesture at
the reconciliation of divergent authorities. In this analysis, the womb
is drawn upward (but only slightly), and at the same time, it releases
a cold fumosity. The heart, as a result, is chilled and may be slowed to
the point of syncope or a near-death state. Lovesickness could strike
both men and women, while uterine suffocation, for obvious reasons,

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was at least mostly a female disease (Lear was probably misdiagnosing

himself).64 In both cases, the retention of an image or of seed leads the
heart or the womb to emit chilling fumes that threaten the life of the
victim. Lovesickness and uterine suffocation are analogous maladies
that set up the heart and the womb as parallel organs, organs that must
continuously expel material in order to keep the body healthy.65
But how can circulation be restored? How can congress with the
external world be reestablished? For men who suffered from seed reten-
tion, Galen and Avicenna recommended masturbation. Widows and
virgins could be aided by midwives, who were instructed to help in the
ejection of seed.66 A fantasy of sexual release provides the only sort of
resolution we get in Dantes petrose:
If I could take hold of her beautiful locks
that have been for me both whip and lash,
I would take them from matins
and with them I would pass vespers and compline;
and I wouldnt be piteous or courteous,
but would be like a bear when it plays;
and if Love tries to whip me,
I will avenge myself thousandfold.67
Although practical, the sexual solution is reductive and only approaches
one part of the problem. While the heart was inextricably linked to the
sexual organs, it was equally bound up in countless other systems of cir-
culation between the world and the individual. The systemic malfunc-
tion that Dante describes is a physical and spiritual, sexual and poetic
blockage. By tracing the consequences and symptoms of this malady
and its cure, we are given access to a vision of what normal, generative
heart function was meant to be.

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Frozen Hearts
We must turn to the Commedia to discover the cure for this temporary
blockage in the cardiopoetic process. In Canto 1, we find the pilgrim
alone in a dark wood, bearing the same sign of spiritual trouble as the
poet of the petrose, fear . . . in the lake of the heart.68 But there is a
crucial difference between this pilgrim and the poet of the petrose. The
pilgrim is already beginning to recover: Nel mezzo del cammin di
nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura (Midway in the journey
of our life I found myself in a dark wood).69 In other words, he is already
in the dark wood when he comes to himself, or realizes his condition.
He does not know how he came to be in that place, so full of sleep at
the moment I left the true way. The first thirty lines of the poem de-
scribe a very specific physical state that determines or is determined by
a spiritual state. The indicator of physical and spiritual condition is the
heart and its inhabiting spirits; when the pilgrim comes to himself, the
fear was somewhat quieted that had continued in the lake of my heart
through the night I had passed so piteously.70 As we have seen above,
fear causes all spirit and heat to withdraw from the body and gather in
the heart. This cessation of the hearts outward propulsions within the
body has deprived the pilgrim of proper motion and full awareness of his
surroundings. It is, in fact, the same state of terror he describes in Cos
nel mio parlar in the rime petrose: And the blood, that is dispersed
through the veins / fleeing runs toward / the heart, that calls it; and so
I become white.71 Here in the first canto of the Inferno, the body is, in
fact, described as lasso, or weary. It is bereft of strength.72
The pilgrim is awakening from the condition of the rime petrose.
His ability to recognize where he is tells us that the heart is beginning
to send forth blood and spirit to the brain, that slowly things are begin-
ning to move again within the body. There are two levels of output
from the heart. The first is a flow of spirit, heat, and blood within the

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body; the second is an overflow of spirit or other products of the heart

that extends beyond the borders of the body. In the rime petrose and in
the identical condition from which the pilgrim awakens at the begin-
ning of the Inferno, both of these processes have been compromised.
The individual body is isolated from the rest of the world in a kind of
petrification that entails a lack of movement of the spirits of the heart
and a resulting lack of heat.
At this point, even the fundamental level of movement within the
body is compromised. As blood and spirits collect in the heart, all con-
nectivity ceases, both within the body and its members and with the
external world. Of course, within the body, the movement generated by
the output of the heart is not yet circulation. In order to have circula-
tion in the medieval sense, that movement must transcend the limits of
the body and enter into congress with other entities and spaces in the
external world so that it may be sent back to the heart of the individual
initiating body. At some level, circulation cannot happen without other
people, or without a presence of some kind, human or divine. There
must be a dialogic exchange in which something is given or pushed back.
To return to the Aristotelian notion of human circular movement, as
cited by Aquinas, the human echo of the divine circular motion of the
heavens is formed by reciprocal pushes and pulls; but the movement of
the heart, and the movement of any of the entities that flow into and out
of it, are variable due to the complications of relationality. The divine
spheres are the domain of the unmoved mover. God has no need for
anything outside of himself. Human circulations of the heart and the
spirits that flow from the heart are fragile and imperfect because of their
reliance on reciprocity. But as Dante shows here, the potential for failure
lies in the individual who may cease to be receptive to the outside world.
Fortunately, in his forgiving world, help is always waiting.
Already in the first line of the poem, the pilgrim has come out of
self-enclosure adequately to look around himself. Dante is so precise in

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his treatment of physiology, and yet he describes the pilgrims vision in

terms of both extramission and intromission. As noted in chapter two,
intromission was the dominant theory of his time, and Dante was cer-
tainly aware of that. But here, and at other points in the Inferno, Dante
describes vision in externalizing terms: My soul that was still fleeing
turned back to gaze upon the pass that never left anyone alive.73 The
pilgrim is able to look out from his body, something that requires the
mobility of spirits to relay such perceptions. The spirit is still fleeing
(presumably to the safe recesses of the sheltering heart), but it turns
out briefly to look back as it flees. The spirit or spirits are figured here
as fugitive entities, briefly breaking out into the world before returning
to safety within. Of course, safety within is a paradox. The spirits take
refuge in the heart as a measure of self-protection, but in so doing (and
particularly if they do not return to motion promptly) they put the body
in grave danger. In short, congress with the world is full of peril, but it
is nonetheless that which sustains life. While interactions may be risky,
isolation, in the long run, inevitably kills.
Vision by extramission in the Commedia is often employed to show
precisely this outward flow from the heart. In a tentative way, the pil-
grim is becoming conversant with his world again. By looking, he dis-
covers not only the grave state of danger in which he finds himself and
his inability to proceed on his own, but also an offer of help: Before my
eyes one had offered himself to me [mi si fu offerto] who seemed faint
through long silence. When I saw him in that vast desert, I cried to him,
Have pity on me whatever you are, shade of living man! 74 These lines
suggest that time has passed between Virgils offering of himself and
the moment in which the pilgrim sees him. The pilgrim is undergoing
a gradual process of reanimation and in that process is at long last able
to see the help that had been offered, that was already there, and then to
ask for it. Voice requires breath from the heart; like vision, it is another
process that depends on the motion of the spirits and the resulting heat

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of the heart in order to reach out into the world. With his voice, his cry
for help, the pilgrim is reconnecting into the world of human relations.
Virgil then responds to that cry and continues the conversation that will
lead the pilgrim to salvation.
As Virgil tells it, Beatrice has explained the pilgrims danger to
him in terms that conjure up the rime petrose: My friendand not the
friend of Fortunefinds his way so impeded on the desert slope that
he has turned back in fright.75 Of course, the impediment is presented
thematically in the Commedia; it is never embodied on the formal level.
Even in the darkest moments of the Inferno, the poetry moves continu-
ally forward, through the motor of terza rima, the formal opposite of
the stasis exemplified in the sestina.
The threat of petrification reappears when Virgil and the pilgrim
meet the Furies perched on a tower of the city of Dis.76 The city itself,
with its impenetrable high stone walls, is a figure, it seems to me, for the
sealed heart that is closed to the good that may come from outside itself.
As Virgil and the pilgrim stand outside the gates, waiting for help, the
Furies appear upon a tower, tearing at their breasts, beating themselves
with their palms and shrieking. These traditional gestures of grief figure,
visibly, the spiritual state that causes such hermetic closure. It is despair,
the loss of any hope of help, that seals the heart. The Furies threaten the
pilgrim: Let Medusa come and well turn him to stone. Virgil reacts:
Turn your back, and keep your eyes shut; for should the Gorgon show
herself and you see her, there would be no returning above.77 Petrifi-
cation is the one threat that could arrest the pilgrims journey.
But salvation arrives in the form of overpowering motion; an angel
arrives with a sound as of a wind, violent from conflicting heats, which
strikes the forest and with unchecked course shatters the branches, beats
them down and sweeps them away.78 It is as if the angel is a divine
breath that forcefully blows life and will through the stagnant space of
hell and breaks through the walls sealing that noxious body. He taps

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on the gate with a little wand and it opens easily, as if it had no ritegno,
or restraint.79
Nonetheless, the problem of the petrose returns to haunt the pil-
grim insistently as he journeys through Cocytus. The resurgence of
those rime is signaled immediately as he descends into the ninth circle:
If I had harsh and grating rhymes, as would befit the dismal hole on
which all the other rocks converge and weigh, I would press out more
fully the juice of my conception; but since I do not have them, it is not
without fear that I bring myself to speak.80 This passage recalls the
lines So in my speech I wish to be harsh / just as this beautiful stone
is in her actions.81 And it is, in fact, in the realms of Antenora and
Ptolomea that we witness the most profound revelation of the petrified
condition that all the damned souls share with the poet of the petrose.
The surroundings reflect the bodies of the sinners; the weight of the
world presses upon the sad hole that is both the cavity of hell within the
earth and the cavity of the heart isolated by despair. As the poet tells us
that he would press the juice from his concept more fully if only he had
rhymes to fit that claustrophobic space, we hear the voice of the saved
poet, unburdened by this pressure and therefore unable to recreate fully
what the pilgrim is experiencing.
Couched in the safety of a form that is dynamically leading us to
better places, the wintry landscape returns: A lake which through frost
had the semblance of glass and not of water. Never did the Danube in
Austria, nor the far-off Don under its cold sky, make in winter so thick
a veil for their current as there was here.82 The frozen bodies of water
illustrate the threat that the pilgrim must eventually overcome. This is a
dangerous space for the pilgrim, as he reveals in his equivocal promise to
one of the sinners to retell what he hears if that with which I speak does
not dry up.83 The tears of the traitors freeze within their eyes, which is
analogous to a drying of the material of speech. Both speech and tears
issue from the heart, and the heart in this realm is frozen solid.

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It is not until we come upon Count Ugolino, gnawing on the skull

of Cardinal Ruggieri, that the true nature of this physiospiritual mal-
function is revealed in its most extreme form: You will have me renew
desperate grief, which even to think of presses upon my heart before I
speak of it. But if my words are to be seed that may bear fruit of infamy
to the traitor whom I gnaw, you shall see me speak and weep together.84
The pain Ugolino feels in his heart is partly that of the cold, which was
thought to exert pressure. Like the rocks that press upon the cavity of
hell, the cold presses upon the heart. Ugolino alludes to the possible
fertility of speech productionif my words are to be seedbut his
own story reveals that his frozen heart is incapable of seeding anything
but death. When he hears the tower door being nailed shut, as he retells
it, I did not weep, so was I turned to stone within me. They wept, and
my poor little Anselm said, You look so, father, what ails you? I shed
no tear for that, nor did I answer all that day.85 Ugolinos petrification
is a revelation of the real threat of despair. As the door is nailed shut, he
turns to stone within and his heart halts the processes of extramission.
No speech, no tears come forth from his body, indicating that all con-
nection with the external world has been lost. His actions are instead
turned against himselfI bit both my hands for grief as he is,
from the moment of his petrification, utterly alone. He is therefore un-
able to receive the offers of salvation that come to him: Father, it
will be far less painful to us if you eat of us; you did clothe us with this
wretched flesh, and do you strip us of it! These words contain within
them all the promise of transcendence, of a spiritual release from the
enclosing body, figured on multiple layers as the tower, the earth (ah,
hard earth, why did you not open), hell itself, and Ugolinos own hard-
ened heart.86
Ugolinos ironic language reinforces his identity with the pil-
grim: You are cruel indeed if you do not grieve already, to think what
my heart announced to me; and if you weep not, at what do you ever

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weep?87 The line l mio cor sannunziava (my heart announced to me)
must be read as a parodic reference to the Annunciation.88 The Virgin
can be considered emblematic of perfect receptivity to the divine. She
is entirely, humbly, a vessel for the incarnation of the deity. Ugolinos
heart is figured as the infernal counterpart to Marys womb, announcing
a sentence of death to itself: sannunziava. As unreceptive as a stone to
the otherness of divinity, Ugolino is unable to comprehend or to accept
the possibility of salvation. In life, he was closed within himself; his
punishment, enclosing him in a lake of ice, reveals that state, literally
making him unavailable to the outside. Remarking on the pilgrims lack
of tears, he calls attention to the fact that both he and his interlocutor
show all the signs of a deadly imprisonment.
Tears of all kinds have a distinctly gendered quality. While most
of the products that come forth from the heart are understood to be
masculine in nature, and even outflow in general is read as masculine in
the Aristotelian Middle Ages, tears were associated with the feminine:
Because a woman is of greater piety than a man, she more quickly gives
forth tears. This was a summary of popular opinion on the subject as
it appeared in Bartholomew the Englishmans thirteenth-century en-
cyclopedia, On the Properties of Things.89 And yet the poets flaunt their
tears. Mingled with sighs, tears form part of the matter of poetry. The
tear that issues from a heart full of the presence of the beloved bears
traces of her, like the little spirit of tears emerging from the wound in
the heart that Cavalcanti describes in his Era in penser damor.90 The
pilgrim is bereft of tears and will remain so until the next stage in his
healing, in Purgatory.
Soon after Ugolino, we encounter Fra Alberigo, who treacherously
had his family murdered. Fra Alberigos reference to his heart is another
perverse reference to the Virgins womb: Lift from my face the hard
veils, so that, before the weeping freezes again, I may vent a little the
misery that impregnates my heart [l cor mimpregna].91 Tears enact

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the punishment here; they move from the heart but freeze as soon as
they reach the eyes, locking the sinner into a crystal shell of ice from
which no release is possible. Again, as in Ugolinos case, the language
of reproduction is laden with irony. Alberigo had his relatives killed at
the signal vengan le frutta (bring out the fruit); the fruits of Alberigos
actions are death. The impregnation of the heart here, just like the
annunciation in Ugolinos case, is a reflexive verb, a reflexive action,
and another perverse reference to the Virgins womb. In the ice of Co-
cytus, we find the metaphors of the Incarnation employed to expose the
frozen, sterile womb of the self-enclosed heart.
Both Ugolino and Fra Alberigo are isolated individuals, divorced
from the generative world of human relations. They figure the poetic,
physiological, and spiritual problem that the pilgrims trip through Pur-
gatory and Paradise must undo. In the Inferno we thus find a revelation
of the spiritual state of the petrose. Once the pilgrim recognizes these
dangers, he is able to embark upon his apprenticeship in the process of
regaining health and entering into circulation with the world.
It is important to note that the solution to the problem of cold is not
the greatest amount of heat. In Canto 12 of the Inferno, the pilgrim comes
across the Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood, where the violent against
others must cook their rage-filled bodies. Extreme heat reveals a lesser
sin than the sins of cold, but it is still dangerous. The virtue opposed to
cold is rather perfected, temperate heat. As William of Auvergne puts it
in his treatise The Soul: The heat that proceeds from the soul is not of
the same species as the heat of visible fire that is found among us, but is
rather far more noble, gentle, and preserving of the subject in which it
is.92 At the opposite pole from disordered cold in Dantes cosmos, we
find such a noble, gentle, and indeed nutritive heat. Noble heat is refined,
just as the noble heart that the poets of the Dolce stil novo described is
refined. Noble heat allows the heart to be vulnerable to love, to divine
beauty, and it furthermore allows the heart to produce a response to the

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inspiration received within. Excessive heat is uniquely outward motion,

a boiling up and out that does not allow for entrance into its overly
volatile core. For Dante, inspiration must come from outside; poetry
cannot be a mere bursting forth of the individual products of a single
heart. In this way, properly inspired poetry resembles the generation
of spirit. Spirit is not an emission of the heart alone, but is a product of
refined blood within the heart, mixed with external air. Mobility, voice,
and poetry are thus all products of the hearts ability to interact with
the external world.

Melting Hearts
The dominance of frozen hearts and sterile wombs gives way to a series
of warming, melting moments and increasingly frequent allusions to
birth as Mary comes to dominate the poem, in Purgatorio and particu-
larly in Paradiso. We may, in fact, read the Commedia as a narrative of
the physiospiritual training of the pilgrims heart in a Marian mode.
The heart figures prominently at the beginning and at the end of the
Commedia, first described as filled with fear and finally, at the end of the
journey, filled with sweetness and ready to bring forth the poem itself.93
While this transformation of the heart may be traced throughout the
poem, well pause here to identify only a few of the most crucial mo-
ments in the process of becoming prolific.
In Canto 30 of Purgatorio, we witness the cure for the ailment of
the petrose: the ice that seals the pilgrims heart melts away, opening a
path for a subsequent inspiration: The ice that was bound tight around
my heart [ristretto] became breath and water, and with anguish poured
from my breast through my mouth and eyes.94 In a reversal of the im-
mutable fi xation of the poet of the petrose and the sinners in Cocytus,
the pilgrim is unburdened as his spiriti are again set in motion. As the
body is opened adequately to exude words and tears, it nears a state of

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receptivity that will allow for the possibility of a divinely inspired, even
prophetic, poetry.
The beginning of Paradiso is a prayer for such an encounter ex-
pressed in the terms of ancient poetry, to Apollo: Enter into my breast
and breathe there as when you drew Marsyas from the sheath [vagina]
of his limbs.95 In his Metamorphoses, Ovid tells of a musical competi-
tion between the satyr Marsyas and Apollo. Of course it ended badly
for Marsyas, as it usually did for the humans who dared to challenge
the gods, and he was flayed alive. Dante is asking here, in these striking
terms, for inspiration, an intrusion into his heart, and the power to give
birth, in a scenario where the entire body becomes a womb. Of course,
this desire does not come without a fear of overreaching the creative
powers of the human, as the example betrays. It reiterates, however, the
two drives that together constitute imperfect human heart-centered
circulation but at the same time constitute perfect human art: an in-
spiring in and a pulling out. Only God has no need for inspiration to cre-
ate, as God is the only being that is self-contained. Dante goes to some
lengths to emphasize the birthed nature of human creation; a flaying
is usually imagined as pulling skin off the body, but Dante describes it
here as pulling Marsyas out from his body, figured as a womb. Marsyas
beautiful music that so angered Apollo is envisioned as being produced
in a kind of ecstasy, a reaching through and beyond the limits of the
human body by the means of art.96
Dante is tapping into a devotional tradition of envisioning conver-
sion and spiritual experience as a birthing. Francis of Assisi writes: We
are [Christs] mother, when we carry him in our heart and body through
pure love and sincere conscience and we give birth to him through a
holy process, which must shine as an example to others.97 Iacopone da
Todi (12361306), a Franciscan friar from Umbria, employs very similar
central terms to describe mystical union with Christ. In the poem Omo
chi vl parlare, Charity joins Christ to Iacopone in bed:

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Charity joins it [reaches the bed]

and conjoins me with God;
it joins my baseness
with the divine goodness.
Here a love is born,
that has impregnated the heart,
full of desire,
of inflamed mystery.
Full, it liquefies itself,
languishing, it gives birth;
and gives birth to rapture,
and is caught up into the third heaven.98
While Iacopones writing lacks the physiological specificity that forms
traceable systems in Dante, the sense of a Marsyas-like birthing of poetic
language or rapture from the heart comes forth in this ecstatic verse. The
heart is the site of impregnation, liquefaction, and plenitude, as it be-
comes the womb from which birth takes place. As the example of Marsyas
reveals, the self-overreaching, ecstatic, and prolific leap from within the
body to beyond the borders of the individual is never achieved without
peril. This kind of birth from the heart entails the possibility that the
entire self will be pulled forth, that there will be nothing left of the poet
save an empty skin. In Iacopones poem, the heart not only gives birth to
rapture but is subsequently caught up itself into the third heaven.99
In fact, before the pilgrim is ready to receive the final vision in his
journey, the inspiration that will impregnate his heart with the poem
itself, he must be prepared to sustain that vision without losing himself.
While it was acceptable for a mystic to lose him- or herself utterly (and
in fact near-death states were often taken as signs of divine possession),
a poet was required to walk the narrow line between the ecstasy of
inspiration and the rigors of form. In Bernards prayer to the Virgin,

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asking for the gift of this vision, he carefully stipulates that the pilgrims
sentiments must be protected: Further I pray thee, Queen, who canst
do whatsoever thou wilt, that thou preserve sound for him his affections,
after so great a vision. Let thy protection vanquish human impulses [i
movimenti umani].100 The inspiration that engenders the Commedia
does not occur until after this prayer, in the final canto of the Commedia.
And then it is described in terms of its aftereffects above all: Yet does
the sweetness that was born of it still drop within my heart (ancor mi
distilla / nel core il dolce che nacque da essa). We have already looked
briefly at these lines in chapter two. But it is necessary to return to them
here, in light of the issues of heat and outward flow that we have exam-
ined in this chapter. These verses recall and repair the fear in the lake of
the heart of Inferno I.101 The heart is softened and unsealed as it warms to
resemble the heat of the Virgins womb: In thy womb was rekindled the
love by whose warmth this flower has germinated in eternal peace.102
The epic that is germinated at the culmination of this physiospiritual
healing is thus figured as the product of a sacred source and a human
matrix. It is, in Dantes words, a sacred poem (sacro poema) in which
both heaven and earth have had a hand.103
The language of loss to describe the fleeting nature of the vision
is coupled with the certainty of something infused within the pilgrims
heart. And it is important to stress that some of this language of loss
echoes the melting moment in the pilgrims heart in Purgatorio 30. In
short, the metaphors of snow melt put this loss in a different lightthey
indicate that the pilgrims heart has come to resemble the Virgins womb
in its proper openness and warmth. While he cannot entirely possess
the experience, he can feel it within himself. What is infused within his
heart is not entirely his, just as Marys womb held something that was
not entirely hers, something that she could not entirely contain. The
sweetness born within the poets warmed heart has something in com-
mon with the flower germinated in the heat of Marys womb. In order for

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Dante to claim that his is a sacred poem in which both earth and heaven
had a hand, he stages a divine conception for his poem. This means that
the poets heart must be feminized, trained in proper passivity and
receptivitythe traditionally female role in conception. But beyond
this, the traditional polarities of complexion are altered. Fertile heat is
associated with this perfected femininity while cold, despair, and the
resulting infertility are linked to sins of the male, of the pilgrim and of
those hardened sinners that reveal the pilgrims own condition in the
frozen depths of the Inferno. The cosmos that is the Commedia thus bor-
rows from the terms and concepts of natural philosophy and medicine,
but reorients those concepts to visualize the conception of a new poetry,
generated in the womb of the poets double-gendered heart.

