Savant Relics: Brains and Remains of Scientists
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Beretta, Marco, Maria Conforti, and Paolo Mazzarello, eds.
Early modern polemics against religious superstition could mislead us into believing that the healing practices associated with the body parts of saints or other figures was a feature specific to Christianity. However, such practices already existed many centuries before the Christian era, when demigod- or god-like features were attributed to secular heroes, among them natural philosophers and physicians. The polemic against relics gained momentum with the reformation and especially with Jean Calvin's traite des reliques which appeared in 1543, the same year that saw the publication of two landmark scientific works in Europe, de revoltionibus orbium coelestium by Copernicus and de humani corporis fabrica by Versalius.
Notwithstanding the seemingly significant coincidence between the origins of modern astronomy and anatomy and the strongest attack yet on relics from antiquity, early modern scientific heroes became the object of cults and not the other way round. Neither science nor rationalism helped to overcome the wonder with which scientific "saints" were regarded; quite the contrary. Common threads running through the chapters in this volume, whose chronology spans from ancient Greece to the 21st century, are the processes of textual or material monumentalization of heroic lives and deaths, as well as the use of classical Plutarchian references to lay or scientific heroes in parallel with Christian models of sanctification to explain the supernatural powers that have been attributed to the bodies of scientists.