The Transfusive Heart

Catherine of Sienas letters, several of which we have already had oc-
casion to examine in previous chapters, were often intended for a male
audience. Nonetheless, she fashions herself as an example, focusing on
the projective powers of her own heart to inspire a pope in need of
guidance, to embolden her confessor, and to influence any man with the
desire to fight for the church. By emphasizing her heart as the hottest
(and thus most masculine) part of her female body, Catherine writes
about passing on her strength and giving new life to the church. In one
of Catherines letters to Pope Urban VI, written a few days before she
died, she tells the story of a conversation she had with God: O eternal
God, receive the sacrifice of my life into the mystical body of the holy
church. I do not have anything to give except that which you have given
to me. Take out my heart, then, and press it on the face of this spouse.
And so eternal God, turning the eye of his mercifulness, took out my
heart and pressed it in the holy church. And he took it to himself with
such force that, if he hadnt immediately (not wishing that the vessel of

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my body be broken) encircled it with his strength, my life would have

been lost.104 This is one of the rare letters in which Catherine shares a
personal experience of an encounter with Christ (another is the letter
that describes Niccol di Toldos execution). Most of Catherines writ-
ings offer spiritual advice to others or describe the general principles of
universal salvation. We might, therefore, have reason to suspect that this
turn toward the personal has a specific exhortative purpose. This letter
was written during the Great Schism, as Catherines health was failing.
She needed to inspire the pope to act with strength for the good of the
united church and hoped to do so by describing her own sacrifice.
Catherine concludes the letter with a summary that reveals her
purposes in sharing her vision with the pope: Thanks be to the highest
eternal God, who has placed us on the battlefield, like knights, to fight
for his spouse.105 Catherine claims that she and the pope have both
been chosen by Godhe has placed us to fight on Gods behalf
encouraging the pope by suggesting that the two of them share an active
role in saving the passive church, described as a bride. Catherine leads
the fight, exhorting the pope to follow her in the rescue of their suffering
bride. In another letter to Urban VI, she describes the churchs condition
as follows: The sweet spouse that is his and yours, that for so long has
been all pale . . . because of those who fed and feed at her breast, that for
their defects have made her pale and infirm, having sucked the blood
from her with their own self-love . . .106 The church is depicted as pale
from the loss of blood, victim to corrupt priests who have sucked her
dry of life and spirit while nursing at her breast. The church suffers from
a lack of vigor and from internal cold. Catherines heart, squeezed by
Christs hand onto the church, could infuse that pallid creature with hot,
life-giving blood. The powers required to aid the church, heat and vital-
ity, were virtues traditionally associated with the male. Here Catherine
is depicting herself as a valiant savior, the bold groom that she wishes
the pope could be, fearless in aiding a defenseless church.

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In other letters, Catherine refers to Christ as the true sower,

pouring blood from his heart onto the garden of the soul. The creative
force within the universe is reflected in the creative force within the
body, the heart. In her gift to the church, Catherine emulates Christs
attributes.107 Just as Christs blood brings new life to the soul, seeding
the garden, Catherines blood, also issuing directly from the heart, offers
new life to a wasting institution. In the context of the mystical vision,
the heart itself reaches out through the body. As in Dantes prayer to
Apollo, evoking Marsyas, Catherine prays that her heart be pulled out
from her, that her entire body become a womb. She delivers that which
God gave her in the first place, her soul. God breathed her soul into her
heart; she asks that it be pulled back out and pushed into the body of the
church. In this birth-act, Catherine is left hollow.108 Christ must, in fact,
encircle her body with his strength, so that vessel is not broken.
Raymond of Capua, Catherines confessor, tells this story a bit dif-
ferently in his biography: Later, on one occasion, Catherine prayed
fervently, like the Prophet, Create a pure heart in me, God, and renew
a virtuous spirit in my flesh. The Lord came to her in a vision and he
opened her left side . . . and removed her heart, so that she remained
without a heart inside. . . . Another day . . . she was surrounded by a light
from the sky, and in the light appeared the Lord, holding in his sacred
hands a human heart, red and shining. . . . The Lord opened her left side
again. He put his own heart, which he held in his hands, inside her, say-
ing, Here, dearest daughter, since I took away your heart before, now I
bequeath to you my heart, so that you may live forever. 109 Catherines
story tells of nourishing the church, of Christs need for her life-giving
blood to sustain that institution. Raymonds story, in contrast, focuses
on Catherine asking for and receiving Christs heart. This conspicuous
change in the episode can be attributed to Raymonds desire to make
Catherines excessively active life more acceptable to church authorities
in order to speed her along to sainthood. In Raymonds version of this

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episode, Catherine becomes a martyr, giving up her heart. She is singled

out by Christ to receive his heart as a mark of her sanctity. She is then
miraculously returned to life but is no longer quite herself; her female
body has become a container for Christs will.
Raymond locates this temporary death and heart transplant not in
the last days of Catherines life, but immediately prior to Catherines
apostolic travels, justifying this controversial activity by suggesting
that all of Catherines subsequent actions were, in fact, Gods actions
on earth.110 According to Raymonds account, Christ informed the vir-
gin during her temporary death that you will no longer live the life
you have lived thus far. . . . You will have to leave your city. . . . I will
always be with you. . . . I will put wisdom upon your mouth. . . . I will
bring you before popes, rectors of churches, and the Christian people, so
that . . . by means of the weak, I will humble the pride of the strong.111
Raymond emphasizes that Catherine is returned to life after her death
only in service of Gods need for an agent on earth and that Catherine
is vitally maintained by supernatural means. For Raymond, Catherines
weak female body miraculously contains and carries out the divine will.
Catherines own narration, by contrast, depicts a divine being in need of
more than the mere shell of her body. Catherine effectively commands
an obedient deity to remove her heart, not for the purposes of her own
individual purity (which is of secondary importance), but in order to
nourish the suffering church. She offers a transfusion of her own heat
and strength.
For Catherine, as for Dante, the gendered notion of vital heat and its
association with the capacity for outward propulsions does not enforce a
limiting binary. This idea of gender relies on gradation or continuum, al-
lowing for a significant amount of play in the temperatures and extrusive
or projective power associated with the sexes. The concept of the heat
of the heart allowed these writers to reevaluate the key characteristic of
masculinity as a quality that was derived from virtue, from the reception

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of divine gifts within the body, and from the desire to pull something
forth in response to that giftto give back.

Humans and Earthworms

First (Arist otle de Respiratione, & lib. 2, 3. of the parts of creatures &
elsewhere) seeing death is a corruption which befalls by reason of the
defect of heat, and all things which are hot being alive, are cold when
they die, there must needs be a place and beginning of heat (as it were a
Fire and dwelling house), by which the nursery of Nature, and the first
beginnings of inbred fire may be containd and preservd; from whence
heat and life may flow, as from their beginnings, into all parts; whither
the aliment of it should come, and on which all nutrition and vegeta-
tion should depend. And that this place is the heart, from whence is the
beginning of life, I would have no body to doubt.112
Harvey begins the chapter of his treatise entitled The Circula-
tion of the blood is confirmd by likely reasons with a safe statement.
No one would deny that the necessity for life is heat, and that this heat
within the body must come from a single source, the heart. This state-
ment corresponds to ancient teachings and to the consensus of physi-
cians and philosophers across the centuries from Aristotle to Harveys
contemporaries. Heat, for Harvey, becomes the privilege of the human
and is not necessarily greater in the male. The human heat of the heart
is contrasted principally with lower animals. But the hearts generative
function, its supposed production of semen, according to Aristotelian
notions, is absent in Harveys analysis. One important component in
the gendering of heart is gone. It is Descartes who finally demystifies
the virile power of the heat of the heart: he states that the heat itself is
generated not by spirits, entities that Harvey preserved in his vision
of the heart, but by a simple exothermic reaction of particles. In other
words, vital heat is not the spark of life. It is decay.

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But for Harvey, how is it that this heat, whatever its nature, is dis-
tributed? There is therefore a motion requird to the blood, and such
a one as that it may return again to the heart; for being sent far away
into the outward parts of the body (as Aristotle 2, de partibus Animalium)
from its own fountain, it would congeal and be immovable. (For we
do see, that by motion, heat and spirit is ingenderd and preservd in
all things, and by want of it vanishes.) Seeing therefore, that the blood
staying in the outward parts is congealed by the cold of the extremities
and of the ambient air, and is destitute of spirits, as it is in dead things,
it was needful it should resume and redintegrate, by its return again,
as well heats as spirit, and indeed its own preservation, from its own
fountain and beginning.113 Harveys revision of medieval accounts is
twofold. First, he designates a return to the heart. Second, he removes
the power of the soul from the life of the body. For Harvey, motion is
derived from the heart alone; there is no need for the action of the soul
here. Even spirits, the material extension of the soul in the Middle Ages,
are decidedly mortal (or at least easily lost) in Harveys account. The
soul, its connection to the divine and to the divine movement of the
spheres, is eliminated from the action of the motion of the heart and
blood. By consequence, motion within the body is entirely self-reliant.
The heart has no need to interact with the outside world in order to
stay in motion.
Harvey notes that not all animals have a heart. These are the cold-
est and simplest animals, such as grubs and earthworms, very many
things which are ingenderd of putrefaction and keep not a species.114
In slightly higher animals, still colder than average, such as snails and
shrimps, there is a part that pulsates, but slowly and inconstantly. This
pulsation is perceptible only in the warmer season of the year. The
pulsations can stop as a consequence of the cold as it is meetest for
them, being of a doubtful nature, so that sometimes they seem to live,
sometimes to die, and sometimes to live the life of an animal, sometimes

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the life of a Plant.115 The larger and warmer animals, with hotter and
more spirituous blood, require a larger and stronger heart while more
perfect creatures need more perfect aliment and a more abundant na-
tive heat, that the nutriment of them may be concocted and acquire a
further perfection, it was fit that these creatures should have lungs and
another ventricle, which should drive the nutriment through them.116
This gradation of hearts reveals Harveys belief that the more devel-
oped the heart, the more autonomy an animal acquires over its envi-
ronment and its variations in temperature. Earthworms are all one with
their environment, taking all into themselves and giving forth all that
they have gathered in: they have no heart, as needing no impulsor to
drive the nutriment into the extremities: For they have a body connate
and of one piece, and indistinct without members; so that by the con-
traction and returning of their whole bodie, they take in, expel, move
and remove the nourishment.117 The earthworm corresponds in many
ways to Harveys critique of medieval ideas of the heart. The medieval
heart is entirely too connate with the environment; it assumes substances
and entities arriving from outside and expels them into the external
For Harvey, it is the solidity of the boundary between the body
and the environment that makes us human. Greater autonomy signi-
fies a higher degree of perfection on the scale of being. This is directly
opposed to the medieval view, in which a greater degree of autonomy
from the environment suggests a greater degree of isolation and even
potential petrification. Only a stone is perfectly autonomous in the ter-
restrial sphere. And only God himself has the capacity to be an unmoved
mover. Humanity entails vulnerability and reliance on external forces in
order to maintain mobility and vital heat. In the medieval world, human
perfection was manifested by the ability to transcend the borders of the
body, to project the self beyond the limits of an individual body, or to be
pulled out of that body. The human individual took in inspiration and

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threw back poetry, prophecy, the seeds of new life. All of this changes
when Harvey puts God inside the body, in the form of the heart. The
heart is, in his words, the household divinity. If God is within, offer-
ing movement, perfection, and even preservation from corruption, what
more do we need?

CH APTER fou r

The Animate Heart

Harvey Is Unsettled
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 medi-
eval heart can have an immediate impact on another body while it is
safely lodged within its own porous body. The relation, usually con-
stituted by the traffic of spirits, is dynamic, reciprocal, and what I have
called generational. Spirits, heat, and seminal entities were imagined
as extending the hearts direct and even physical presence far beyond
the porous boundaries of the individual. But what happens when one
comes into contact not with the products brought forth from the heart
but with the heart itself? This chapter will examine the experience of
looking upon an extracted or otherwise exposed heart. In the medieval
world, an exposed heart was patently de-animate or in the process of
de-animation. It was either deprived of or soon to be deprived of the soul
that gave it life and enabled its reciprocal, intercorporeal function.
According to the principles of Aristotelian natural philosophy, the
heart was the primum vivens, ultimum moriens, or the first to live, last

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to die. Life was entirely dependent on the souls vivifying action in the
heart. As the heart died, so did the individual. The soul fled from the
heart (often out of the mouth, if the heart was not wounded) and into the
next world. Medieval interactions with a dead or dying heart, exposed
to view, hung on this precarious temporality. The living either imagined
a privileged moment of continued access to the lingering soul in the
process of departing the body, or the heart was understood to have been
abandoned by life, an empty bit of flesh rather than a transformational
space. The fall from the powers of a living heart to the impotence of
a dead heart is brief and dramatic indeed. Harveys work with animal
vivisections stretches this liminal space, prolonging the period of dying,
even reanimating the heart. What can bring the heart back to life? What
does life consist of, if the heart can come back? These new questions
produced by Harveys vivisections work from within our own thought
style; they would have been irrelevant in the medieval world.
Through vivisection and reanimation, Harvey aims at a kind of
control over the processes of life; but he is, at least at first, not immune
to the same sort of awe that the medieval world felt in the presence of
the exposed heart.1 There is, of course, a crucial distinction to be made
here; Harvey is looking at animal hearts in this case, and he therefore
does not feel either desire to witness the lingering presence of a par-
ticular soul or horror at the sight of a human heart deprived of the soul.
But he is seeking to observe animation and de-animation in the secular,
physiological sense, to distinguish the motions that confer life upon the
organism. He hopes to discover a simpler explanation for the mysterious,
life-giving movements of the heart than those that the textual tradition
has offered thus far. Why should the heart do two things at once? How
can it expel vapors as it brings in blood? How can it move air as it moves
blood? Why would one organ be dedicated to two separate systems?
His questions, then, are posed according to a principle: simplicity. But if
the questions derive from analysis of the systems and structures in texts,

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Harvey proposes to find the answer elsewhere, through direct observa-

tion of the thing itself. He reasons that if texts and authorities are offer-
ing unnecessarily complicated systems, the body, when stripped of these
mystifying contexts, should reveal a natural simplicity to the observer.
But Harveys experience does not provide the immediate reduction
in terms he had hoped for. The heart, as exposed in vivisection, moves
in a way that is anything but simple. Harvey confesses that when I first
applied my mind to observation from the many dissections of Living
Creatures as they came to hand, that by that means I might find out the
use of the motion of the Heart and things conducible in Creatures; I
straightwayes found it a thing hard to be attained, and full of difficulty,
so with Fracastorius I did almost believe, that the motion of the Heart
was known to God alone.2 He goes on to say that I was much troubled
in mind, nor did I know what to resolve upon my self, or what belief
to give to others.3 What are we to make of the anatomists unsettled
mind? Harvey wishes us to understand, of course, that what he is do-
ing is very difficult and utterly new. Joining his voice with the chorus
of seventeenth-century praise of observation and defiance of authority,
he presents himself as facing a daunting challenge. His narrative will
be about obstacles overcome, motions distinguished, and functions de-
termined. He writes that he has, finally, extricated himself and escaped
from the labyrinth of his former confusion.4 But I have no intention
to rehearse the old myths of revolution in method here, nor even to
critique those myths. I wish to delve, rather, into the brief moment
when the anatomist is unsettled by the discovery that if the texts about
the heart are overcomplicated, the heart itself is even more disorienting.
Life, as it turns out, is never easy to observe.
We are privy only to a momentary confession on the part of our
anatomist, a confession that perhaps owes much to the rhetorical com-
monplaces of the difficulty of this new observation, this new method. But
nonetheless, the moment that Harvey presents as a temporary setback,

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a labyrinth from which the anatomist must extricate himself, is critical

to our ability to approach a time when the body was lived differently.
So while it would be easy to conclude that Harvey is simply troubled
by his inability to parse and to immediately comprehend what he sees
(and this is indeed the case), we might find greater reward in probing
what is so difficult about observation of the heart, so difficult that it leads
one to imagine that there is something divine about its mysteries and
its modes of appearance. If one imagines that the heart is the space in
which we interinhabit one another, and in which life is located, what can
it mean to look into that space? What can be seen and what happens to
the person who dares to attempt to observe or understand such a thing?
As Harvey proposes to extricate his reader from the mess, I propose a
trip back into the labyrinth. In the same way that seventeenth-century
rhetoric is continually vaunting discovery, it simultaneously covers
over undesired material. To get back behind Harveys challenging, but
eventually comprehensible and divisible heart, and to see what a medi-
eval person saw when she looked directly at the heart, we must turn
to medieval anatomies but also, and above all, to literary and religious
analyses of that encounter.
Katharine Parks book Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and
the Origins of Human Dissection explores the medieval and Renaissance
fascination with seeing inside female bodies. The womb, she notes, is
aarguably theprivileged object of dissection in medical images
and texts.5 Park attributes this fascination in part to concerns about
blood relationships and paternity. A popular story in the Middle Ages
told of the emperor Neros obsession with seeing the place where he
was created. As told in Jacobus de Voragines Golden Legend, a mid-
thirteenth-century collection of saints lives, Nero was obsessed by
an evil madness [and] ordered his mother killed and cut open so that he
could see how it had been for him in her womb.6 Neros dissection of
his mother is often, in fact, paired with a tale in which he orders his court

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philosophers to make him pregnant, as he doubts that his wife would

bear him a legitimate child. (They make a frog grow in his belly.)7 In
the case of his mother, Agrippina, Nero desires to see the place where
he had been,8 or to personally view the spatial locus of his own gen-
eration. Medieval people who had the very rare opportunity to view a
dissected uterus of an unknown woman might have had a similar sense
of looking at their origin, albeit in a generic sense.
I will suggest, in the pages that follow, that while the uterus was an
object of fascination and particular study in dissection texts, the heart
was the object of fascination for those outside the medical community.
The seed or seeds to form an embryo were (at least according to many)
derived from the heart. Individual human life only really began with
the process of ensoulment, when God infused a soul into the heart of
that embryo. The heart was the first organ to form, the place where the
soul took up residence, and the place to be vacated upon the death of
the individual. If the uterus is the container for the embryo, the heart is
the container for that which makes the embryo human, for that unique
soul that alone can render the embryo a particular, identifi able indi-
vidual. Seeing a heart, then, can be the closest thing to seeing the soul.
At the same time, a de-animate heart becomes the most horrific spectacle
of the bare and, indeed, anonymous materiality of flesh.
Mondino de Liuzzis dissection manual can provide us with a par-
tial sense of what it might feel like to look at a heart in medieval Italy.
But, like Harvey, he too hopes to lead his reader or his student through
the unsettling vision of the heart to a truth (a truth that will prove
too complicated for Harveys tastes). For this reason, after discussing
Mondino, this chapter turns to an examination of Giovanni Boccaccios
stories of disembodied and eaten hearts, and from there to accounts of
the dissections of holy hearts. As container of the soul, the dead or dying
heart could retain traces of a particular presence or reveal the horror
of the loss of that presence. Boccaccios tales dilate the temporal space

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in which the dead or dying heart is suspended, allowing the trauma of

the sight of the heart to come to fore, to make itself felt in all of those
contours that have been lost to us. In the medieval cult of saints, holy
bodies and particularly holy hearts were believed to have a special ca-
pacity to retain traces of the divine presence, traces that could be seen
with the human eye and that could perpetually bestow grace upon the
community. From the vantage point of these extended medieval inter-
actions with dead or dying hearts, it becomes possible to understand
Harveys strategies differently. His method, whether it is revolution-
ary or not, cannot ultimately be understood in full without a sense of
what his extrication really means or, in other words, without a vision
of the labyrinthine entanglement of heart, texts and soul from which
he seeks to emerge.

Mondino Dissect s the Heart

Along with the myth that medieval people thought the world was flat,
the myth that medieval Europeans did not dissect cadavers due to reli-
gious concerns is false. Dissection was established in western Europe in
the late thirteenth century, but it remained relatively infrequent.9 Most
dissection took place in Italy, as the universities of Bologna, Florence,
and Padua systematized anatomy based on dissection as part of the cur-
riculum. Furthermore, as historians of medicine have noted, dissection
was perceived to have little, if anything, to add to knowledge about the
body. Such knowledge was readily available in authoritative texts.10
Dissection was not a method of finding new information, but rather for
confirming established truths. As Ludwik Fleck puts it: In the history
of scientific knowledge, no formal relation of logic exists between con-
ceptions and evidence. Evidence conforms to conceptions just as often
as conceptions conform to evidence.11 In fact, in the medieval world,
the body worked as a three-dimensional illustration of the text.

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Mondino de Liuzzis Anothomia of 1316 provides a unique point

of entry into the space between body and text that fourteenth-century
scholars inhabited. The myth that there was no dissection in medieval
Europe is due in part to the extreme reliance of medieval texts on ancient
authority. In other words, scholars wondered how people could have
been actually looking at bodies and yet still believe everything they read
in Aristotle. Mondinos text offers insight into the delicate and precarious
balancing act that began with Avicennas work and continued through
the Middle Ages. The texts very existence shows that Mondino felt the
need to write a new work of anatomy; the ancient texts are thus not
entirely adequate to the needs of his students. Furthermore, the Ano-
thomia leaves no doubt that Mondino is really looking, and looking
carefully, at cadavers: Then, having lain the cadaver, or the man dead
from decapitation or hanging, flat on his back, the first thing we must
do is take stock of the whole, and then of the parts. Since everything
we know begins for us with the things that are the most well-known,
the things that are the most confusing are the ones already known, and
the whole is more confusing than the parts, we must begin by getting
to know the whole.12 Despite the fact that Mondino begins his treatise
with a statement that he is offering instruction in the manual method,
he follows with several paragraphs that address the whole of creation as
he defines mans position in respect to animals and angels. Mans physical
form determines his perfection and his place in the great chain of be-
ing. Once again, context is essential. The entire body is located, in this
introduction, in terms of its relations to the universe, just as each part of
the body must be located in terms of its relation to the whole.
This attention to relations rather than the specificity of parts is
particularly notable as Mondino approaches the heart: [After having]
removed the membranes, the lung will appear, in the middle of which is
the heart so that it may be cooled by the air. . . . The position and locali-
zation of the heart are evident, as it is in the middle between the anterior

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region and posterior region, the right and the left, if you consider that
the top is inclined toward the left, while the base [is inclined] toward
the right, so that it may exhale the heat and spirit toward the right side
that must be hotter than the left. It is also in the middle between the
upper and lower regions [of the body], excluding the extremities, and
was placed in this way because it is the origin and first root of all the
organs. Therefore, its relations will be clear.13 Mondino continuously
seeks to ascribe meaning to the organs before him, to explain why they
are formed as they are, and, above all, to analyze the relationships be-
tween them. It is part of his cultural constitution, this impulse to explain,
to look for connections between the parts, to attempt to envision the
whole organism. This is particularly important in the approach to the
heart, as Mondino guides his students to a view of the source of anima-
tion in a now de-animate body. The position of the parts, as Mondino
describes them, is often accompanied by a teleological explanation: so
that it may. . . . As for the philosophical centrality of the heart, a topos
that I discussed in chapter 1, Mondino is at pains to make philosophical
centrality into visible physical centrality. With some manipulation, it
is possible. The heart can be in the middle between left and right if we
imagine it tipped in order to blow spirit towards the right. The heart can
be in the middle vertically if we exclude the extremities. Even temporal-
ity is made visible in the immediate presence of the dissected corpse; the
hearts qualities of origin and first root can be noted in its placement
and serve to render its relations with the other organs clear.
Not only does Mondino see the intangible quality of primacy traced
in the hearts tangible location and connectedness, he also sees several
anatomical structures that no dissection today would ever show. One
is the middle ventricle of the heart: And these [valves] are wondrous
works of nature [mirabilia opera naturae], just as the construction of
the middle ventricle is wondrous [mirabile]; in fact, this ventricle is
not a single cavity, but there are many small cavities that are broader

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on the right side than on the left, because the blood that goes to the left
ventricle from the right, that must become spirit, is refined immediately,
given that its refinement is a preparation to the generation of spirit; na-
ture, in transmitting something to the organs or through some passage,
never transmits it with negligence, but preparing it for the form that it
must take, as Galen often affi rms in his work De juvamentis membro-
rum. This is precisely one of those points that cause modern readers
to wonder if Mondino could possibly be looking at a heart at all. If the
heart has no middle ventricle, what can he be describing here? One of
Mondinos modern editors, Piero Giorgi, suggests that the use of the
word mirabilia conveys a sense of irony. In other words, the anatomist
feels compelled to describe something that he really does not see. But
perhaps Mondino does see something that he is interpreting based on
preexisting frameworks.14
Aristotle suggested that the heart had three ventricles. Some smaller
animals, such as frogs, do. Galen consistently spoke of only two ven-
tricles and even mocked Aristotle for his belief that large animals had
hearts with three ventricles. Avicenna, as usual, sought a compromise.
In his Canon, he explained that the heart has three cavities, two of
which are large, while the third is between them. He adds that the
third is like a canal between the two primary cavities.15 When Gerald
of Cremona translated Avicenna into Latin at the end of the twelfth
century, he elaborated at some length, citing Galen in such a way that
one might think Galen was in perfect agreement as to the existence of
a third intermediate ventricle.
According to some, Mondino might be looking at the fleshy col-
umns that cover the walls of the ventricles and are more numerous on
the interventricular septum; they are larger on the right side and more
numerous on the left. These columns form little recesses that could be
interpreted as canals.16 The heart here is not a source of innate truth to
be studied attentively. The truth of what the heart is and what the heart

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contains is a matter for philosophers, theologians, and poets. What the

anatomist can see is only a part of the picture, a small section that must
be informed by a whole comprising invisible and even supernatural
Another wondrous component of the body that we no longer be-
lieve exists is the rete mirabile that I discussed briefly in chapter 3. Mon-
dino explains, with extreme topographical precision, that once you have
removed the brain and cut through certain membranes you will find
the rete mirabile, woven from a very strong network and duplicated
in a wondrous way, or multiplied by very thin arteries woven close to
one another. . . . In this lattice, or in the veins of this lattice, the vital
spirit that rises from the heart to the brain to become animal spirit is
contained.17 The use of the word mirabilius, wondrous, appears here
somewhat redundantly as an adjective to describe the rete mirabile.
Indeed, much of the structure of the rete mirabile is unavailable to the
naked eye in its intricacy and the extreme subtlety or thinness of the
arteries involved. It is possible that Mondino was looking at the Circle
of Willis, or the arteries that supply blood to the brain. While the
Circle of Willis does not fit Mondinos description precisely, it might
provide the framework that permitted Mondino to fill in the blanks with
what he knew to be there. Furthermore, the removal of the brain can
easily disrupt the arterial structure beneath it, requiring the anatomist
to interpret or to imagine what has been lost.
Mondino refers to the almost magical nature of this transforma-
tive structure that must, to his mind, be present, whether he can see it
properly or not. The vital spirit must be transformed into the animal
spirit; it must somehow be refined. If there is no mechanism for such
transformation, it would even be possible to postulate a nonunitary
spirit and, from there, the heresy of a plural soul. Structures of spiritual
transformation are the wondrous parts of the body where mysteries take
place. These are the middle ventricle, the part of the heart where vital

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spirit is created; the rete mirabile, where the spirit changes its nature;
and the uterus, where new spirit is created.

Looking into the Uterus

By examining his mothers uterus, Nero masters a set of temporalities
ordinarily unavailable to the individual. He views the space where he
was created in the past, sees it empty and separate from himself in the
present, and ensures that there will be no occupants of that space in the
future. Just as the heart was believed to create spirit from a mixture of
blood made inside the heart and air from outside the body, the uterus
was seen as a similarly productive space, in which the womans blood
already in the uterus combined with male seed to form a new creature
of both flesh and spirit. Given the spiritual (literally) nature of the gen-
erative events and processes taking place in both sites, an examination
of these privileged containers demanded a kind of vision that embraced
what was readily available to the eye as well as the latent structures of
When it comes to the uterus, Mondinos statements do not seem to
fit with observation in the least: The cavity [of the uterus] has seven
cells, three on the right, three on the left and one at top or really in the
middle; these cells are simply cavities found in the uterus in which the
sperm can coagulate with the menstrual material and be retained and
placed in relation with the opening of the veins.18 The seven-celled
uterus is a Hippocratic notion, promulgated in the Middle Ages by Mi-
chael Scot. Strange and imaginative as this notion is, it does serve the
purposes of parallelism. The subdivision of the uterus shapes the organ
in a way that closely recalls the heart, divided into a right side and a left
side, but with something in the middle. All the cavities of the uterus
recall the middle ventricle of the heart in their capacity to bring together
two different entities. It seems only reasonable that these two generative

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spaces should resemble one another in their construction, even if this

logic does not match the data that observation can provide.
Observation does permit Mondino to confirm Galens comments on
what actually occurs when a woman suffers from uterine suffocation,
a problem I alluded to in chapter 3: From anatomy you can certainly
evaluate one thing that Galen lays out in the sixth book of his De interi-
oribus; and that is that the congestion that derives from the uterus does
not happen because the uterus physically moves as far as the throat or
the lungs, because this is impossible, but this happens . . . because, lack-
ing the possibility of expelling the vapors through the lower parts, for
some reason [the uterus] moves and compresses itself in the lower parts
to expel them toward the upper parts. . . . In what way and by what
routes [the vapor] can arrive, you have seen; which is the cure and by
what means ask the authors, because in these things anatomy can only
give information on topography.19 Mondinos analysis reveals much
about the possibilities of empirical analysis and the limits of anatomy.
Here, observation allows the anatomist to evaluate the veracity of two
conflicting opinions on the causes of various kinds of female maladies.
That various female discomforts and maladies are derived from the
uterus is not debatable; Mondino accepts this as based on Hippocratic
teachings and the rule of common knowledge. He repeats, Women say
the uterus has reached the stomach (or the throat or the heart). These
highly varied ailments, ranging from hiccupping to difficulty breathing
to syncope, were attributed to the arrival of uterine vapors into differ-
ent bodily spaces.
In Salerno, as the twelfth-century Book on the Conditions of Women
attests, the condition was treated as if the womb had moved away from
its proper location. Odiferous therapy was the most common palliative
practice. By holding items with a foul odor such as pitch and burnt wool
to the nose and anointing the vagina with sweet-smelling oils such as
iris and chamomile oil, the physician or midwife would encourage the

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womb to descend to its proper place.20 Mondino carefully skirts the issue
of therapy to focus on topography. But his description makes it clear that
in this case, the body offers evidence for Galens writings as it refutes
common knowledge. Observation leaves no doubt that the uterus can-
not travel as far as the heart or the throat. Instead, Mondino attributes
the uteruss far-ranging effects to the circulation of invisible vapors.
Since he sees that it is impossible for the uterus to move as others have
suggested, the only explanation for its powers of disturbance lies in an
invisible substance. The uterus can thus affect the principal organs of the
body without physically moving to each of them. Mondino establishes
a relational vision of the body in which each organ is placed in contact
with each of the others. But in order to maintain these relations, the
organs must be stable and fi xed in their separate positions. The traffic
of blood, spirits, and vapors connects the individuality of the parts.
One way of seeing an invisible flow of vapors is through the delin-
eation of the boundaries that limit that flow. For example, the diaphragm
is seen as delimiting the circulation of a different variety of vapors: Its
function derives from its position, in the first place to separate the or-
gans of the chest cavity and the visceral cavity, so that the vapors from
food during digestion and from the feces do not reach the organs of the
chest cavity; because they would damage the mind and the reason.21
The anatomist returns to a fully Aristotelian vision in these lines, lo-
cating the mind and reason in the heart. What is perhaps even more
fascinating here, however, is the anatomists interest in the invisible
and his designation of visible structures as barriers, transmitting spaces,
or creative spaces for those entities and substances that he cannot see.
The diaphragm is designed to stop the flow of vapors from the lower to
upper regions. The middle ventricle, on the other hand, is designed to
facilitate the mixing of blood and spirit. In other words, Mondino sees
much more than the eye permits. The relationality of the parts of a living
individual, both amongst themselves and in congress with the outside

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world, is visible through the traces that are the tangible structures of
the dissected body. Mondino never forgets that this cadaver was alive,
that the spaces between the parts were filled with mobile spirit, vapor,
and creative potential. And not only between the parts: even seemingly
solid surfaces can transmit and transform substances the human eye
cannot detect. He knows that he must see more than he can touch in
order to get the body right.

Eating the Heart

We have seen how Mondino de Liuzzi, as he dissects the body to reveal
the heart, is insistent upon keeping the organ in its context. The bulk of
his discourse about the heart is dedicated to showing where and how it
connects to the other organs of the body. He removes it only in order to
show all the ways in which it is linked to the whole. By verbally main-
taining each of its connections, his dissection narrative resists disem-
bodying the heart.
Outside the realm of the relatively organized and contextualized
university dissection of a corpse, literary texts that describe the viewing
of a heart tend to depict the event in the register of horror. As the organ
in the body that is most defined by its connections to other things, by its
mediating and relational position, by its status between spirit and body,
self and other, human and God, it is utterly transformed by its excision
from the body. Elaborate medieval visions of the multivalent functional-
ity of the living heart are, in fact, shadowed by a spectral vision of the
disembodied and, worse, potentially edible heart. Tales of women being
tricked by a vengeful spouse into consuming the hearts of their lovers
have been traced back to legends of the Punjab hero Raja Rasal.22 In
the European context, different versions of the story appear in Tristan,
in the Provenal vida, or biography, of Guillem de Cabestaing, in the
thirteenth-century Lai dIgnaure and the Roman du chatelaine de Couci,

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in Dantes Vita nuova, and in Boccaccios Decameron, where it receives

perhaps its most sustained meditation.23
Nothing could be more shocking than seeing the seat of the soul,
the heart of love, the site of divine passion, exposed before ones eyes.
While the sight of a corpse reveals the undeniable absence of spirit in
the visible difference of a known body, the very fact that the heart is
visible reveals that it can no longer be both body and spirit, but must
be body alone. In its decontextualized nudity, it takes on the roles of an
animal organ, or a phallus, or a piece of meat. To maintain the hearts
identity as a heart and, even more challenging, to maintain its identity
as the heart of a particular individual, the viewer must go to tremendous
lengths to hold it back from slipping into obscene or base organic matter.
Oddly, when the heart becomes tangible, the only way to relate to it as
a presence is either by not recognizing it as a heart (and eating it) or by
manually restoring its productive capacity (as we will see, some holy
womens hearts were made to give birth by opening them surgically,
for example). Otherwise, when faced with a nonproductive, extracted
heart, the viewer finds herself experiencing a crisis of lost reciprocity.
In order to gaze at the heart that has become a nonproductive, non-
circulatory, nonreciprocal object, the viewer needs mediation. It is the
disembodied thing in itself that calls for the most interpretation.24
The Provenal vida that serves as Boccaccios source for one of his
tales is the story of Guillem de Cabestaing. The troubadour Guillem has
been carrying on an affair with the wife of Raimon de Castel Rossillon.
Raimon discovers the affair and kills Guillem:
And he had the heart taken from the body and had the head cut
off; and he had the heart brought back to his castle and the head
too; and he had the heart cooked and made into a meal, and had it
given to eat to his wife. And when the lady had eaten it, Raimon de
Castel Rossillon said to her: Do you know what you have eaten?

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And she said: No, only that it was good and flavorful meat. And
he told her that it was the heart of Guillem de Cabestaing that she
had eaten; and, so that she would believe him better, had the head
brought before them. And when the lady saw it and heard this, she
lost her sight and her hearing. And when she returned to herself,
she said Lord, you have given me such good food that I will never
eat anything else again. And when he heard this, he ran toward
her and wanted to hit her on the head; and she ran to a balcony and
let herself fall down, and so died.25
As in each of the eaten-heart tales, the woman sees the heart in igno-
rance and eats in ignorance. It is only after the meal that the significance
of her action is revealed to her. This conferral of identity or significance
after the fact works as a sort of perversion or reversal of the ritual Eu-
charistic meal, in which the bread is identified as body and the wine as
blood before it is consumed. To consume body and blood without this
mediation, without this conferral of significance in advance, is to com-
mit an act of cannibalism rather than communion.26
Raimons wife loses her capacity for sight and hearing once the
identity of her meal is revealed. Her senses have literally failed her. She
was unable to recognize her beloveds heart, as her jealous husband as-
serts with his question, Sabetz vos so que vos avetz manjat? (Do you
know what you have eaten?) Her senses did not supply her with this
information; it is only through her husbands mediation that she arrives
at the fullness of understanding what she has seen, consumed, become.
As she recognizes that failure, her senses leave her altogether.
The trope of the lovers heart made visible undergoes an interest-
ing transformation in the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti and Dante. If the
eaten-heart tales cited thus far hinge on the problem of recognition,
the stil novo version is about the identification and revelation of the
poets heart as a cor gentil. As Robert Harrison puts it, Dantes early

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dream vision that involves his own heart conceals the genetic secret
of Dantes literary career.27 Conceals is the proper word here, as Dante
subverts the traditional contours of the eaten-heart tales while at the
same time referencing them blatantly, creating a narrative of poetic vi-
sionary initiation that cites its genealogy as it provocatively alters the
terms of signification.
The central element of the eaten-heart tales, as we have seen, is
the fact that the female protagonist is unaware that she is consuming
the heart of her lover. In Dantes dream, a round of introductions and
recognitionsego dominuus tuus, vide cor tuum, and conobbi
chera la donna della salutemakes the participants (and the reader)
aware of the identity of each of the figures involved.28 The Lord of Love,
after identifying himself and Dantes heart, gives the burning heart to
Beatrice to eat. She eats of it until Love begins to weep and flies with
her heavenwards. Beatrices death is prefigured in Loves mourning and
flight toward heaven; in this way, the coupling of eating of the heart
and death is preserved in the dream. But interestingly, in this dream
that is subsequently analyzed by Dantes fellow poets (unsuccessfully,
he informs us) and by critics over the centuries without consensus, the
misunderstanding, failure of perception, and failure of interpretation
thematized in the other eaten-heart tales is absent. Failure of interpre-
tation occurs outside the frame of the dream itself. Within the dream,
it is the identification of Dantes heart that is central. He stages a cere-
mony of consecration for his own heart, dedicating it to the work of
prophetic love poetry.
Dante subverts the defi ning parameters of the eaten-heart tales,
but in terms of this trope of self-identification, he follows closely in the
footsteps of his first friend, Guido Cavalcanti. For Guido, the heart is
exposed as the poets body is doubled, serving first as victim and then as
observer. In the poem Voi che per li occhi mi passaste l core (You who
through my eyes passed to my heart), it is death that is displayed to the

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poet, who is doubled or divided: The blow struck directly on the first
attempt, so that my soul, trembling, drew back, seeing my heart dead
on my left side.29 The spirits flowing from the womans eyes strike with
such force that the soul is shaken from its dwelling and turns back to see
that dwelling destroyed, or in other words to see the heart dead. The
poets privilege is that he may look upon his own death. It is by gazing at
his wounds, the products of his heart, and even his death that Cavalcanti
comprehends the mechanism of love and of poetic production.
When the poet stages his encounter with the public, rather than
with the lady herself (or with some displaced element of himself ), then
the spectacle of his wounds or of his death becomes centrally important.
The public gaze shifts attention onto the wound itself:
I walk like one outside of life
who appears, to those who gaze upon him, like a man
made of copper or of stone or of wood
who moves only by magic
and carries in his heart a wound
that is, as he is dead, an open sign.30
In the presence of those who gaze upon him the poets altered func-
tionality is made a spectacle. The nature of his changed appearance
and the nexus of that change, the wounded heart, are described as emi-
nently visible: He who feels great pain / look at this one, and see his
heart / that Death carries in his hand, carved with a cross.31 The poet
describes himself as no longer in control of his own corporeality; his
spirits have escaped through his unnaturally open heart, leaving him
dead to the world.
Dantes dream, then, combines Cavalcantis ostentation of the
heart with the erotic-religious themes of the Provenal eaten-heart
tales. Identi fication is above all what is at issue here, in each of these
declensions of the same motif. Cavalcanti and Dante suggest that the

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exposed heart of the poet can reveal his singular status, his susceptibility
to the powers of love. Their focus on nobility of heart would have them
believe that there is something recognizable in that organ, something
that can be revealed.
It is in the tales of Giovanni Boccaccios Decameron that we fi nd
the most rigorous investigation of human interaction with an extracted
heart. Without this literary vision, the heart cannot look to us, cannot
feel to us, the way that it did before it became only a pump. The hundred
tales of the Decameron include not only a retelling of the Provenal vida,
but also a tale in which a woman is presented with her lovers identified
heart. In short, the disembodied heart is a persistent motif, or rather it
is an obsession. Boccaccios desire to dissect the scene of the encounter
with the heart, as it were, reveals that there is much more at stake here
than the personal tragedy of a slain lover. In his rewritings of the vari-
ous declensions of the tales I have discussed above, from the troubadour
vida to Dantes dream of initiation, Boccaccio gives us a picture of the
relational power of the heart as is only accessible through the frame of
the potential or even present loss of that power.
One of the tales is, in fact, a close rewriting of the vida of Guillem
de Cabestaing. Boccaccio focuses on lengthening and emphasizing the
scene in which the woman comes to realize what she has eaten. The
husband asks, Lady, how did this meal seem to you?32 She answers,
My lord, in good faith I liked it well.33 But whereas in the Provenal
tale the woman is then informed of what she has eaten, Boccaccio draws
out the suspense as the husband taunts his wife: I believe you: its no
wonder if you liked dead that which you had liked more than any other
thing when it was alive (io il vi credo, n me ne maraviglio se morto
v piaciuto ci che vivo pi che altra cosa vi piacque). This sequence
of tenses, credo (I believe), v piaciuto (you liked/found pleas-
ing), and vi piacque, (you had liked/found pleasure in), establishes
his knowledge of a temporal or historical frame that his wife could not

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see as she ate of that heart, detached from its remote past, dislocated
upon the plate.
It is in this absence of temporalities that horror emerges. In his
book The Dominion of the Dead Robert Harrison remarks that the
past (or no-longer-hereness of the person), the present (the corpse in
its presence-at-hand), and the future (the fate awaiting those who follow
in the footsteps of the deceased) all converge in the dead body, as long,
that is, as it remains an object of concern or solicitude for the living.
. . . Only in its genealogical, sentimental, or institutional relation to the
surviving loved one does it become the personification of transcendence.
This, of course, presupposes that the corpse is the perfect likeness of
the person who has passed away. 34 The heart on a plate is no likeness
of the beloved; it is the actual site of the creation, production, and re-
ception of sentimental, sensorial, and spiritual relation. The sequence
of tenses the jealous husband spins out indicates the vastness of tempo-
ralities unrecognized: this is the space my lovers soul once inhabited;
this is the space in which I was once held; this is now an empty thing,
passive enough to be consumed; this heart is as empty as my heart will
be when I go to join him. But without recognition, there is no concern
or solicitude for this object on the plate. It has been stripped, in its mere
placement, of all the institutions and connective structures of relation
that would allow the heart its proper dynamism, its proper capacity to
reveal transcendence.
It is only with agonizing slowness that the wife becomes aware
that she is missing something: The lady, hearing this, paused for a
moment; then she said: What? What is this that you have made me
eat? The knight replied: That which you have eaten was really the
heart of Sir Guglielmo Guardastagno, the one who you, my unfaithful
wife, loved so much; and know for sure thats what it was, because I
tore it from his chest with these hands, shortly before I came back. 35
It is the wife who asks the question here; her husbands response now

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provides the hearts identity with great precision and emphasis: truly,
it is the heart of her lover.
In Boccaccios tale, the wife does not lose her senses but rather
condemns her husband for his betrayal: God forbid that any other
food should follow after a food as noble [nobil vivanda] as the heart of
the brave and gallant knight, for such was Guglielmo Guardastagno.
With this speech, she returns the quality of nobility to Guardastagnos
heart, even if it is as a meal. In the light of the information her husband
has given her, Guardastagnos heart is again noble, brave, and gal-
lant, while her husband is disloyal. To consecrate the value of this
food, she not only decides never to eat again, but actually shatters her
body by jumping from the balcony: She was dashed to pieces.36
This encounter with horror and subsequent descent into savagery
can only be resolved through the work of collecting the two bodies,
uniting them, and inscribing the tomb with the identity of the lovers
enclosed there. As in the Provenal vida, they are placed in a single
tomb: On the tomb were inscribed some lines to identify the couple
here buried and the manner and occasion of their deaths. In this way,
meaning is restored and permanently defined. Never again will these
bodies be misidentified or deprived of their context. Furthermore, their
identities are tied not only to their names, but are bound up with the
means and reason for their death. The context and frame around their
bodies has thickened as a correction to the disruption of the social order
that made a human heart a meal.37

Drinking from the Heart

The most extended consideration of this problem in the Decameron,
however, may be found at the beginning of the fourth day. In the first
story of the fourth day, an identified heart is presented to the female
protagonist. As Giuseppe Mazzotta has pointed out, this tale is closely

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connected to the extended introduction to the fourth day, in which Boc-

caccio responds to censors who have objected to content in the preceding
stories. In that introduction, Boccaccio tells a brief tale that focuses on
the problem of relationships between things in themselves, the names
that they are given, and the contexts into which they are placed. Filippo
Balducci has raised his only son in a monastic atmosphere, far from
the world and worldly desires. But one day, he brings his son to Flor-
ence, where for the first time the young man espies a group of beautiful
young women and immediately wishes to know what they are called,
but anxious to avoid any counter-productive notion of lechery in the
young man, his father would not give the women their proper name, but
told him they were known as geese. This name does not, however,
lessen his sons desire to have one of these geese for himself; he begs
his father to let him have one, offering that he would see to feeding it
grain. The father responds: Absolutely not! You dont know which
end to feed.38
Boccaccio comments on the anecdote as proof of the natural quality
of desire, desire that cannot be contained by the control that Balducci at-
tempts to exert over his son. As Mazzotta shows, however, the anecdote
speaks perhaps more profoundly to the problem of names and things,
as a comment upon Balduccis nave nominalism.39 The act of renam-
ing women does nothing to limit the natural desire his son feels. But
Balducci does not simply attempt to rename the women. He attempts to
situate his sons relation to this new group of foreign beings in his own
frame. In a maneuver somewhat akin to setting a lovers heart upon a
plate, Balducci locates women in the animal realm. Geese may be fed
grain, or eaten; they are not the objects of lust.
In the novella that follows, Boccaccio sets out to rigorously test
the roles of nominal identity and context as they determine relation.
The protagonist is a woman named Ghismunda, who, widowed at a
young age, returns to her fathers home. Her father, prince Tancredi,

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neglects to remarry her, preferring to keep his adored daughter near

him. Ghismunda decides to discreetly find herself a lover, choosing a
young man of good character but of humble origins. She is eventually
discovered, and a tearful Tancredi berates his daughter for, above all,
her choice of a humble rather than an aristocratic lover.
Tancredi appeals to established notions of nobility, but Ghismunda
responds by redefining nobility according to different standards.40 In a
long speech replete with the language and metaphors of the dolce stil
novo, Ghismunda explains that nobility is not found in our flesh and
blood: We all of us, you see, take our individual flesh from a mass of
flesh, and our souls, created with equal powers, equal potentialities,
equal qualities, all derive from the same Creator.41 The repetition of the
word carne (flesh) suggests an originary mass of undifferentiated flesh,
utterly without boundaries or identifying factors. This mass of flesh,
this initial equivalency of souls, means that all men and women have a
full range of potentialities. Our virtues, displayed by our actions, she
goes on to explain, set us apart and allow us to be identified as noble or
base individuals. It is up to those who observe us to properly name that
which we are according to what they observe: Therefore if a man is
virtuous in his actions and shows himself to be noble [gentile], but is
addressed as though he were otherwise, it is not the man so addressed
who is at fault but the one who addresses him.42 The giver of names,
not the named, is at fault if proper discernment is not employed. Such
discernment depends upon active observation and identification, rather
than reliance on preexisting terms of definition.
Above all, Ghismunda traces her own election of Guiscardo to
her father: Where Guiscardos qualities and merits are concerned I
was not swayed by anyone elses opinion, only by the witness of your
words and my own eyes. Who ever spoke as highly of him as you did?
And how right you were! Unless my eyes deceived me, there was noth-
ing for which you praised him that I did not see borne out in his own

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actions, and even more remarkably than your words could suggest. Had
I been deceived, it would have been because you deceived me.43 The
vocabulary of the dolce stil novo in Ghismundas speech indicates that
her desire is mediated through the philosophical and literary authori-
ties of her time. But here, Ghismunda points boldly and plainly to the
primary mediator of her desire, her father. She has not judged the men
in her fathers court according to literal nobility and blood lines; she
has judged according to her fathers words and, secondarily, her own
eyes. As in the Balducci anecdote, we see a staging of the relationship
between the sensory experience of things and the names and frames that
are placed around those things. While Balducci sought to contain his
sons sensory experience of the women with the word papere (geese),
here Ghismunda was prepared by her fathers words to admire Guis-
cardo. Her eyes confirmed what her father told her. It is Tancredi who
has unwittingly played the role of Galehaut, or go-between.
Determined to cool her fervent love, Tancredi has Guiscardos
heart sent to Ghismunda in a golden chalice. This is a precise re-creation
of the scene of mediated desire as Ghismunda has described it. Other-
wise unidentifiable and undifferentiated flesh is framed by her father in
the form of the gold that circumscribes the exposed heart. Tancredis
words distinguished Guiscardo from his other courtiers when the young
man was alive. In death as well, Guiscardo is defined and identified by
Tancredis mediating power, not only by the chalice but also his words
transmitted by a servant to Ghismunda: Your father sends you this to
console you for that thing that you most love, just as you have consoled
him for that which he most loved.44 This scene of the presentation of
the heart is radically different from the others we have seen thus far.
The horror of the previous scenes in which the heart became food was
derived from the fact that the heart is unidentifiable when stripped of its
context. Here, it is the mode of identification of the object that is at issue:
When she saw the heart and understood the words, then she knew for

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certain that this was Guiscardos heart; and so, lifting her face towards
the attendant, she said: A heart such as this one deserved nothing less
than gold for its tomb: my father has acted wisely. 45 Again, as in her
choice of lover, Ghismunda relies on her fathers words and her eyes
to determine what she sees. An anonymous man at court (flesh amidst
so much other flesh) or an anonymous heart (flesh like any other flesh,
noble or otherwise) find their meaning through the mediation of author-
ity. Tancredi is to be praised, she says, for his discretion in finding the
proper frame, in properly identifying, Guiscardo. Tancredis implicit
message here is that without him, Ghismunda would not be able to dis-
cern the qualities of the objects before her eyes. He asserts his power by
confirming that his daughter has no individual experience of the world.
Her sensory perceptions are only a part of experience; he provides the
greater part, the part that gives form to that experience. Unlike Balducci,
who fails to delimit his sons experience of desire, Tancredi reasserts his
presence as the shaping force in his daughters desire.
A good anatomist must be able to identify what she is looking at.
In order to do so, Ghismunda needs her fathers text. In a dissected
body, meaning and function are visible in the context that surrounds
an organ and allow the anatomist to identify the organ according to its
role. The extracted heart forces the viewer to identify it in order to as-
cribe meaning and function. The protagonists in this battle of wills are
acute readers of the literature of their time. Ghismunda does not mention
the heart in her speech on nobility, but she references the vocabulary
of the stilnovists repeatedly. Her father, it seems, picks up on the allu-
sions. As the poetics of dolce stil novo describes a nobility of heart that
does not depend upon lineage, Tancredi offers up Guiscardos heart.
But he also seems to have the eaten-heart tales in mind. Without the
golden chalice, this piece of flesh would bear no trace of nobility, his gift
suggests. It is only through his chalice and his words that Ghismunda
can recognize her lover. Tancredi offers Ghismunda the possibility of

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seeing the heart in the hopes that this experience will be instructive;
Guiscardos only nobility is the gold that surrounds his ordinary heart.
There is nothing identifiable in this mass of flesh, nothing that distin-
guishes Guiscardos heart from any other heart.
Ghismunda, however, takes up the challenge. Rather than reflect-
ing on the contrast between the abject thing and its noble frame, she
interprets the chalice as beginning the work of restoring context. She
picks up where her father has left off. Once the heart is identified, it
can be reendowed with all of its qualities. Unlike the unhappy wives
in the earlier tales, Ghismunda is able to experience the dynamism of
the extracted heart as it becomes, through her care, a fully relational
thing, binding past, present, and future.46 In the past, it was enough
for me, she says, to keep you in my minds eye from moment to mo-
ment. In the present, she must look upon the sweetest refuge of all
my delight, as with my physical eyes he makes me see you (con gli
occhi della fronte or mi ti fa vedere). But she states that the soul of her
lover still inhabits the heart: I know that his soul still resides here in
you [quincentro] and is looking at the place where he and I knew happi-
ness; I know his soul loves mine, which so loves his, and that it is there
waiting for me. Its presence awaits her future: O beloved heart, all I
was to do for you I have now done, and nothing remains but to make
my soul join with that one which you have held so dearly.47
In defiance of the potential this object has of slipping into the status
of mere flesh, Ghismunda sees soul within it and thus the presence and
virtue of her beloved. Rather than allowing this heart to reveal absence,
her words reanimate the spirit that should dwell in this organ without
ever discarding the frame her father has provided. That frame becomes
her point of departure as Ghismunda displays her own literary mastery.
The naked heart is territory that she can navigate by means of poetic
authority and physical manipulation.
After weeping over the heart within it with studied ceremony,

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Ghismunda pours poison into the chalice and drinks from it. In theory,
the two-way traffic of spirits and other entities into and out of the heart
should cease at death, when the soul leaves the heart (traditionally
through the mouth).48 As Bernard of Clairvaux puts it, after death all
the gates of the body by which the soul has been used to wandering off
to busy itself in useless pursuits and to go out to seek the passing things
of this world will be shut.49 But here, Ghismunda is convinced that
the soul of Guiscardo is still lingering in the heart, waiting for her soul
to join it. Ghismunda keeps the gates open, animating the supposedly
closed heart with a lingering soul. As she pours the poison into the chal-
ice containing the heart and drinks from it, she is presumably drinking
through the heart. The poison flows through the hearts cavities, min-
gling with the presence of her lovers soul, pouring into her body and
her heart. In this last moment of intercourse, she keeps her lovers heart
open to her. By pouring poison mingled with tears into the heart and
then drinking from it, she manually prolongs the hearts receptive and
productive faculties, causing it to bring forth her death. In a beautiful
ironic turn, the heart that in life produces spirit that vivifies the body
here gives forth the poison that Ghismundas body consumes, bringing
her death. As the lingering soul flows to meet hers within her own heart,
she enacts a kind of correction of the eaten-heart tales. Rather than mis-
takenly consuming the productive matrix of relation, she reanimates and
reconstitutes relation through the extracted heart.50
For the medieval author, poet, philosopher, or physician, the heart
or the thing in itself is always already in context. The heart within the
body creates and fosters connections between the physical and the spiri-
tual, between the material and its meaning. Dramatizations of viewing
the heart outside the body, then, permit the author to consider whether
it is possible to experience the thing in itself without mediation. There
are two possibilities. First, the thing or the object is not really seen at
all. It is instead consumed, incorporated into the subject as it loses its

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distinct identity. The viewer becomes a cannibal, deprived of the ability

to interpret or understand. Incorporation erases the boundary between
the viewer and the object, rendering relations impossible. Without me-
diation, one does not see but consumes.
In the case of Ghismunda, a second possibility appears. In her rec-
ognition of the heart as a present thing, Ghismunda is able to locate
the traces of the animating soul as it withdraws from the object and,
by drinking through the heart, fuse her departing soul with that of her
lover. Through her manipulation, the heart retains its reciprocal power
to engage her own.

Postmortem Productions of the Inspired Heart

As Clare of Montefalco lay dying in 1308, a nun tried to make the sign of
the cross over her and was reprimanded by Clare herself: Why do you
make the sign of the cross over me? Did I not tell you that I have within
my heart the cross of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ?51 When Clare
died shortly thereafter, her fellow nuns went looking for that cross, tact-
fully cutting the body open from the back and dissecting the extracted
heart. The various descriptions of what was seen and touched within
that revered heart will provide a focal point for a brief examination of the
ways in which certain hearts belonging to holy corpses maintained their
ability to produce effects on other bodies through the interventions of
the living. As I have shown, the heart in its tangible appearance reveals
the scenario of horror that can occur when mediation, interpretation,
and the scaffolding of relational structure disappear. But as the case of
Ghismunda reveals, an alternative scenario also exists. The recognized
heart can, through manipulation, retain its intercorporeal powers, or its
powers to affect other bodies. In the short tour of holy dissected hearts
that follows, I will argue that engagement with the exposed hearts of
certain privileged individuals allowed for a broadening of the hearts

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circulatory powers. While Ghismunda maintains the spiritual union

between herself and her lover, these saintly hearts and their products
bring the presence of the divine into the public space.
When considered in the context of relics more generally, the heart
and those objects drawn from the heart constitute a particular case.
Relics are often those parts of the body that came into contact with the
external world, a finger of the hand that gave miraculous blessings, or
the head that shows the beatific face, for example. Relics frequently re-
veal something about the sanctity of the holy person, such as St. Francis
rough tunic. The heart would seem, at first, to defy both of these cat-
egories. It is only within the imagination space of the medieval Western
world that the heart as relic fits the model. The central site of Clares
contact with Christ is within her heart. Her heart contains physical
traces of that encounter. The heart, then, becomes the privileged place
to look for the saints connection to God, for proof of her sanctity, and,
finally, for the locus of her beatific effects on the larger community.
Some years earlier, Clare had reported that Jesus appeared to her as
a beautiful young man, searching for a place to set his cross. That place
was Clares heart; a 1333 fresco in the Church of Saint Clare in Monte-
falco shows a mournful Jesus thrusting the cross into Clares breast as he
looks into her eyes. The legend and the fresco stage precisely the sort of
penetrative, intercorporeal vision that medieval notions of the circula-
tory heart enabled as a possibility alongside other models of vision. To
understand just how literally this intercorporeal exchange was imagined,
we have only to think that Clares statements led to the dissection of her
body and the opening of her heart.
Clares encounter with Christ may be understood as generational
or perceptual. In either case, two models that I have mentioned previ-
ously may be employed for the purposes of imagining the encounter: the
impression model (in which an active force stamps something upon pas-
sive matter) and the intercourse model (in which an exchange between

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active bodies occurs and each may incorporate the tangible presence
of the other).52 Clare as viewer is not engaging in the phenomenon of
imitatio Christi. She does not, like St. Francis and other stigmatic saints,
become similar to the object of her vision. Nor does her vision fit the
standard model of inscription into or a seal set upon the heart.53 Rather,
the visual exchange constitutes a kind of intercourse during which an
actual object takes its place within her heart.
We are granted unusual access to the intimate scene of Clares au-
topsy due to the exhaustive records of her canonization proceedings. Ac-
cording to Sister Francesca of Montefalco, the nuns decided that her body
should be preserved in accordance with her holiness and because God
took such pleasure in her body and her heart. Francesca of Foligno cut
[the body] open from the back with her hand . . . and they took out the
intestines and closed the heart in a box, and they buried the viscera in the
oratory that evening. The next day the said Francesca of Foligno cut
the heart open with her hand, and when it was open they found a cross
in her heart, or the image of Christ crucified.54 When asked to explain
their actions (and those of the then-deceased Francesca) at the apostolic
canonization proceedings of 1318 and 1319, the sisters stated that they
thought it was appropriate to open Clares heart as they imagined that,
since God took such pleasure in that heart, something new and wondrous
would be shown in it.55 As Berengario, the author of the Life of Saint
Clare of Montefalco, puts it: This remark [Clares description of the vi-
sion] led to the well-founded belief that the virgin Clare, known as Clare
of the Cross, had received the cross and all the signs of Christs passion
in her heart, not simply as images in contemplation, but also materially
and sensibly.56 The sisters make several assumptions: not only are they
convinced that Clare received the cross and other signs of the passion
literally and materially; they are also convinced that these objects will
be sensibly available to them as observers. The divine contents of Clares
heart are expected to be available to a larger public after her death.

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Berengario explains that he was initially called in to investigate

what he imagined was a falsification of evidence for sanctity but found
himself entirely convinced by the contents of Clares heart: In her heart,
then, there were, in a fleshy likeness formed by hardened veins, on the
one side, the cross, three nails, the spear, and the reed, and, on the other,
the pillar, the scourge of five cords, and the crown.57 Berengario walks
a narrow line in his description of the contents of the heart. First, he
wishes to assert that the material of the objects is organic, that they are
not fabricated foreign objects. They are, therefore, fleshy likenesses
formed of veins, rather than wood or metal or rope. But at the same time,
Berengario avoids the possible assumption that Clares heart formed
these things entirely of its own will and provenance. He must assert
that what he is looking at is not simply the natural form of a normal
heart. This is, indeed, a claim that might be made. The crucifi x found
in Clares heart, still visible today behind glass in Montefalco, does
not immediately resemble a crucifi x as much as a thickened version of
the usual divisions that form the four chambers of the heart, with the
external borders missing. But Berengario is wary of accusations that he
might simply be a bad anatomist, that he might be looking at perfectly
normal structures he is unused to seeing.
He asserts that he is not looking at any ordinary heart. On the
inside, it was hollow and empty, without any of the internal divisions
found in every heart; the objects are the only things in the cavity.58
Furthermore: The cross was not united at any point with the flesh of
the heart, but was set and pressed down into a cavity or little recess of
the heart, as though it had been placed within a holder entirely shaped
like it . . . the cross could be removed and made completely available
to sight and observation.59 Echoing the language of Clares vision,
Berengario asserts that the cross is separate from the heart, that it was
set into it, presumably from an outside source. He thus affirms that he
is not looking at the ordinary internal divisions of the heart, suggesting

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that he would know what those look like. Instead, he claims the ability
to assert that the cross does not connect with the structure of the heart
itself, that it does not grow from it organically. In fact, one of the trans-
verse arms of the cross which she carried in her heart had transfixed and
penetrated her heart even as far as the outside of her body, as is attested
by all those who made sure to see Clare after her death.60 Clares heart
cannot fully contain the cross that has penetrated it.
Berengario essentially has it both ways: the cross is a product of the
organic matter of Clares heart and a separate, divine power outside of
herself. Its genesis is a process between intercourse and incorporation.
The cross pierces the boundaries of the heart and of the body itself,
asserting its otherness, its divine nature that transcends human limits,
even as it finds its place within the body. Its miraculous nature is avail-
able, as Berengario points out, to observation, as it can be removed and
viewed. He says that he himself saw it and touched it several times.61
Berengario describes himself as an anatomist who can distinguish be-
tween the natural and the supernatural within the human body, who
can see and detail the distinction between the organic and the hybrid
organic and divine production that is the cross.
But not everyone who saw the cross saw the same thing. There was
some dispute as to whether Clare had only the cross in her heart, or the
cross with Christs body on it, or only the crucified body. Berengario ex-
plains that he saw the cross and the contours of a crucified body, but was
not able to make out the outlines of tiny members.62 Sister Giovanna,
for example, saw much more: The cross was like a little human body
[corpusculum humanum] though not completely well formed, since that
little body appeared to have a little head made of flesh, of about the size
of a small bean. But that little head did not have [fully] formed and dis-
tinct little members, like eyes or nose.63 As Katharine Park and Nancy
Caciola point out, this description suggests a fetus.64 In this context, the
act of cutting into Clares heart resembles a Caesarian section. In the

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Middle Ages, Caesarian sections were performed on mothers who had

died in childbirth, in an attempt to extract a living baby. Life is thus
pulled from death; the eternal life promised through the crucifi xion is
born from Clares heart as uterus, emptied of the usual divisions found
in every heart and given over entirely to the purpose of holding Jesus
within, both fetal and crucified.
By means of human intervention, Clares heart continues its pro-
ductive function after death. Through both supernatural and humanly
abetted means (that in no way contradict one another), her heart gives
birth to presence, bringing forth Christ into the world and into the tactile
sphere. Through her, observers can touch the cross (or the crucified
Christ) with their own hands. Clares followers know precisely what
they will find within her heart. Her words, or the text of her vision, are
made tangible in the flesh. Just as Mondino has Galen and Aristotles
texts to show him where and how the inanimate heart had its connection
between ventricles, into the rest of the body, and to the external world,
the nuns of Montefalco have Clares words and the example of Mary to
show them how Clares heart can continue to be animated with Christs
presence and to animate the public sphere with that presence. The act
of bringing forth the corpusculum is a verification of Clares words as a
revelatory text. At the same time, this act continues the circuit or cir-
culation of grace; Christ entered into Clares heart and must be brought
forth in an unveiling to the larger community.
We are so often presented with the notion of the body as text. And
indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, we see examples of inscriptions
found upon the heart, or assertions of inscriptions upon the heart.65 In
the cases of Mondino, of Ghismunda, and of Clares followers, a different
possibility emerges. In these examples, the body is not a text that must
find its metaphysical explanation. Rather, there is always a text for which
the body must provide a demonstration. The heart, in particular, is also
much more than a three-dimensional figure. With proper manipulation,

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it can be a working model or, even better, the continued matrix for the
enduring presence of the soul it houses. The text, whether it is Galens
treatise, or the poetry of the dolce stil novo, or the testimony of a living
saint, does not beg a metaphysical interpretation. It asks, rather, to be
rendered present, to be made available in a tangible manner to bodies
in the world.66
When Elena Duglioli reported that Jesus instructed her that the
milk in her virginal breasts would last until the end of the world, her
interpreter or her confessor did not seek to develop some sort of meta-
physical explanation for this statement. Rather, when Elena died in 1520,
her body was laid out on the altar in the Church of San Giovanni in
Monte. And before a vast public, her confessor uncovered her chest and
pressed her breasts with his hands, bringing forth pure and white milk.
Some devotees suckled from the corpse.67 While seventeenth-century
rhetoric suggests that, suddenly, people had a desire to see for themselves
(no longer depending on what they had read in texts), we find that the
medieval world had an intense desire to see, and not only to see, but also
to touch. What changes is the context. The medieval world saw the body
as a figure or model or locus of birth within a larger context that was
made up of texts. The body was always embedded in texts. This does not
necessarily imply a subordination of body to text, but rather a continuity
between the two that nonetheless distinguishes between the two entities.
If the body, and even the dead body, can give birth to presences of dif-
ferent kinds, it can only happen through our knowledge of the contexts
that make this possible. Elenas body would not have brought forth
milk, nor Clares the cross, if her followers did not have the revered text
of the holy womens words that indicated the genesis of these products
and thus knew how to intervene to make these births happen. Just as
the Annunciation provides the context for Christs birth, words and
texts permit people to interact properly with the things they touch.
The exposed heart reveals this network of relations in a way that

T h e A nim at e H e a rt

no other organ could. Unlike any other part of the body at the time, the
heart is called upon to show heat, generational power, primacy, union,
the presence of the soul, the presence of the divine; to demonstrate,
indeed, any number of intangibles. It falls to Harvey to eliminate the
traces of these intangibles from the exposed physical heart. In order to
show the heart in a new way, he must place it within a new context, a
fresh network that does not set up expectations for invisible or hybrid en-
tities. He must change the way in which one interacts with the heart.

The Temporalities of the Vivisected Heart

This study has dedicated itself to the circulatory powers of the heart
and to the pathways that lead into and out of the heart itself. It has been
concerned with the myriad systems, cycles, and relations constituted by
and through the heart. By consequence, the preceding chapters have
examined the living heart, embedded and imbricated in a living body.
Here, we have turned to a different sort of question: what can the heart
be when it is detached from those systems? What can we observe when it
is extracted from the very circulations and systems that define it? If it is
true, as I have argued, that the heart was understood to be the dynamic
site of intercorporeal encounters and transformations, is there any way
that an observer can know the heart by observing the dead organ?
Prior to Descartes mechanization of the heart, people were drawn
to look at (or to avoid looking at) the heart itself in search of the source
of life in general or traces of a particular soul. But none of these things
are easy to see, in any sense of the word. Harveys prose reflects a sense
of awe as he attempts to view the source of life itself through the perfor-
mance of a vivisection. Even with a maximal number of processes and
connections preserved intact, however, the living but exposed heart is
reluctant to disclose its secrets.
In the case of the heart, vision, sensation, and experience could

T h e A nim at e H e a rt

easily betray the anatomist. Those things that might have helped anato-
mists understand the circulation of the blood had they been able to see
themnamely, the tiny capillaries connecting arteries and veinswere
too small to be discerned by means of contemporary technology. At the
same time, many believed in the undetectable presence of other invisible
structures and entities that determined heart function and patterns of
circulation. As noted in chapter two, the invisible porosities between the
ventricles that allowed blood to ooze from one side to the other were a
matter of faith, along with the invisible porosities that made the arteries
directly available to external air. And certainly the presence of the soul
or of the spirits could not be detected empirically.
Harvey notes that his work presents a great challenge. How does
one look at a thing and understand its function? Harveys words on
the matter, which I cited near the beginning of this chapter, show the
anatomists consternation. Direct observation of the beating heart does
not offer immediate answers. Quite the opposite: Harvey suggests that
the indecipherability of the hearts motion initially led him to fear that
only divine vision can make sense of the movement of the heart. As
with the disembodied heart, the problem is one of temporalities. The
disembodied heart is detached, potentially, from past and future. The
vivisected heart, on the other hand, beats too quickly to allow the ob-
server to separate its movements into a first, second, and third. It seems
to move all at once and all together, to indeed perform multiple functions
at one time. To comprehend it, the viewer or the vivisector needs to see
or even impose a before and an after, a first and a second.
As Dante says of looking at God in Paradiso: I saw ingathered,
bound by love in one single volume, that which is dispersed in leaves
throughout the universe.68 In the medieval world, this is what the living
heart would look like. It would be the space where all that finds sepa-
ration and distance within the body and the terrestrial world is bound
together: body and soul, blood and spirit, life and natality. Harvey does

T h e A nim at e H e a rt

not expect to find the second aspect of any of these pairs in the organ
that he examines, but nonetheless the heart presents a binding together
of movements that he has thus far been able to perceive only in their
separate appearances as they spread throughout the body. He speaks of
Galenic experiments in which an artery in the arm is cut, for example.
Through the spurts of blood that issue rhythmically from the wound,
he can trace one aspect of the hearts hidden movements. To learn about
the heart, one must look elsewhere, not at the thing itself. At the source
of that blood, the movement appeared in the twinckling of an eye,
like the passing of Lightning . . . sometimes the motion was various,
sometimes confusd. This confusion, this simultaneity of movement,
leads to the anatomists sense of disquiet that I noted at the beginning
of this chapter: I was much troubled in mind, nor did I know what to
resolve upon my self, or what belief to give to others.69
In order to reach his desired conclusions, Harvey must actually step
back from this unsettling scene of the exposed beating heart in its singu-
lar appearance. Like Mondino, who does not approach the corpse until
he has sketched out the whole of creation and mans place in it, Harvey
seeks a broader context. In time, by means of repeated vivisections of
a great variety of animals, from the coldest to the warmest, he believes
that he has unwinded and freed myself from this Labyrinth.70 For
Harvey, who privileges heat as a mystical source of vitality, observing
the range of animals from coldest to warmest is tantamount to recon-
structing the medieval chain of being. But instead of finding his place
within this larger context, Harvey aims at extrication, at separating
himself from the subject of his observations. Rather than get lost within
the unsettling mysteries of the heart, he seeks to discover or lay bare the
motion and the use of the heart.71 The notion that the heart has a use to
be discovered already suggests an approach wildly at variance with the
medieval way of looking at the organ. The heart does not have a use in
the medieval world; it is life, it does not serve life.

T h e A nim at e H e a rt

Harveys discoveries pertaining to the heart are described in the

terms of one who has attained new capacities of vision. He achieves a
control of temporalities that allows him to split the movements of the
heart into a before and after: First then in the hearts of all creatures, be-
ing dissected whilst they are yet alive, opening the breast, and cutting up
the capsule, which immediately environeth the heart, you may observe
that the heart moves sometimes, sometimes rests: and that there is a time
when it moves, and when it moves not.72 The colder animals, whose
hearts beat more slowly, have shown him this secret. But also the hearts
of warmer animals, as they begin to die upon his table, have allowed
him to unravel their motions. The anatomist must gain control of the
process of death in order to extricate himself from the confusion that is
life and separate the processes as those processes come to an end.
Harveys mastery of the processes of death allows him to engage
in the same sort of practice I have discussed in respect to saintly bodies;
reanimation through manipulation of the heart: This is certain, that
upon a time trying an experiment upon a Dove, after the heart had quite
left motion . . . I wetted my finger with spittle, and being warmed kept it
a while upon the heart; by this fomentation, as if it had received strength
and life afresh, the heart and its ears began to move, to contract, and
open, and did seem as it were recalld back again from death.73 Here,
the act seems to deify the anatomist. Harvey explains that through the
transfer of heat from his body, he can bring the doves heart back to life
(life that consists in the pulsation of the heart). In the previous examples
of holy reanimation, the focus was not on restoring life to the heart, but
rather on bringing something forth from the heart that might prolong
relation between the individual and the outside world. Harvey is indeed
godlike as he presses his finger to the doves heart, but unlike the medi-
eval heart manipulators, he does not believe that a heart can have an
impact on him, that it can affect him corporeally.
Harvey adds something to a closed circuit from outside, transmit-

T h e A nim at e H e a rt

ting an intangible as he himself remains unaltered by his action. Such

action might be compared to the impression model for describing how
one body acts upon another. In the pages of this book I have described an
alternate model that emerges and exists alongside the impression model
for a period of time. Harveys text reveals that the alternate intercourse
model for imagining perceptual or generational interaction is no longer,
in his field of concepts, viable. But above all, the act of making the doves
heart beat again through contact with heat suggests that it was not fully
dead. If the heart can stop and start again, life must be elsewhere. But
where? And if life cannot be traced to this discernable motion, how can
we be sure of its presence, or even of its absence?


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 the life of the
body. Paired with an obsessive focus on the beginnings of human life,
equally difficult questions have arisen about the end of life. In order to
decide when life is over (or has begun), we must decide where that life
is located and how to determine its presence. The philosopher Jean-Luc
Nancy, as he writes of the experience of going through a heart trans-
plant, states our dilemma as follows: What is this life that is mine and
that must be saved? We must at least affirm that this properness does
not reside in anything that is in my body. It is not situated in any place,
not in this organ [heart] that has nothing more to do with its symbolic
reputation. (One will say: the brain remains. And to be sure, the idea
of a brain transplant shakes up the news every so often. Without any


doubt, humanity will speak of this again one day. For the moment, we
must concede that a brain does not survive without the rest of the body.
On the other hand . . . it would survive perhaps with the entire system
of a foreign body transplanted).1 What if the brain were to lose its
hegemony as the seat of life, as the determinant factor in the survival
of an individual self? Michael D. Gershon suggested in his 1998 book
The Second Brain that we have what amounts to another, smaller brain
located in the gut. The idea was ridiculed at first; Gershon explained in
an interview that it was like saying that New York taxi drivers never
miss a showing of Tosca at the Met.2 But the theory is now widely
accepted. In short, the enteric nervous system, as it is known, manages
every aspect of digestion by using many of the same tools that the first
brain does. It is nearly self-contained, assessing conditions, deciding
on courses of action, and initiating responses on its own. Put this way,
the theory makes sense. Why should it be necessary for the first brain
to send commands all over the body? Wouldnt it be more efficient if
control mechanisms were located near the systems they govern?
So why is that idea so unsettling? And why did the mainstream
medical community resist the results of ongoing research in the field
of enteric neurology for almost a century? Perhaps there was some
reluctance to rob the brain of its sovereignty. In the new account, the
brain is no longer entirely unique; in fact, even the gut can do what it
does. Forced away from a comfortable top-down model of command
in the body, we must contemplate an interaction between two control
centers or, worse, a gut that can act of its own accord. Viscerally, this
is an unpleasant dislocation of high and low, literally and figuratively
We have believed single-mindedly in the exceptionality and su-
periority of the brain until certain discoveries like Gershons began to
emerge. One of the most disturbing implications of the second brain
theory is that the lower brain can send messages up to the first brain


that are of an order we had only imagined going in the other direction.
Descartes brain relocated centralized control away from the physical
center of the body, a movement that requires a corresponding shift in vi-
sions of the human. But the emergence of a second brain does something
even more radical. This is a de-centering of the body; there is now no
single place that we can point to as the unique source of control, or of
life, within us. And it is de-centering, perhaps, that poses the greatest
problem for our understanding of the self.
Human imagination has managed to make the conceptual leap from
heart to brain as the source of life. Once it was general knowledge that
life ended when the heart stopped beating. Now we see hearts stop
on television emergency room dramas almost every night of the week.
Usually a doctor is able to jump-start the unreliable thing, and a com-
forting blipping noise returns to fill the room with the sound of restored
normalcy. Today, to establish the end of life, doctors describe patients
as brain-dead. While heart transplants are ever more frequent and less
physically problematic (the patients psyche may still suffer the replace-
ment, as the reflections of Jean-Luc Nancy and others can attest), we are
not yet capable of conceiving of a brain transplant. Nancy is right: wed
much rather attach a new body (possibly a slimmer one, a younger one,
one less genetically prone to disease). How can it be that life isnt situ-
ated or centered in any particular place? How can it be that my self, that
which is proper to me, is not located in some specific space within me? It
seems entirely reasonable that we could sacrifice almost any part of the
body (a foot, for instance, is relatively expendable) and still be recogniz-
able to ourselves as the same person. But this is true only as long as we
retain the organ that we believe to be guiding our decisions, holding our
memories, interacting with the world and keeping us alive.
Even if the heart has been deemed replaceable (although numerous
heart transplant patients maintain that a new heart brings changes in
personality, particularly in the sexual realm), it still has much to teach


us about the ways in which life is sustained. As long as we imagine that

the heart maintains relations only with the interior of a single body, we
remain confounded by its mysteries. The medieval heart, in its radical
openness to the world, in its generous capacity to overreach the limits
of its containing body and to enter into communion with the external
world, represents perhaps a less accurate model in its details, but a truer
model in terms of where it sets in parameters: not within the body but
at the margins of our social networks and the borders of our beliefs, no
matter where they may lie.
Today, we stand awkwardly between two extremes; we are still
very much attached to the idea of the heart as an isolated creature,
but the radically open heart may offer certain insights into the ways we
are beginning to understand bodily interaction with the environment.
While Harveys theories on the function of the heart defined the circula-
tion of the blood much as we understand it today, fresh approaches to the
hearts engagement with the environment are now forcing a reimagining
of a certain kind of receptivity in the heart itself.
We may mechanize the heart, call it a pump and measure its func-
tions metrically, but we cannot explain why one person survives a heart
attack and another does not, to give just one example, as long as we
limit our inquiry to the borders of an individual body. Some of the best
indicators for the outcomes of heart disease cannot be found anywhere
within; they must be sought in the surrounding worlds of the patients.
Recently a proliferation of studies of heart attack survivors has repeat-
edly produced the same dramatic results: the heart draws strength from
the circulation of human relationships. In a study of 2,320 male survivors
of acute myocardial infarction, the chance of survival for patients who
were socially integrated was approximately twice as high as those who
were classified as socially isolated.3 A Swedish study of cardiac heart
patients showed that those without a social network had three times the
ten-year mortality rate of those who were socially integrated.4 In short,


the medieval concepts of necessary circulations into the world and the
perils of isolation are relevant again in the wake of a thought style with
a microscopic focus that insisted upon looking within individual bodies
and within individual cells while neglecting our surrounding worlds.
The secrets encoded in our DNA do not determine our lives after all.
The illusory hope that we could discern future illnesses spelled out
within our cells has passed. Genetic predisposition is in dynamic rela-
tion with our lived worlds; the future of a single body is continuously
woven, undone and rewoven in the web of that relation.
If the brain is not the sovereign and sole ruler of the body, if the
heart is after all receptive to the outside world, if sex and gender are not
determined by sexual organs and if we cannot say where life resides,
then the dominant concepts discussed in the chapters of this study are
only as incomprehensible as our current dominant concepts soon will
be. As we stand, like Harvey, in a space between two styles of thinking
the body, we must turn with urgency to that great sea of images and
ideas that have come down to us across the ages. Those images form
the precious material of our ancestral concepts and, at the same time,
reveal the rudiments of our future.
In short, we find ourselves at a critical point in our understanding of
ourselves on the most fundamental level. We have begun the process of
revolutionizing our concept of organs and their function. An individual
organ is not as discrete as we thought in the modern period, and it is
not reducible to any single function that is proper to it. Function itself is
beginning to be conceived of more broadly, as a plurality of actions in-
tegrated within the body. It may be that the medieval heart can provide
us with a figure for rethinking function in terms of interdependencies
both within the body and in those mysterious relations each individual
body maintains with our surrounding worlds.



1. E trasse poi de li occhi tuo sospiri,

i qua me saett nel cor s forte,
chi mi part sbigotito fuggendo.
Cavalcanti, Rime, 21:811.
2. For the complicated and contested history of the discovery of circulation, see
Pagel, William Harveys Biological Ideas.
3. I borrow the notion of the coexistence of dominant, ancestral, and future con-
cepts from Fleck, Genesis and Development. See Fuchs, Mechanization of the
Heart, for his assessment of the ways in which Flecks notion of overlapping
concepts is preferable to T. S. Kuhns notion of revolution in this case. See
Kuhn, Struct ure of Scientific Revolutions. Like Fuchs, I simply fi nd that the
materials I consider show that contradictory concepts can and do coexist. I
have therefore adopted Flecks terminology rather than Kuhns.
4. On points of contact between William Harveys work and cardiocentrism
around the year 1200, see Ricklin, Le coeur, soleil du corps. On contem-
porary cardiocentrism that has sympathies with Harveys thought, see Erick-
son, Language of the Heart.
5. Fleck speaks of both a Denkkollektiv and a Denkgemeinschaft. He emphasizes that
the Denkgemeinschaft is different from an official community, comparing

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 5 1 7

the thought community to the group of true believers versus the members
of any given church: see Genesis and Development, 103. The group of true
believers does not correspond to the official membership of a given church,
but is constituted around adherence to or dialogue with a common set of
ideas, rather than physical proximity or official status.
6. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, 79.
7. A thought style, as Fleck defi nes it, is readiness for directed perception and
appropriate assimilation of what has been perceived. See Genesis and Devel-
opment, 142.
8. On Italys preeminence in medicine and anatomy in this period see Park, Se-
crets of Women, especially the introduction. On Bologna see Siraisi, Taddeo
Alderotti and His Pupils. On Salerno see Monica Greens introduction to her
edition and translation of The Trotula.
9. Harris, Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic, 1.
10. I am indebted to the work of Caroline Walker Bynum, whose studies of medi-
eval spirituality break down the body as metaphor versus body as body divide
by suggesting that the metaphors of Christianity frequently inspired corpo-
real experiences and practices. See particularly Holy Feast and Holy Fast,
Fragmentation and Redemption, and, most recently, Wonderful Blood. For the
heart as book, see Carruthers, Book of Memory, and Jager, Book of the Heart.

Chapter One. The Sovereign Heart

1. Harvey, De motu cordis, v.

2. Fuchs, Mechanization of the Heart.
3. Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings, 1: 340341.
4. See Le Goff, Head or Heart? and Le Goff and Truong, Une histoire du corps.
5. Singer and Underwood, Short History of Medicine, 88.
6. James, Human Immortality, 18.
7. James, Human Immortality, 3132.
8. James, Human Immortality, 36.
9. Many accepted Galens suggestion that blood was generated in the liver. Others
followed Aristotles claim that the heart was the true generative source of
blood. Albert the Great explains that the physicians believe that the liver is

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 8 2 2

the source, while the philosophers locate the source in the heart. As my focus
is on understandings of the capacities of the heart, I follow the trajectory of
the philosophers. When I state that it was believed that blood was generated
in the heart, one must always insert the caveat that not everyone believed
this, and that many others held that blood was generated in both locations.
The same is true for the question of where semen was made, etc.
10. James, Human Immortality, 5455.
11. Non oportet verum dixisse Galienum . . . dicta autem magistri primi proba-
bimus supponendo quod anima quidem, secundum se est una virtus, a qua
fluunt omnes virtutes membrorum. Cum enim ipsa sit organica, oportebit
unum esse membrum in quo sita omnes effluat a se virtutes: et sicut ipsa est
principium virtutum, ita necessario erit illud membrum principium organo-
rum. Constat autem animam secundum actum vitae et potestatem esse in
corde. Oportet igitur cor esse principium omnium nervorum et venarum per
quos anima in membris perficit suas operationes. Albert the Great, ed. Stad-
ler, De animalibus, 3.1.4, par. 41, 294. Trans. Kitchell and Resnick, p. 363.
12. See Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 162, for notions of the presence of the soul in
13. Harvey, De motu cordis, 31, describes this moment to elaborate the growth
of the heart. For Harvey, the heart itself is not the primum vivens, ulti-
mum moriensit is the blood that already contains some primal spirit of
life within it. For Aristotle, the entire heart is the primum vivens, ultimum
14. Siraisi, Taddeo Alderotti, 176.
15. See Ricklin, Le coeur, soleil du corps, 125126. He cites Alfred of Sareshel,
David of Dinant, and Nicolaus phisicus, who refer back to Aristotle and this
particular solution in De somno et vigilia II.
16. Turisanus, Plusquam commentum, ed. Venice 1557, fol. 35r, quoted in Jacquart,
Coeur ou Cerveau? 85.
17. Gregory Froelich, trans., De motu cordis, Niagara University: The Aquinas
Translation Project,
De_Motu_Cordis.html (accessed April 23, 2009).
18. For a very long time, scholars were rather mystified as to why Dante chose to

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 2 2 23

go into such detail in this very elaborate digression. In his Dante: Poetics of
Conversion, John Freccero suggested that the digression on the formation of
the soul functions as a metaphor for poetic production as it is described in the
previous canto. However, it is important to note that the embryology is not
featured in Canto 25 merely to illustrate Dantes notions of the poetic process
but has its own physiological specificity. The fetal body does not only stand
for the poets body or poetry or mind; the development of the fetal body is a
subject in its own right.
19. Purgatorio 25.3742. All references to the Commedia are taken from Dante
Alighieri, La Commedia secondo lantica vulgata, ed. Giorgio Petrocchi
(Milano: Mondadori, 1967). Translations of the Commedia are those of
Charles S. Singleton, Inferno (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
1970), Purgatorio (1973), and Paradiso (1975). I have, where necessary, made
changes to these translations to get as close as possible to the literal meaning
of references to heart and body.
Petrocchi, 3:428429:
Sangue perfetto, che poi non si beve
da lassetate vene, e si rimane
quasi alimento che di mensa leve,
prende nel core a tutte membra umane
virtute informativa, come quello
cha farsi quelle per le vene vane.
20. Lemay, Womens Secrets, 144.
21. Purgatorio 25.5266. Singleton, 273. Petrocchi, 3:430432:
Anima fatta la virtute attiva
qual duna pianta, in tanto diff erente,
che questa in via e quella gi a riva,
tanto ovra poi, che gi si move e sente,
come spugno marino; e indi imprende
ad organar le posse ond semente.
Or si spiega, figliuolo, or si distende
la virt ch dal cor del generante,
dove natura a tutte membra intende.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 2 4 2 7

Ma come danimal divegna fante,

non vedi tu ancor: quest tal punto,
che pi savio di te f gi errante,
s che per sua dottrina f disgiunto
da lanima il possibile intelletto,
perch da lui non vide organo assunto.
22. Purgatorio 25.6875. Singleton, 273. Petrocchi, 3:432433:
Apri a la verit che viene il petto;
e sappi che, s tosto come al feto
larticular del cerebro perfetto,
lo motor primo a lui si volge lieto
sovra tantarte di natura, e spira
spirito novo, di vert repleto,
che ci che trova attivo quivi, tira
in sua sustanzia, e fassi unalma sola,
che vive e sente e s in s rigira.
23. See Gragnolati, Experiencing the Afterlife, for a detailed analysis of Dantes
24. William of Auvergne, The Soul, 160.
25. Paradiso 28.4145. Singleton, 315. Petrocchi, 4:463:
Da quel punto
Depende il cielo e tutta la natura.
Mira quel cerchio che pi li congiunto;
e sappi che l suo muovere s tosto
per laff ocato amore ond elli punto.
26. Aquinas, De motu cordis.
27. In the sixteenth century, Giordano Bruno will say that any circle we can perceive
is imperfect. A perfect circle is infinite. See Saiber, Giordano Bruno, 134135.
28. Nancy Caciolas Discerning Spirits provides analyses of late medieval theologi-
cal uses of the theories of spirit physiology. For an extensive bibliography
of theological and medical approaches to the physiology of the spirit, see
Discerning Spirits, 140n20, 179180n5.
29. See Bono, Medical Spirits, 95.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 2 7 33

30. Alfred of Sareshel, De motu cordis, 3738. My translation.

31. Ricardus Anglicus, Anatomia vivorum (1225), in Corner, Anatomical Texts,
32. See Agamben, Stanze, 114.
33. Bruno Nardi has established the significance of Albert the Great, among others,
for Dante in Saggi di filosofia dantesca.
34. Dante Alighieri, Vita nova, ed. Gorni, 1.6. Trans. Cervigni and Vasta, 4849.
I have adapted Cervigni and Vastas translation.
35. Robert Harrisons Body of Beatrice makes a crucial distinction between Beatrices
presence and her appearance. See p. 48.
36. Alcher of Clarivaux, De spiritu et anima, 784 (translation by Nancy Caciola
in Discerning Spirits, 181182). Spirit and soul were not always conflated in
this manner. However, even for those who distinguished between the two,
the heart-based spirit was nonetheless understood as a material extension of
the soul into the body. For a more complete view of this relationship between
spirit and soul, see Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 180183.
37. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, 79.
38. Bono writes of a medieval language of life founded around the notion of the
medical spirits in Medical Spirits.
39. Alfred of Sareshel, De motu cordis, cap. 8, p. 33.
40. John of Salisbury, Policratus, 67. This is already a change from those who took
the Platonic line, such as Guillaume de Conches, who in his commentary
on the Timaeus linked the heart with the digestive organs. See Ricklin, Le
coeur, soleil du corps, 138.
41. See Ricklin, Le coeur, soleil du corps, 138139, and Zink, Nature e Poesie au
42. Dante Alighieri, Monarchia, 1.2.4 (p. 7). I have adapted Kays translation.
43. Albert the Great, trans. Kitchell and Resnick, De animalibus, 996997.
44. Et notandum quod natura posuit cor in medio corporis, et merito, ut quod
nobilius est ordinetur in loco nobiliori. . . . In homine autem declinat cor ad
mamillam sinistram. Thomas of Cantimpr, Liber de natura rerum, 1.47.723
(p. 49).
45. On the hearts political uses as a metaphor see Le Goff, Head or Heart?

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 3 4 3 9

46. All biblical references are taken from the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised
Standard Version, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).
47. See Le Goff, Head or Heart? and Alcuin Blamires, The Medieval Gender
Doctrine of Head and Body, in Medieval Theology and the Natural Body,
ed. Peter Biller and A. J. Minnis (Suffolk: York Medieval Press, 1997),
48. Congar, Lecclsiologie du haut Moyen Age, 83.
49. As Le Goff puts it: From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the ideol-
ogy about the heart grew and proliferated with an imagery that sometimes
bordered on delirium. Head or Heart? 20.
50. On Catherines political importance, see Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Poets, Saints
and Visionaries, and Luongo, Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena. I have
written at greater length about Catherines use of the figure of the heart as a
mode of persuasion in Catherine of Sienas Heart.
51. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 5:16, 21. All translations of Saint Catherines letters
are my own. See Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 156, on a very similar vineyard
image in Gerhard of Cologne.
52. For a linguistic study of the garden in Catherines writings see Sliwa, Le meta-
fore del giardino.
53. A. Hamon, Coeur (Sacr) in Dictionnaire de la spiritualit, vol. 2 (Paris: Beau-
chesne, 1953), 1027. On a history of devotion to the Sacred Heart, see Augus-
tinus Bea, Hugo Rahner, Henri Rondet, and Friedrich Schwendimann, eds.,
Cor Jesu, vol. 1 (Rome: Herder, 1959).
54. On the role of encyclopedism in diff using knowledge on physiology, see Mou-
lis, Sang du coeur qui monte as yeulx fait larmes, in Le cuer au Moyen ge
(Aix-en-Provence: Centre Universitaire dEtudes et de Recherches Mdi-
vales dAix, 1991).
55. See Bynum, Jesus as Mother.
56. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 5:2223.
57. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 5:19.
58. Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum naturale, 28.60: 2032.
59. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 3:68. See also Catherine of Siena, Libro della divina
dottrina, 233234: E so ribelli a questo Sangue, perch hanno levata la rever-

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 4 1 4 4

enzia, e levatisi con grande persecuzione. Essi sono come membri putridi,
tagliati dal corpo mistico della santa Chiesa.
60. Bande, Philippe le Bel, 278.
61. See Brown, Death and the Human Body, 254257, and Gaude-Ferragu, Le
coeur couronn.
62. Le Goff, Head or Heart? 2122.
63. Inferno 28.118141. Singleton, 301303. Petrocchi, 1:485488:
Io vidi certo, e ancor par chio l veggia,
un busto sanza capo andar s come
andavan li altri de la trista greggia;
e l capo tronco tenea per le chiome,
pesol con mano a guisa di lanterna:
e quel mirava noi e dicea: Oh me!.
Or vedi la pena molesta,
tu che, spirando, vai veggendo i morti:
vedi salcuna grande come questa.
E perch tu di me novella porti,
sappi chi son Bertram dal Bornio, quelli
che diedi al re giovane i ma conforti.
Io feci il padre e l figlio in s ribelli;
Perch io parti cos giunte persone,
partito porto il mio cerebro, lasso!,
dal suo principio ch in questo troncone.
64. Inferno 28.2233. Singleton, 295. Petrocchi, 2:474475:
Gi veggia, per mezzul perdere o lulla,
com io vidi un, cos non si pertugia,
rotto dal mento infin dove si trulla.
Tra le gambe pendevan le minugia;
la corata pareva e l trist o sacco
che merda fa di quel che si trangugia.
Mentre che tutto in lui veder mattacco,

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 4 4 5 7

guardommi e con le man saperse il petto,

dicendo: Or vedi comio mi dilacco!
vedi come storpiato Mometto!
Dinanzi a me sen va piangendo Al,
fesso nel volto dal mento al ciuff etto.
65. See Pouchelle, Corps et chirurgie.
66. Pouchelle, Corps et chirurgie, 198199.
67. See Le Goff, Head or Heart? 23; Bande, Philippe le Bel, 277.
68. Harvey, De motu cordis, vvi.
69. Harvey, De motu cordis, 60.
70. Harvey, De motu cordis, 115.
71. Harvey, De motu cordis, 37.
72. Harvey, De motu cordis, 57.
73. Harvey, De motu cordis, 6869.

Chapter Two. The Porous Heart

1. See Stansfeld and Marmot, Stress and the Heart.

2. Jager, Book of the Heart.
3. Sontag, Illness as Metaphor.
4. On normative sensory function as it was understood in the medieval world and
expanded notions of the sensory, see Nichols, Kablitz, and Calhoun, Rethink-
ing the Medieval Senses.
5. Albert the Great, trans. Kitchell and Resnick, De animalibus, 997.
6. Organum enim & instrumentum gustus, (ut Philosophus dicit) est aliquot
intrinsecum circa cor, & similiter, organum tactus. Nam ad alios tres sensus
derivat virtus sensitiva, ex corde mediante cerebro, ita quod a corde primo
venit ad cerebrum, & a cerebro postea ad ipsos sensus. All translations of
Giovanni da San Gimignano are my own.
7. Joannes de Sancto Geminiano (Giovanni da San Gimignano), Summa de exemplis,
vol. 6, c. LXV: 194.
8. Penso, La medicina medioevale, 175.
9. The mouth was a particularly important portal in the body, potentially opening
the way to two different systems, the spiritual system in the heart and the

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 5 7 6 0

digestive system in the stomach and intestines. The sensation of taste was
a means of judging those substances entering by that gateway. The sweet-
ness of the Host is a sign of its holiness, a sweetness that indicates that this
substance is routed to the heart. Indeed, it was believed that the Host passed
directly into the heart, bypassing the digestive system. See Bynum, Holy
Feast and Holy Fast, and Caciola, Discerning Spirits.
10. Giovanni da San Gimignano, Summa de exemplis, vol. 6, c. XIII: 167.
11. On the importance of Christs blood to Catherine of Siena as evidenced by this
letter, see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 164165.
12. Laurent, Il Processo Castellano, 43. There is a long debate on the authenticity
of letter 273, the identity of the condemned man and the actuality of the
execution. Robert Fawtier is the source of these doubts in La double expri-
ence de Catherine Benincasa, 122132, 220222. Dupr Thesedier dismisses
these doubts as original and disconcerting in his article on Catherine in the
Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, XXII: 364. Anna Imelde Gallettis archival
work in Uno capo nelle mani mie, 121128, supports the identification of
the young man as Niccol di Toldo.
13. For a succinct and thorough summary of the affair and related bibliography, see
Suzanne Noffke, The Letters of Catherine of Siena (Binghamton, N.Y.: State
University of New York, 1988), 1:8284. Niccols sentence may be found
in Laurent, Il Processo Castellano (Documenti), 1:31.
14. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 4:175: Ma la smisurata e affocata bont di Dio
lo ingann, creandogli tanto affetto ed amore nel desiderio di Dio, che non
sapeva stare senza lui, dicendo: St meco, e non mi abbandonare. E cos non
star altro che bene; e muoio contento. E teneva il capo suo in sul petto mio.
Io allora sentivo uno giubilo e un odore del sangue suo; e non era senza lodore
del mio, il quale io desidero di spandere per lo dolce sposo Ges.
15. Thomas of Cantimpr, Liber de natura rerum 1.47:49: Cor principium est vite,
ut dicit Aristotiles, et est principium omnis motus et omnis sensus in corde.
. . . Et anhelitus est per pulmonem propter principium quod est in corde; et
anhelitus aeris primum vadit ad interius cordis.
16. See Klein, Spirito peregrino, and Agamben, Stanze, particularly part three.
17. William of Auvergne, De universo, 1:1042. The translation appears with

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 6 0 6 3

commentary in Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 189. In her book, Caciola de-

scribes how spirit possessions were mapped onto different parts of the body
according to their merit. The heart was viewed as the only worthy space for
divine possessions; demons were confi ned to the bowels. See particularly
chapter 4 and her article Mystics, Demoniacs and the Physiology of Spirit
18. Notions of the spirits and the soul were frequently conflated. See Caciola, Dis-
cerning Spirits, 180183. On meanings of blood in the medieval and Renais-
sance periods, see Piero Camporesi, The Juice of Life: The Symbolic and Magic
Significance of Blood, trans. Robert R. Barr (New York: Continuum, 1995).
19. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 5:176177 (273): La bocca sua non diceva se non,
Ges, e, Catarina. E, cos dicendo, ricevetti il capo nelle mani mie, fermando
locchio nella divina bont, e dicendo: Io voglio.
20. Catherine of Siena, Lettere, 5:177 (273): Allora si vedeva Dio-e-Uomo, come
si vedesse la chiarit del sole; e stava aperto, e riceveva il sangue . . . poich
ebbe ricevuto il sangue e il desiderio suo, ed egli ricevette lanima sua, la quale
mise nella bottiga aperta del costato suo. . . . Con quanta dolcezza e amore
aspettava quella anima partita dal corpo! Volt locchio della misericordia
verso di lei, quando venne a intrare dentro nel costato bagnato nel sangue suo,
il quale valeva per lo sangue del Figliuolo di Dio. . . . Riposto che fu, lanima
mia si ripos in pace e in quiete, in tanto odore di sangue, che io non potevo
sostenere di levarmi il sangue, che mi era venuto addosso, di lui.
21. Park, Secrets of Women, 73; Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment; and Hamburger,
Nuns as Artist s, particularly the chapters entitled Wounding Sight and
The House of the Heart.
22. Bonaventure, Vita di San Francesco, 207208. Onde, partendosi quella vi-
sione, s gli lasci un mirabile ardore dellamore di Cristo e lascogli nel corpo
suo mirabile impressione di segni, ch di presente, partita la visione, nelle sue
membra rimasero li segni delle piaghe di Cristo, siccome egli aveva veduto
nella predetta visione, in quella imagine duomo crocifisso.
23. Jeffrey Hamburgers Nuns as Artist s analyzes drawings by nuns in which the
heart is depicted as a house, open to the presence of Christ. See particularly
pages 138, 158, and 163164.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 6 3 6 8

24. Purgatorio 26.9899. Singleton, 285. Petrocchi, 3:452: Il padre / mio e de li

altri miei miglior che mai / rime damor usar dolci e leggiadre.
25. It is not clear whether it is appropriate to refer to this as a school. Many of these
notions are projected backward through Dante. It is clear that these poets
were in conversation and sent poems to each other.
26. See, for example, Linda Patersons Development of the courtly canso, 34.
27. Guido Guinizelli, Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore, in Cudini, Poesia
italiana, 327328, 1120.
28. See Albert the Great, Book of Minerals. See also Durling and Martinez, Time
and the Crystal.
29. Guinizelli, Al cor gentil, 328, ll. 3132. Fere lo sol lo fango tutto l giorno: /
vile reman, n l sol perde calore.
30. Farai un vers de dreyt nien:
non er de mi ni dautra gen,
non er damor ni de joven,
ni de ren au,
quenans fo trobatz en durmen
sobre chevau.
Guillaume IX, Farai un vers de dreyt nien, in Lyrics of the Troubadours and
Trouvres: An Anthology and a History, translated and introduced by Frederick
Goldin (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983), 2425. On William IX, see
Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Matter of Language, 869.
31. Dentral tuo cor si mosse un spiritello, / esc per li occhi e vennema fer-
ire, / quando guardai lo tuo viso amoroso; / e fe il camin pe miei s fero
e snello, / che l core e lalma fece via fuggire. Capitoli per una st oria del
cuore, ed. Francesco Bruni, et al. (Palermo: Sellerio editore, 1988), 111. Lance
Donaldson-Evans notes the piercing eye already present in sixth-century
Arabic literature in Loves Fatal Glance, 2627. See also Biernoff, Sight and
Embodiment, chapter two.
32. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, 108.
33. See Stewart, Arrow of Love, 8889.
34. Peter of Limoges, De Oculo Morali, quoted in Clark, Optics for Preachers,

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 6 8 7 1

342. Also see chapter two of Biernoff , Sight and Embodiment, and Dallas
G. Denery, Seeing and Being Seen in the Later Medieval World: Optics, The-
ology and Religious Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005),
35. Fernel, Physiologia, 473.
36. Dante Alighieri, Vita nova, ed. Gorni, 7:4. My translation.
37. Dante Alighieri, Vita nova, ed. Gorni, 15:13. My translation. See Harrison,
Body of Beatrice, 48.
38. Purgatorio 24.4955. Singleton, 261. I have altered the translation slightly for
more literal approximation of the Italian. Petrocchi, 3:411412:
Ma d si veggio qui colui che fore
trasse le nove rime, cominciando
Donne chavete intelletto damore.
E io a lui: I mi son un che, quando
Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo
che ditta dentro vo significando.
39. See John Frecceros Dante: Poetics of Conversion for a discussion of the paral-
lelism of Purgatorio 24 and Statius explanation of the formation of the
40. Purgatorio 25.7072. Singleton, 273. Petrocchi, 3:432: Lo motor primo a lui si
volge lieto / sovra tant arte di natura, e spira / spirito novo, di vert repleto.
41. Purgatorio 25.7677. Singleton, 273. Petrocchi, 3:433: Il calor del sol che si fa
vino, / giunto a lomor che de la vite cola.
42. See Mancini, who speaks of the esemplificazionefrequentissima, del resto,
dallinnografia mariana in tema di concezione e parto virgineidel raggio
luminoso . . . capace di attraversare il vetro sanza far rottura. La figura nel
cuore fra cortesia e mistica, 16.
43. Paradiso 9.7381. My translation. Petrocchi 4:145146:
Dio vede tutto, e tuo veder sinluia,
diss io, beato spirto, s che nulla
voglia di s a te puot esser fuia.
Dunque . . . perch non satisface a miei disii?

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 7 1 74

Gi non attendere io tua dimanda,

sio mintuassi, come tu tinmii.
On the fi nal vision in Dantes Paradiso, see Mazzotta, Dantes Vision, especially
chapter 8.
44. On bodies in Paradiso see Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body
in Western Christianity, 2001336 ( New York: Columbia University Press,
1982); Rachel Jacoff, Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Body in the Commedia,
in Sparks and Seeds: Medieval Literature and Its Afterlife; Essays in Honor of
John Freccero, ed. Dana E. Stewart and Alison Cornish (Turnhoust: Brepols,
2000), 119137; and Cestaro, Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body.
45. On different notions of what vision could actually mean, and a detailed
analysis of different types of medieval visions, see Newman, What Did It
Mean to Say I Saw?
46. Paradiso 33.5863. Singleton, 375. I have altered the translation slightly for
a more literal rendering of what exactly is going on in the pilgrims heart.
Petrocchi, 4:549:
Qual coli che sognando vede,
che dopo l sogno la passione impressa
rimane, e laltro a la mente non riede,
cotal son io, che quasi tutta cessa
mia visone, e ancor mi distilla
nel core il dolce che nacque da essa.
47. Sonia Gentilis article Due defi nizioni di cuore, 8, speaks of the medieval
understanding of the lago del cor as a cavit cardiaca in cui si raccoglie il
sangue nellindividuo biologicamente vivo.
48. Paradiso 25.2. My translation. Petrocchi 4:409: l poema sacro / al quale ha
posto mano e cielo e terra.
49. Dante Alighieri, Vita nuova, trans. Cervigni and Vasta, 48; Vita nova, ed.
Gorni, 3:2: Le sue parole si mossero per venire a li miei orecchi.
50. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia. The translation is my own.
51. Shakespeare, King Lear, I.1.9192.
52. On Guido Cavalcantis haunting of Dante see Robert Harrison, Ghost of
Guido Cavalcanti. This article contains numerous invaluable insights into

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 74 7 7

the nature of Guidos poetry, including reflections on Guidos approach to

53. Cavalcanti, Rime, 9:14.
Io non pensava che lo cor giammai
Avesse di sospir tormento tanto,
Che dellanima mia nascesse pianto
most rando per lo viso agli occhi morte.
54. Cavalcanti, Era in penser damore, in Rime, 30:1316.
Elle con gli occhi lor si volser tanto
che vider come l cor era ferito
e come un spiritel nato di pianto
era per mezzo de lo colpo uscito.
55. Cavalcanti, Era in penser damor, in Rime, 30:2326.
L tuo colpo, che nel cor si vede,
fu tratto docchi di troppo valore,
che dentro vi lasciaro uno splendore
chi nol posso mirare.
Dimmi se ricordare
Di quegli occhi ti puoi.
56. Filippo degli Agazzari, Gli Assempri, in Vitale, Antologia, 11061108: Dun
fanciullo religioso, al quale apparbe Ges Cristo in forma dun venerabile
uomo, e mostrogli la piaga del costato. E subbitamente gli mostr la piaga del
costato, e de le mani, e de piedi; de le quali usc tanto splendore, che quello
del sole non cavelle, respective, e tutte parevano sanguinose.
57. Cavalcanti, Rime, 35:2126, 3740:
Tu, voce sbigottita e deboletta
chesci piangendo de lo cor dolente,
collanima e con questa ballatetta
va ragionando della st rutta mente.
58. Cavalcanti, Rime, 30:4552:
Vanne a Tolosa, ballatetta mia,
ed entra quetamenta a la Dorata . . .
dinanzi a quella di cui tho pregata;

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 7 8 8 0

e sella ti riceve,
dille con voce leve:
per merz vegno a voi.
59. Inferno 13.3145. Singleton, 131. Petrocchi, 2:210212:
Allor porsi la mano un poco avante
e colsi un ramicel da un gran pruno;
e l tronco suo grid: Perch mi schiante?.
Da che fatto fu poi di sangue bruno,
ricominci a dir: Perch mi scerpi?
non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?
Come dun stizzo verde charso sia
da lun de capi, che da laltro geme
e cigola per vento che va via,
s che de la scheggia rotta usciva insieme
parole e sangue; ond io lasciai la cima
cadere, e stetti come luom che teme.
60. Inferno 13.102. Singleton, 135. Petrocchi, 2:219: Fanno dolor, e al dolor fenestra.
61. Inferno 10.69. Non fiere li occhi suoi lo dolce lume? Singleton, 102. Petrocchi,
62. Dante Alighieri, Vita nova, ed. Gorni, 17:7.
Most rasi s piacente a chi la mira,
che d per gli occhi una dolcezza al core,
che ntender no la pu chi no la prova:
e par che de la sua labbia si mova
un spirito soave pien damore,
che va dicendo a lanima: Sospira.
63. Dante Alighieri, Vita nova, ed. Gorni, 30:1013.
Oltre la spera che pi larga gira
passa l sospiro chesce del mio core:
intelligenza nova, che lAmore
piangendo mette in lui, pur su lo tira.
Quandelli giunto l dove disira,

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 81 8 5

vede una donna, che riceve onore,

e luce s, che per lo suo splendore
lo peregrino spirito la mira.
Vedela tal, che quando l mi ridice,
io no lo intendo, s parla sottile
al cor dolente, che lo fa parlare.
So io che parla di quella gentile,
per che spesso ricorda Beatrice,
s chio lo ntendo ben, donne mie care.
64. See Harrison, Body of Beatrice, 123126, for a discussion of the new awareness
of distance and space at the end of the Vita nuova.
65. See Freccero, Dante: Poetics of Conversion.
66. In his book Chaucers Body, R. Allen Shoaf proposes that the phrase anxiety
of circulation provides the terminology to describe a troubled relationship
to different kinds of accelerating exchange in the fourteenth century, from
coinage to vernacular texts to revolutionary ideas. See also Greenblatt, Shake-
spearean Negotiations.
67. Caciola, Discerning Spirits.
68. Ibn Khatimah, Plague Tract (1348), in Byrne, Black Death, 155158.
69. For a wealth of information on reactions to the Black Death 13481349, see
Arrizabalaga, Facing the Black Death. This citation appears on page 251
of that article.
70. See Arrizabalaga, Facing the Black Death, 248.
71. See Arrizabalaga, Facing the Black Death, 261.
72. Cited in Arrizabalaga, Facing the Black Death, 263.
73. See Jacquart and Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine, 7476, 191192, 211212,
74. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, trans. Guido Waldman (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1998), 78; I have made some changes to Waldmans transla-
tion. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:17. E fu questa pestilenza di mag-
gior forza per ci che essa dagli infermi di quella per lo comunicare insieme
savventava a sani, non altramenti che faccia il fuoco alle cose secche o unte
quando molto gli sono avvicinate.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 8 6 9 2

75. Boccaccio, Decameron, trans. Waldman, 10; Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca,
2122: E lasciamo stare che luno cittadino laltro schifasse e quasi niuno
vicino avesse dellaltro cura . . . lun fratello laltro abbandonava e il zio il
nepote e la sorella il fratello e spesse volte la donna il suo marito; e, che mag-
gior cosa e quasi non credibile, li padri e le madri i figliuoli, quasi loro non
fossero, di visitare e di servire schifavano.
76. Giuseppe Mazzotta sees Boccaccios location of the swelling at the groin as
indicating that he sees the genitals as diseased. This follows Thucydides,
Hippocrates, Galen, Lucretius, and Gregory of Tours. Mazzotta, World at
Play, 2829.
77. Lucretius, Nature of Things, VI, l. 1209.
78. Mazzotta, World at Play, 30; Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages; Ciavolella,
La malattia damore.
79. Mazzotta, World at Play, 3233. Fuggansi abbracciamenti di femmine e tutti
gli exercitii disordinati, . . . Anchora si fugghino tutti e puzzi di cose cor-
rotte di corpi umani e danimali o di gente inferma. . . . Anchora in quanto
possibile, studi luomo di fuggire tutte quelle cose, che anno a contristare
la mente. Imperoch per le passioni malinconiche il cuore sbigottisci, e li
sogni non turbano. . . . Ma per lo contrario studi a le e cose, che abbono a
conducere riso, donde lo cuore si dilecti, come cantare e sonare o udire cose
giocose e vaghi narramenti. . . . Usare . . . giuochi di tavole o di scacchi, n
altri giuochi non sono utili per lo fiato che rende luno a laltro.
80. Boccaccio, Decameron, trans. Waldman, 390; Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca,
2:727: Per ci da guardare e come e quando e con cui e similmente dove
si motteggia.
81. The plague-ridden body, as described in a 1447 text written by an anonymous
Italian practitioner, is particularly leaky, leaching all manner of stinking
fluids, from sweat to vomit to urine to blood. Byrne, Black Death, 169.
82. Leonardo da Vinci (14521519) reached the conclusion on his own that Galen was
wrong and that the arteria venalis (pulmonary vein for us) did not convey air to
the heart. Singer and Underwood, Short History of Medicine, 89. Vesalius also
wrote, in the second edition of his Fabrica, that he was unsure about pores in the
septum. His first edition was published in the same year as Copernicus treatise.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 9 2 10 5

83. Harvey, De motu cordis, 2.

84. Harvey, De motu cordis, 67.
85. Harvey, De motu cordis, 3.
86. Fuchs, Mechanization, 57.
87. Harvey, De motu cordis, 6.
88. Harvey, De motu cordis, 9.
89. Harvey, De motu cordis, 1314.
90. Harvey, De motu cordis, 13.

Chapter Three. The Engendering Heart

1. Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, I.1.710, p. 91.

2. See Erickson, Language of the Heart, 6188, for a discussion of gender in the
narrative and rhetorical dimensions of the 1653 English translation of De
motu cordis.
3. Harvey, De motu cordis, 59.
4. Erickson, Language of the Heart, xii.
5. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence.
6. William of Auvergne, The Soul, ch. 2, part 9, p. 83, explains that motion is the
principle and cause of heat in large and earthly bodies. Aquinas, De motu
7. See Pagel, William Harveys Biological Ideas, 90.
8. Aquinas, De motu cordis.
9. Aquinas, De motu cordis.
10. Aquinas, De motu cordis.
11. See Laurenza, Cuore, carattere e passioni, on Leonardos notions of thermo-
dynamics and his medieval precedents.
12. Mondino, Anothomia. This translation is my own.
13. Johannes de Ketham, Fasciculo di Medicina, I:108, note 111.
14. See Mondino, Anothomia, note 470.
15. Rocca, Galen on the Brain.
16. Mondino, Anothomia.
17. Mondino, Anothomia.
18. Mondino, Anothomia.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 10 5 111

19. Mondino, Anothomia.

20. Sol enim iacto radio lucem et calorem ministrat colorumque varietatem ducit
in actum; cor quoque mediantibus venis et nervis et arteriis primae virtutis
actum eiaculans ceteras omnes circumquaque distribuit in susceptiva singu-
larium. Alfred of Sareshel, De motu cordis, 94. See Ricklin, Le coeur, soleil
du corps, 124. Ricklin describes a new cardiocentrism in 1200, a symbolic
constellation that compares the heart and the sun, picked up in Harveys De
motu cordis.
21. Bono, Medical Spirits, 121; Albert the Great, De animalibus, ed. Stadler,
XX.1.3, p. 1278. Et ideo spiritus qui est in animalium corporibus, est vapor
resolutus ab humido seminali in generatione.
22. Aristotle, Generation of Animals, II.iii.736b, p. 171.
23. For a complete account on the very ambiguous answers to the question of the
origin of semen, see Jacquart and Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine, 5260.
Semen was alternately associated with the brain, the blood (in various forms),
and the heat of the vital spirit. See chapter 1 for the disagreement between
natural philosophers and physicians on the formation of sperm.
24. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence. See also Sissa, Subtle Bodies.
25. For a thorough discussion of sexuality in the Middle Ages, see Jacquart and
Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine. Also see Salisbury, Gendered Sexual-
ity. On Michele Savonarolas fifteenth-century analysis of the temperature
differences between male and female hearts, see Jacquart, La morphologie
du corps feminine, in La science mdicale occidentale, 8198.
26. Lemay, Womens Secrets, 127.
27. Laqueur, Making Sex. For an in-depth analysis of the fluidity of gender bound-
aries in medieval spirituality see Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption,
218221 and the chapters entitled Continuity, Survival and Resurrection
and . . . And Woman His Humanity; and Bynum, Jesus as Mother.
28. Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, 3.
29. Laqueur, Making Sex.
30. Park and Nye, Destiny is Anatomy, 5357. See also Park, Secrets of Women;
and Jacquart and Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine.
31. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence, 132133.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 111 115

32. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence, 171.

33. Laurenza, Cuore, carattere e passioni, part 2, cap. XXVI, p. 232.
34. See Laurenza, Cuore, carattere e passioni, 234. Signa corporis calidae com-
plexionis Corpora naturaliter calida . . . multis abundant capillis et pilis . . . quae
sunt grossii et rici quod contingit a multo calore cordis ut patet in leone . . .
35. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence, 182183.
36. Green, Trotula, 117.
37. Green, Trotula, 113, 115.
38. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Diff erence.
39. Cavalcanti, Chi questa che vn, Rime, 4:2: fa tremar di chiaritate lre.
40. Caciola, Breath, Heart, Guts: We have widespread evidence from the thir-
teenth through fi fteenth centuries that describes womens natural affi nity
for techniques of spiritual dislocation (ecstasy), as well as their particular
vulnerability to spiritual invasions (possession). See also Dyan Elliott, The
Physiology of Rapture and Female Spirituality, in Biller and Minnis, Medi-
eval Theology and the Natural Body.
41. Dante Alighieri, Vita nuova, trans. Cervigni and Vasta, 121.
42. Gianfranco Contini calls for an end to the debate over the identity of the donna
Pietra, stating that she is simply the link between Dantes most technical
poems. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 149. While Franco Ferruccis article Pleni-
lunio sulla selva: il Convivio, le petrose, la Commedia suggests that more than
four of Dantes poems ought to be considered petrose, I will employ the term
petrose as the bulk of Dante criticism has, in reference to: Io son venuto al
punto della rota, Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio dombra, Amor tu vedi
ben che questa donna, and Cos nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro. Other
crucial studies of the rime petrose are: Durling and Martinez, Time and the
Crystal; Freccero, Medusa: The Letter and the Spirit, in Dante: The Poetics
of Conversion, 119136; Mazzotta, Dante, Poet of the Desert, 285286.
43. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:1422:
Levasi de la rena dEtopia
lo vento peregrin che laere turba,
per la spera del sol chora la scalda;
e passa il mare, onde conduce copia

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 116 11 8

di nebbia tal che, saltro non la sturba,

questo emisperio chiude tutto e salda;
e poi si solve, e cade in bianca falda
di fredda neve ed in noiosa pioggia,
onde laere sattrista tutto e piagne.
Im using Joseph Tusianis translation, with alterations as needed for literal
meaning. Tusianis translation is available online: http://www.italianstudies
.org/poetry/index.htm (accessed May 13, 2009).
44. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:5961: La terra fa un suol che par di smalto, / e
lacqua morta si converte in vetro / per la freddura che di fuor la serra.
45. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 45:3132: Cos dinanzi al sembiante freddo / mi ghiac-
cia sopra il sangue dogne tempo.
46. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 45:2526: Segnor, tu sai che per algente freddo /
lacqua diventa cristallina petra.
47. Albert the Great, De animalibus, ed. Stadler, I.3.4. Meditationes vero, quo-
niam quae declinant ad gaudium, sicut fiducia et bona spes, significant cordis
fortitudinem et aequalitatem complexionis. . . . Quae autem declinant ad
timorem et tristitiam, significant excessum in frigitate ipsius.
48. Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, Liber secundus, IX:2.
49. Albert the Great, De animalibus, X.1X.2.1.
50. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:1011: Non disgombra / un sol penser damore,
ondio son carco.
51. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:13: Io son venuto al punto de la rota / che
lorizzonte, quando il sol si corca, / ci partorisce il geminato cielo.
52. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:4952: La crudele spina / per Amor di cor non
la mi tragge; / per chio son fermo di portarla sempre / chio sar in vita,
sio vivesse sempre.
53. See Durling and Martinez, Time and the Crystal. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:7:
quel pianeta che conforta il gelo.
54. Durling and Martinez, Time and the Crystal, 82. Ferrucci suggests that this
pianeta is the moon, rather than Saturn. In either case, it seems safe to associ-
ate the pianeta che conforta il gelo with a melancholic state.
55. Ciavolellas La malattia damore offers an in-depth study of medieval concep-

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 119 1 23

tions of the illness that I believe is at work in the petrose. Wack, Lovesickness
in the Middle Ages.
56. Ciavolella, La malattia damore, 6667.
57. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 43:1213: La mente mia, ch pi dura che petra / in
tener forte imagine di petra.
58. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 45:6566: La novit che per tua forma luce, / che non
fu mai pensata in alcun tempo.
59. Albert the Great, De animalibus, trans. Kitchell and Resnick, 996.
60. The debt that Dantes lyrics owe Arnaut Daniel is discussed in Bondanella,
Arnaut Daniel and Dantes Rime Petrose. Bondanella points out that per-
haps critics have assumed too much in that relationship, and that there are im-
portant thematic and stylistic differences between Dantes and Daniels lyrics.
I am concerned with the formal level of imitation, particularly in the sestina
and the double sestina, that Dante acknowledges in his De vulgari eloquentia.
61. The lines are quoted from Shakespeare, King Lear, II.2.246248.
62. See Peterson, Historica Passio, for a summary of the debate on these lines
and a historical reading of hysterica passio, not as hysteria, but as something
that was understood to be a physical female condition or disorder. In other
words, she argues that Shakespeare intends for Lear to misdiagnose himself
in order to show the reader something about the kings character.
63. Book on the Conditions of Women, in Green, Trotula, 8385.
64. See Peterson, Historica Passio.
65. See Dixon, Perilous Chastity.
66. See Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference, 275, and Cadden, Western Medicine
and Natural Philosophy, 5759.
67. Dante Alighieri, Rime 46:6673. My translation.
68. Inferno 1.1921. Singleton, 5. Petrocchi, 2:6. Paura . . . nel lago del cor.
Richard Lansing points out rightly that the lago del cor here really means the
concavity in the heart in which the spiriti dwell. See Lansing, The Pag-
eantry of Dantes Verse, Dante Studies vol. 126 (August 2008).
69. Inferno 1.13. Singleton, 3. Petrocchi, 2:3.
70. Inferno 1.1921. Singleton, 5. Petrocchi, 2:6. Fu la paura un poco queta, / che
nel lago del cor mera durata / la notte chi passai con tanta pieta.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 23 1 2 6

71. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 46:4547: E l sangue, ch per le vene disperso, /

fuggendo corre verso / lo cor, che l chiama; ondio rimango bianco.
72. Alberts De animalibus informs us that fear is related to a problem of inade-
quate heat.
73. Inferno 1.2526. Singleton, 5. Petrocchi, 2:67: Lanimo mio, chancor fuggiva, /
si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo / che non lasci gi mai persona viva.
74. Inferno 1.6165. Singleton, 7. Petrocchi, 2: 12:
Dinanzi a li occhi mi si fu off erto
chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco.
Quando vidi costui nel gran diserto,
Miserere di me, gridai a lui.
75. Inferno 2.6163. Singleton, 17. Petrocchi, 2:29: Lamico mio, e non de la
ventura, / ne la deserta piaggia impedito / s nel cammin, che volt per
76. John Freccero shows that the petrose are textually recalled in the ninth canto
of the Inferno and suggests that this moment represents a risk of blockage due
to the threat of idolatry. Giuseppe Mazzotta adds that Cos nel mio parlar
voglio essere aspro depicts a specifically Medusian image of what he terms
the poets madness. Rime 1:1417:
Non truovo schermo chella non mi spezzi
n luogo che dal suo viso masconda;
ch, come fior di fronda,
cos de la mia mente tien la cima.
This image of the poet as defenseless Perseus is complexified by the fact that
the Medusa is within, fi rmly implanted in the lovers mind. According to
Mazzotta, the call in the Inferno to intelletti sani brings to light the issue that
fascination with the donna petrosa or the Medusa is an insane love suggest-
ing the sin of heresy, a failure of understanding. Not only is this fascination
an insane love, it is an unhealthy one. The intelletto sano capable of proper
interpretation must be connected to the natural circulation within the body,
to that flow of spiriti responsible for warmth, health, and, as we have seen
above, belief and understanding.
77. Inferno 9.5253, 5557. Singleton, 93. Petrocchi, 2: Vegna Medusa: s l farem

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 2 6 1 2 8

di smalto, / dicevan tutte riguardando in giuso; / Volgiti n dietro e tien

lo viso chiuso; ch se l Gorgn si mostra e tu l vedessi, / nulla sarebbe di
tornar mai suso.
78. Inferno 9.6770. Singleton, 93. Petrocchi, 2:151.
non altrimenti fatto che dun vento
impetoso per li avversi ardori,
che fier la selva e sanz alcun rattento
li rami schianta, abbatte e porta fori.
79. Inferno 9.90.
80. Inferno 32.16. Singleton, 339. Petrocchi, 2:543:
Sio avessi le rime aspre e chiocce
come si converrebbe al tristo buco
sovra l qual pontan tutte laltre rocce,
io premerei di mio concetto il suco
pi pienamente; ma perch io non labbo,
non sanza tema a dicer mi conduco.
81. Dante Alighieri, Rime, 46:1-2: Cos nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro / com
ne li atti questa bella petra.
82. Inferno 32.2326. Singleton, 341. Petrocchi, 2:546: un lago che per gelo / avea
di vetro e non dacqua sembiante. / Non fece al corso suo s grosso velo / di
verno la Danoia in Osterlicchi.
83. Inferno 32.138139. Singleton, 347. Petrocchi, 2:560: nel mondo suso ancora
io te ne cangi, / se quella con chio parlo non si secca.
84. Inferno 33.49. Singleton, 349. Petrocchi, 2:561562:
Tu vuo chio rinovelli
disperato dolor che l cor mi preme
gi pur pensando, pria chio ne favelli.
Ma se le mie parole esser dien seme
che frutti infamia al traditor chi rodo,
parlare e lagrimar vedrai insieme.
85. Inferno 33.4952. Singleton, 353. Petrocchi, 2:567568: Io non pianga, s
dentro impetrai: / piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio / disse: Tu guardi s,
padre! che hai? / Perci non lagrimai, n rispuosio.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 2 8 133

86. Inferno 33.6163. Singleton, 353. Petrocchi, 2:569: Padre, assai ci fia men
doglia / se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti / queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia.
Inferno 33.66: Ahi dura terra, perch non tapristi? Petrocchi, 2:569.
87. Inferno 33.4042. Singleton, 351. Petrocchi, 2:566: Ben se crudel, se tu gi
non ti duoli / pensando ci che l mio cor sannunziava; / e se non piangi,
di che pianger suoli?
88. Durling and Martinez note that annunziava gains particular weight here due to
the importance of the Annunication. Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, trans.
Durling, 1:527, n. 41.
89. Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 134.
90. See chapter 2.
91. Inferno 33.112114. Singleton, 357. Petrocchi, 2:575576: Levatemi dal viso i
duri veli, / s cho sfoghi l duol che l cor mimpregna, / un poco, pria che
l pianto si raggeli.
92. William of Auvergne, The Soul, 83.
93. The training involves a new conception of a poets relationship to his masters
or predecessors. The problems of poetic competition exposed in the petrose
and in the Inferno are gradually neutralized through gender alterations in
Purgatorio and Paradiso. See Schnapp, Virgilio Madre e Beatrice Ammi-
raglio. As Schnapp has shown, the Virgins generosity becomes central as
a model for relations between poets, while poetic genealogies are redrawn
along matrilinear lines. See especially p. 237.
94. Purgatorio 30.8599. Singleton, 333. Petrocchi, 3:525: Lo gel che mera in-
torno al cor ristretto, / spirito e acqua fessi, e con angoscia / de la bocca e
de li occhi usc del petto. For a study of the recurrence of the language of
the petrose in Purgatorio 30, interpreted as a reevaluation of earthly love, see
Sturm-Maddox, Rime Petrose and the Purgatorial Palinode.
95. Paradiso 1.1921. Singleton, 5. Petrocchi, 4:5: Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue /
s come quando Marsa traesti / de la vagina de le membra sue.
96. See Levenstein, Re-Formation of Marsyas.
97. Francis of Assisi, Epistola I. Cited in Park, Secrets of Women, 60.
98. Iacopone da Todi, Omo chi vl parlare: La caritate l iogne / e con Deo me
coniogne; / iogne la vilitate / cun la divina bontate. / Ecco nasce un amore, /

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 133 13 6

c emprenato el core, / pleno de disiderio, / denfocato misterio. / Preno

enliquedisce, / languenno parturesce; / e parturesce un ratto, / nel terzo cel
tratto. 65.6172. Mancini, 192. See Howie, Claust rophilia, 90101.
99. See Howie, Claust rophilia.
100. Paradiso 33.3437. Singleton, 373. Petrocchi, 4:546: Ancor ti prego, regina,
che puoi / ci che tu vuoli, che conservi sani, / dopo tanto veder, li affetti
suoi. / Vinca tua guardia i movimenti umani.
101. See Mazzotta, Poet of the Desert, 264266.
102. For comments on the prominence of womb imagery in Paradiso 33, see West,
Lectura Dantis Virginiana, 1617. nel ventre tuo si raccese lamore / per lo
cui caldo ne letterna pace / cos germinato questo fiore. Paradiso 33.79;
Singleton, 371. Petrocchi, 4:543.
103. Paradiso 25.2. Singleton, 279. Petrocchi, 4:409: al quale ha posto mano e cielo
e terra. There is an interesting connection to be made here with Petrarchs
poetry, in which the desire for a mystical encounter is continually thwarted as
the lyric becomes the space in which that frustration is documented. Exhibit-
ing the same self-conscious awareness of spiritual failure that we witness in
the petrose, Petrarchs poetry elaborates the blockage of isolated obsession.
In the Canzoniere, poetry and mysticism are defi nitively separated, as poetry
is found to be reflective of the mind, of what is specifically human and flawed.
Dantes rime petrose, through Petrarch, create a lasting legacy of melancholic
lyrics that dramatize their divorce from faith, a legacy defined by its distance
from the alternative offered in the Commedia. Ironically, a poetics of infertil-
ity engenders perhaps the greatest and most enduring poetic tradition of all,
Petrarchism. For perspectives on the relationship between Petrarchs Canzo-
niere and the petrose, see Antoni, Esperienze stilistiche petrose da Dante al
Petrarca, which speaks of a petrosit puramente di contenuto in Petrarch; and
Robert M. Durlings introduction to Petrarchs Lyric Poems, 135.
104. O Dio eterno, ricevi il sacrifi zio della vita mia in questo corpo mistico della
santa Chiesa. Io non ho che dare altro se non quello che hai dato a me. Tolli il
cuore dunque, e premilo sopra la faccia di questa Sposa. Allora Dio eterno,
vollendo locchio della clemenzia sua, divelleva il cuore, e premevalo nella
santa Chiesa. E con tanta forza laveva tratto a s, che, se non che subito (non

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 13 6 1 4 4

volendo che l vasello del corpo mio fusse rotto) il richerchi della fortezza
sua, ne sarebbe andata la vita. Letter 371, 5:277. See Karen Scott, Mysti-
cal Death, Bodily Death: Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua on the
Mystics Encounter with God, in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their
Interpreters, ed. Catherine M. Mooney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl-
vania Press, 1999), 136137.
105. Grazia sia allaltissimo Dio eterno, che ci ha posti nel campo della battaglia,
come cavalieri, a combattere per la Sposa sua. Letter 371, 5:278.
106. La dolce Sposa sua e vostra, che tanto tempo stata tutta impallidita . . . in
coloro che si pascevano e pascono al petto suo, che per li difetti loro lhanno
mostrata pallida e inferma, succhiatole il sangue daddosso con lamore pro-
prio di loro. Letter 346, 5:162163.
107. See Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, for analysis of notions of
womens virility and roles as co-redeemer with Christ.
108. Elena Duglioli (d. 1520) also claimed that Jesus removed her heart. See Park,
Secrets of Women, 161170, for a discussion of the post-mortem inspection of
Elenas body (no heart was found).
109. Raymond of Capua, Legenda maior, 3:907. My translation.
110. For a history of the trope of holy woman as dead or in near-death states, see
Elliott, Proving Woman, particularly the chapter Between Two Deaths; and
Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, chapter 4, On the Threshold
of the Dead.
111. Raymond of Capua, Legenda maior, 216, p. 915.
112. Harvey, De motu cordis, 92.
113. Harvey, De motu cordis, 9293.
114. Harvey, De motu cordis, 103.
115. Harvey, De motu cordis, 104.
116. Harvey, De motu cordis, 105.
117. Harvey, De motu cordis, 103.

Chapter Four. The Animate Heart

1. For a discussion on Galens performance of public vivisection and his rhetoric

of power, see Gleason, Shock and Awe.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 45 15 8

2. Harvey, De motu cordis, 16.

3. Harvey, De motu cordis, 1617.
4. Harvey, De motu cordis, 17.
5. Park, Secrets of Women, 26.
6. Park, Secrets of Women; also see The Romance of the Rose.
7. Park, Secrets of Women, 155156.
8. Park, Secrets of Women, 151.
9. Park, Secrets of Women, 13. See also Sawday, Body Emblazoned, and Carlino,
Books of the Body.
10. See Siraisi, Introduction, in Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, 89.
11. Fleck, Genesis and Development, 28. He adds that the path from dissection to
formulated theory is extremely complicated, indirect, and culturally condi-
tioned (35).
12. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia. My translation.
13. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
14. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia. See Giorgis notes.
15. See Singer and Underwood, Short History of Medicine.
16. Piero Giorgi, Note 338, in Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
17. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
18. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
19. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
20. Green, Trotula, 85.
21. Mondino de Liuzzi, Anothomia.
22. Matzke, Legend of the Eaten Heart.
23. For more in-depth coverage of eaten-heart imagery in Dante, in Boccaccio, and
in the French context, see Doueihi, Perverse History of the Human Heart, and
Huot, Troubadour Lyric and Old French Narrative. See also Vincensini,
Figure de limaginaire et figure du discours.
24. I am employing concepts of presence effects and meaning effects throughout
this chapter from Gumbrecht, Production of Presence.
25. E fetz li traire lo cor del cors e fetz li taillar la testa; el cor fetz portar a son
alberc e la testa atressi; e fetz lo cor raustir e far a la pebrada, e fetz lo dar a
manjar a la moiller. E qan la dompna lac manjat, Raimon de Castel Rossillon

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 15 8 16 0

li dis: Sabetz vos so que vos avetz manjat? Et ella dis: Non, si non que mout
es estada bona vianda e saborida. Et el li dis qel era lo cors dEn Guillem de
Cabestaing so que ella avia manjat; et, a so qellal crezes mieils, si fetz aportar
la testa denan lieis. E quan la dompna vic so et auzic, ella perdet lo vezer e
lauzir. E qand ella revenc, si dis: Seigner, ben mavetz dat si bon manjar que
ja mais non manjarai dautre. E qand el auzic so, el cors ab sespaza e volc
li dar sus en la testa; et ella cors ad un balcon e laisset se cazer jos, et enaissi
moric. Biographies des Troubadours, eds. Jean Boutire, Alexander H. Schutz
(New York: B. Franklin, 1972), 157158.
26. Here it is the heart and the head that are taken from the body of the lover. In
variations on the Punjab tale of Raja Rasalu, Rasalu sometimes has the heart
alone removed and at other times removes the heart and liver, which are then
cooked together. In the Lai dIgnaure, the betrayed husbands (in this case they
are twelve) decide to feed Ignaures heart and penis to their wives (quoted in
Doueihi, Perverse History of the Human Heart, 28):
In four days we will take
From him precisely this fi fth member
That gave them so much pleasure.
We will make a meal out of it for them.
We will add to it his heart.
We will make twelve servings out of it,
By ruse we will have them eat it.
For we cannot better avenge ourselves!
The heart is actually a second thought here. The fi rst and primary notion is to
have the wives consume their lovers fi fth member. The sexual jealousy
of the husbands prompts their desire to see the women consume that which
they coveted. Castration is perhaps more at issue than rendering up the heart
of love, the heart that becomes merely another castrated part. See Harrison,
Body of Beatrice, 25.
27. Harrison, Body of Beatrice, 18.
28. Harrison, Body of Beatrice, 22.
29. Cavalcanti, Rime, 13: 1, 1214: Si giunse ritto l colpo al primo tratto, / che
lanima tremando si riscosse / veggendo morto l cor nel lato manco.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 16 0 16 3

30. Cavalcanti, Rime, 8:914:

I vo come colui ch fuor di vita,
che pare, a chi lo sguarda, chomo sia
fatto di rame o di pietra o di legno,
che si conduca sol per maest ria
e porti ne lo core una ferita
che sia, comegli morto, aperto segno.
31. Cavalcanti, Rime, 12:1214: Chi gran pena sente / guarda costui, e vedr l
su core / che Morte l porta n man tagliato in croce.
32. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:567: Donna, chente v paruta questa
33. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:568: Monsignore, in buona f ella m
piaciuta molto.
34. Harrison, Dominion of the Dead, 9293.
35. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:568: La donna, udito questo, alquanto
stette; poi disse: Come? che cosa questa che voi mavete fatta mangiare?
Il cavalier rispose: Quello che voi avete mangiato stato veramente il cuore
di messer Guiglielmo Guardastagno, il qual voi come disleal femina tanto
amavate; e sappiate di certo che egli stato desso, per ci che io con queste
mani gliele strappai, poco avanti che io tornassi, del petto.
36. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:568: Ma unque a Dio non piaccia che
sopra a cos nobil vivanda, come stata quella del cuore dun cos valoroso e
cos cortese cavaliere come messere Guiglielmo Guardastagno fu, mai altra
vivanda vada! . . . Quasi tutta si disfece.
37. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:569: In una medesima sepoltura fur posti,
e sopressa scritti versi significanti chi fosser quegli che dentro sepolti verano,
e il modo e la cagione della lor morte. These themes return in another mode
in the story of Federigo degli Alberighi. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca,
2:689: Come io udi che voi, la vostra merc, meco desinar volavate, avendo
riguardo alla vostra eccellenzia e al vostro valore, reputai degna e convenevole
cosa che non pi cara vivanda secondo la mia possibilit io vi dovessi onorare,
. . . per che ricordandomi del falcon che mi domandate e della sua bont, degno
cibo da voi il reputai, e questa mattina arrostito lavete avuto in sul tagliere.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 16 4 16 9

38. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:465: Il padre, per non destare nel concu-
piscibile appetito del giovane alcuno inchinevole disiderio men che utile,
non le volle nominare per lo proprio nome, cio femine, ma disse: Elle si
chiamano papere. . . . Disse il padre: Io non voglio; tu non sai donde elle
39. Mazzotta, World at Play, 137.
40. Mazzotta, World at Play, 147.
41. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:480: Tu vedrai noi duna massa di carne
tutti la carne avere e da uno medesimo Creatore tutte lanime con iguali forze,
con iguali potenze, con iguali vert create.
42. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:481: E per ci colui che virtuosamente
adopera, apertamente s mostra gentile, e chi altramenti il chiama, non colui
che chiamato ma colui che chiama commette difetto.
43. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:481: Delle virt e del valor di Guiscardo
io non credetti al giudicio dalcuna altra persona che a quello delle tue parole
e de miei occhi. Chi il commend mai tanto quanto tu commendavi in tutte
quelle cose laudevoli che valoroso uomo dee essere commendato? E certo
non a torto: ch, se miei occhi non mingannarano, niuna laude da te data
gli fu che io lui operarla, e pi mirabilmente che le tue parole non poteano
esprimere, non vedessi: e se pure in ci alcuno inganno ricevuto avessi, da
te sarei stata ingannata.
44. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:483: Il tuo padre ti manda questo per
consolarti di quella cosa che tu pi ami, come tu hai lui consolato di ci che
egli pi amava.
45. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:483: Come il cuor vide e le parole intese,
cos ebbe per certissimo quello essere il cuor di Guiscardo; per che, levato
il viso verso il famigliar, disse: Non si convenia sepoltura men degna che
doro a cos fatto cuore chente questo : discretamente in ci ha il mio padre
46. Harrison, Dominion of the Dead, 93.
47. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:483484: Far che la mia anima si con-
giugner con quella, adoperandol tu, che tu gi tanto cara guardasti.
48. See Caciola, Discerning Spirits.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 16 9 1 7 3

49. Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, 54.

50. As she lies dying, she asks one favor of her father: Let my body lie next to
his, wherever youve had it thrown, for everyone to see (Che l mio corpo
col suo, dove che tu te labbi fatto gittare, morto palese stea). Boccaccio,
Decameron, ed. Branca, 1:486. As in the other tales of exposed hearts, this
fi nal and conclusive naming or identification provides resolution. Tancredi
will frame these two lovers one fi nal time, in a tomb that he will inscribe
with their identities.
51. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 81. For detailed accounts of the autopsy
of Clare of Montefalco, see Park, Secrets of Women and Relics of a Fertile
Heart, and Caciola, Discerning Spirits. See also Polo de Beaulieu, La l-
gende du coeur inscrit.
52. See chapter 2. In the case of Margherita of Citt di Castello, who died in 1320,
we get a bit of both. In her heart, cut open after her death, the Dominicans
found three small stones impressed with images of Mary, infant Jesus, Joseph,
the Holy Spirit, and a kneeling penitent, probably Margherita herself. See
Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 207212. As Katharine Park puts it: Like the
fathers seed in the mothers uterus, Christs presence in the heart created new
life; this might manifest itself materially in the form of objects impressed with
his likeness, which only dissection could reveal. Park, Secrets of Women, 35.
The heart contains foreign objects, impressed with images.
53. Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, 136137.
54. Menest, Il processo, 339. Quia Deus in corpore et corde suo tantum se de-
lectaverat; dicta Francescha sua manu scidit ex parte posteriori. . . . et
extrasserunt intestina et recondiderunt cor in una cassa, et intestina huma-
verunt in oratorio illo sero; dicta Francescha de Fulgineo scindit cor ipsum
sua mano, qui scisso invenerunt crucem in corde ipso, seu ymaginem Christi
55. Menest, Il processo, 340: habuerunt ymaginationem quod, quia Deus tan-
tum se delectaverat in ipso corde, quod aliquid inveniretur in eon ovum vel
56. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 35.
57. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 87.

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 7 3 1 83

58. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 87.

59. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 88.
60. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 35.
61. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 88.
62. Berengario, Life of Saint Clare, 88.
63. Park, Secrets of Women, 66; Menest, Il processo, 87.
64. Caciola, Discerning Spirits; Park, Secrets of Women.
65. I have not considered these cases here, and I refer the curious reader to other
studies where this trope is examined thoroughly. I have instead traced out
an alternate model.
66. My notions and ways of speaking about presence in terms of saintly bodies are
indebted to Gumbrecht, Production of Presence.
67. Subsequently, investigations were launched to test Elenas sanctity. In an au-
topsy, physicians examined the contents and level of corruption of her breasts
and then penetrated further toward the source, her heart. They found that
her heart was missing, or rather had been replaced by a pale, flat mass, like
a piece of soft liver. Park, Secrets of Women, 161163.
68. Paradiso 33, 8587. Singleton, 377. Petrocchi, 3:552:
. . . vidi che sinterna,
legato con amore in un volume,
ci che per luniverso si squaderna.
69. Harvey, De motu cordis, 1617.
70. Harvey, De motu cordis, 17.
71. Harvey, De motu cordis, 17.
72. Harvey, De motu cordis, 19.
73. Harvey, De motu cordis, 31.


1. Nancy, L intrus, 27. Quelle est cette vie propre quil sagit de sauver? Il
savre donc au moins que cette proprit ne reside en rien dans mon corps.
Elle nest situe nulle part, ni dans cet organe [heart] dont la reputation sym-
bolique nest plus a faire. (On dira: reste le cerveau. Et bien entendu, lide
de greffe du cerveau agite de temps autre les chroniques. Lhumanit en

N o t e s t o Pa g e s 1 83 1 8 5

reparlera sans doute un jour. Pour le moment, il est admis quun cerveau ne
survit pas sans un reste du corps. En revanche, et pour en rester l, il sur-
vivrait peut-tre avec un systme entier de corps trangers greffs). The
translation is mine.
2. Harriet Brown, The Other Brain, the One with Butterfl ies, Also Deals With
Many Woes, New York Times, August 23, 2005. Gershon, Second Brain.
3. Study by Ruberman, Weinblatt, Goldberg, and Chaudhary in 1984, cited in
Kruglanski and Higgins, Social Psychology, 610.
4. Illingworth, Trusting Medicine, 80.

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Abi Gafar Ahmed ibn Ali ibn Khati- Augustine, Saint, 57

mah of Almeria, 83 Avicenna, 20, 83, 151
Agazzari, Filippo degli, 76
Albert the Great: on the basilisk, 67; Bartholomew the Englishman, 129
on heart as principle, 20, 33, 54, Berengario, 172174
119; on heat of heart, 116117; Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint, 36, 169
interest in physiology, 3031; on Black Death. See Plague
mineralogy, 62, 64, 114115; on Blood: of Christ, 3539, 5961, 137;
nature of spirit, 106107; on pro- and emotions, 101103, 123; in the
duction of blood, 188n9; on sex heart, 9295; heat of, 97, 101103;
difference, 111; on size of heart, as law, 4142; as nourishment, 46,
107 136137; procreative quality of, 22
Alfred of Sareshel, 27, 106107 23, 108, 153; production of, 48; and
Alighieri, Dante. See Dante. spirit, 9495
Anatomia vivorum, 2729 Boccaccio, Giovanni, 88; and eaten
Aquinas, Thomas: on circulation, 26; heart tales, 161170, 219n50; on the
on heart as seat of soul, 21, 54; on plague, 8587, 8990. See also
heat and emotion, 100103; on spirit Plague
and soul, 30. See also Dante and Body: metaphors of, 6; multipolar, 12,
Aquinas 21, 46. See also Church, as body;
Aristotle, 27, 57, 108; See also Galen vs. Political bodies
Aristotle Bonaventure, Saint, 36, 62


Book on the Conditions of Women, Dante: works of

154155 De vulgari eloquentia, 117
Brain: contemporary ideas of, 9; ac- Inferno, 81; Inferno 1, 123126;
cording to Descartes, 11; function Inferno 2, 126; Inferno 9, 126
of, 14, 1620, 48, 104, 152; as prin- 127; Inferno 12, 130; Inferno 13,
ciple, 7; role in sensation, 5557; 78; Inferno 28, 4244; Inferno
as seat of life, 183184 32, 127; Inferno 33, 128130
Bruno, Giordano, 191n27 Monarchia, 32
Paradiso, 81, 131; Paradiso 1, 132
Catherine of Siena: as agent of Christ, 133; Paradiso 9, 71; Paradiso 28,
5861, 138; on Christ and church, 25; Paradiso 33, 7172, 134135,
3538; on the execution of Niccol 178. See also Vision, in Paradiso
di Toldo, 5861, 196n12; relation Purgatorio 2, 73; Purgatorio 24,
to papacy, 3435, 3840, 135138; 70, 73; Purgatorio 25, 2225,
relation to Paul, 35, 37 7071, 113, 189n18; Purgatorio
Cavalcanti, Guido, 1, 7478, 113, 26, 6364; Purgatorio 30, 131
158160 Rime petrose, 115120, 122124,
Christ: as head of church, 34, 41; heart 127, 207n42, 210n76
of, 3538, 40, 6061, 137138; pres- Vita nuova, 2930, 6970, 73,
ence in heart, 132, 171172, 175; 7981, 114115, 158160
wounds of, 62, 76, 78. See also De spiritu et anima, 30
Blood, of Christ. Demonic possession, 82, 196n17
Church: as body, 34, 36, 3839, 4344 Descartes, Ren, 11, 139
Circulation, 17; and contagion, 53, 82 Dissection, 5, 103, 148149, 152, 156
83, 88, 90; defi nition of, 2; human Dondoli, Giovanni, 87
and divine, 72; intercorporeal, 52 Duglioli, Elena, 176, 220n67
53, 60, 63, 81, 85; and poetry, 73, 75,
77, 8081; and sensation, 5657, Embryology, 2022, 32, 93, 111, 113,
101; of soul, 2526; of vapors, 155 147; in Dante, 2225, 7071
Clare of Montefalco, 170175 Emotions, 101103, 116, 123. See also
Constantinus Africanus, 5556 Love
Cor gentil. See Heart, noble Eucharist, 37, 158
Costa ben Luca, 27
Fernel, Jean, 68
Daniel, Arnaut, 120, 209n60 Fleck, Ludwik, 3, 187n3, 187n5, 188n7
Dante and Aquinas, 22, 24 Francesca of Montefalco, Sister, 172


Francis of Assisi, Saint, 62, 132 petrified, 114, 116120, 124, 126
Function: permissive, transmissive, 128, 141; poets wounded, 7479,
productive, 1619, 47, 49, 56 160; as principle, 19, 21, 33, 43, 46,
48, 59, 139, 150, 189n13; projective,
Galen vs. Aristotle, 15, 19; on brain, 8, 98, 106; receptive, 8, 29, 63, 70,
104; on production of blood, 20, 37, 72, 96, 98, 114; seat of soul, 9, 20
188n9; on sense perception, 55, 58; 21, 31, 147148, 168170; structure
on sex difference, 108109; on spirit, of, 28, 150151; transplant, 137138,
27; on structure of heart, 151 182, 184
Gentile da Foligno, 84 Henri of Mondeville, 44
Gerald of Cremona, 151
Gershon, Michael D., 183 Iacopone da Todi, 132133
Gianni, Lapo, 6667 Inspiration, 63, 66, 6973, 7981,
Giovanni da San Gimignano, 5458 131134
Guglielmo da Saliceto, 118
Guilhem de Peitieus, 6566 Jacme dAgramont, 84
Guinizelli, Guido, 6366, 68 Jacobus de Voragine, 146147
James, William, 13, 1618
Harvey, William, 34, 19; on heat, Jesus. See Christ
139142; and masculinity of heart, John of Salisbury, 32
96100; and political metaphor, 10,
14, 4549; on porosity of septum Leonardo da Vinci, 204n82
and arteries, 5051, 9195; and Liver, 1921, 46; natural spirit in, 28;
vivisections, 144146, 177181 source of blood, 20, 33, 37, 91, 188n9
Heart, as center, 7, 11, 19, 38, 40, Livy, 31
4446; double-gendered, 8, 98, Love, 61, 6466, 69; god of, 70, 80,
109110, 135, 138; eaten, 156163, 114, 118, 159; spiritual, 5758;
166167, 169170, 216n26; and wounds of, 1, 66, 76, 160
environment, 4, 18, 51, 83, 141, Lovesickness, 87, 116, 118122
185186; extracted, 143, 157, 170, Lucretius, 87
176177; of holy women, 170176,
219n52, 220n67; masculinity of, Margherita of Citt di Castello, 219n52
106107; nobility of, 14, 33, 4748, Mary, mother of Jesus. See Virgin
130; noble (cor gentil), 6465, 68, Mary
114, 130, 158, 163, 165, 167168; Medicine: vs. philosophy, 14, 22, 31;
openness of, 8, 51, 63, 92, 95, 185; study in Italy, 6, 148


Medusa, 91, 126 of, 108109, 117; relation to spirit,

Mineralogy, 6465. See also Albert 106107
the Great, on mineralogy Sensation, 18, 21, 2930, 5254
Mondino de Liuzzi, 149156; on Sex difference, 9899, 108112
hearts role in speech, 7374; Shakespeare, William: Antony
on heat, 103106 and Cleopatra, 96; Coriolanus, 32;
Motion: of blood, 4748, 140, 179; King Lear, 74, 120, 209n62
of heart, 179; of heavens, 2526, Sighs, 1, 7475, 7981
101, 117; of soul, 2122, 26, 100 Sight. See Vision
101, 140 Silvestre, Bernard, 32
Smell, sense of, 5861
Nancy, Jean-Luc, 182184 Soderini, Niccol, 39
Soul: heat of, 130; modes of inhabiting
On the Secrets of Women, 108 body, 15, 19, 26, 30, 5657; unity
or multiplicity of, 24; vegetative,
Patio, Maria, 110 sensitive, animal, 2325, 55
Paul, Saint, 3435, 37 Speech. See Voice
Peter of Limoges, 6768 Spirit, as intermediary, 27, 3031, 67,
Petrarch, Francis, 118, 120, 213n103 95; formation of, 28, 50, 105, 131; vs.
Philippe le Bel, 41, 44 soul, 27, 30, 192n36; vital, animal,
Physiology and faith, 37, 56, 58 natural, 23, 2829, 56, 84, 94, 104,
Plague, 53, 8291, 204n81; explana- 152
tions for, 83; prevention of, 8788;
theories of transmission, 84, 9091 Taste, sense of, 5557, 195n9
Political bodies, 1112, 3133, 4149; Tears, 7475, 114, 127131
in Dante, 32, 4243. See also Thomas of Cantimpr: on centrality
Harvey, political metaphor of heart, 33, 36; in Giovanni da San
PseudoAlbert the Great, 2223, 84 Gimignano, 54; interest in physiol-
ogy, 3031; on production of blood,
Raymond of Capua, 58, 137138 37; on sensation, 59
Rex pacificus, 41 Torrigiani, Pietro, 21
Touch, sense of, 55, 5758, 84
Sacred heart, 193n53 Trotula, 112
Scot, Michael, 112, 153
Semen: female, 112, 121; formation of, Urban VI (pope), 35, 3740, 135136
22, 27, 108109, 139, 206n23; heat Uterus: dissected, 146147, 153156;


heart as, 129130, 134, 175; heat of, Virgin Mary, 71, 129131, 134
112, 117; and metaphors of inspira- Vision: and contagion, 84, 91; diff usion
tion, 75, 117, 132134, 137; suffoca- of spirits, 113114; models of, 8, 52,
tion of, 120122, 154155 6163, 6669, 125, 171172; in
Paradiso, 7172, 134
Vida, of Guillem de Cabestaing, Voice: and contagion, 8990; in Gio-
156158, 161 vanni da San Gimignano, 57; and
Villani, Matteo, 84 openness of heart, 125128; poetic,
Vincent of Beauvais: on centrality of 7273, 7678, 8081
heart, 36; on divine possession, 71;
in Giovanni da San Gimignano, William IX of Aquitaine. See Guilhem
54; on heat of heart, 39; interest in de Peitieus
physiology, 3031; on production William of Auvergne, 2425, 60, 130
of blood, 37 Womb. See Uterus