1610 | Toulouse

Preventative Care

Finding a cure for love.

Regarding lovesickness, there are certain activities that are extremely dangerous, such as reading dirty books, listening to music, playing viols, lutes, and other instruments—and even more, going to plays and farces, balls and dances, for such exercises open up the pores of the heart no less than those of the skin.

And then if some serpent comes breathing into the ears a few tempting words, proposes some dalliance or other with her coaxing and wheedlings, or some basilisk comes along casting lascivious looks, winking, and making sheep’s eyes, those hearts very quickly allow themselves to be seized and poisoned—especially the hearts of those who have already been wounded. The leopard attracts all sorts of animals by his odor, but primarily monkeys. And since they can’t be taken in a chase because they climb up to the tops of the trees, he tries to have them by craft by covering himself with branches. He then feigns his dying gasps in such a way that the monkeys think him truly dead. They surround him dancing and teasing on all sides and stamping their feet until the leopard senses they are weary from their leaping, whereupon in a sudden bound he jumps up, taking one in his teeth, another with his claws, tearing and devouring both. In just this way the demon of love and lechery plays it at the beginning with those he means to take, luring them by the pleasures and pastimes enjoyed at balls and assemblies, pushing them first into regular attendance, then into an honest friendship and from that friendship into passionate love, and from love he invites them to the consummation, and just as he feels them close, he seizes them in their most noble faculties, corrupting the judgment of one, troubling the imagination of the other, and under the guise of a tranquilizing softness he envelops them with a thousand palpable miseries. Love’s sweetness is like the honey of Heraclea that is sweeter at first than common honey because of the aconite it contains, but that at the time of digestion causes dizziness and troubles the sight, the savory taste turning to bitterness in the mouth.

Our ladies say that dalliance and kisses are harmless and innocent, but in this they are mistaken, for these are the most dangerous of all such activities. Rather, such dalliances are like the Egyptian thieves of bygone days called philettes, or kissers, who deceived and robbed their victims while embracing them. I fear even more the close courting and fondling which come within the jurisdiction not only of the eyes, but of the hands and breasts.

Avicenna and Paul of Aegina claim that for the prevention of this disease some weighty affair, a criminal trial for example, or some conflicting source of grief and sorrow can be very effective. But I would prefer some learned theologian to strike the fear of death and hellfire into him, and by such means render him devout, fervent in prayer—since prayer and fasting are sovereign remedies against the demon of fleshly delight—and I would want him to spend time with pious and virtuous people so that in time he will adopt their qualities, just as the vine planted near olive trees, according to the naturalists, brings forth a more oily fruit than usual.

Some physicians recommend locking lovers up in prison and administering frequent punishment if they are young adolescents, but Bernard of Gordon goes too far, I think, when he says the lover should be spanked and whipped until he begins to smell bad all over. More appropriately, the ancients used to stop young wenchers from their lusty ways by attaching a ring or clasp to the foreskin. 

In order to prevent the overheating of the kidneys, he should not sleep on his back. Nor should he lace up his loins too tightly, causing the veins to dilate. The mattress he sleeps on should not be stuffed with wool or feathers, but rather with straw, or the leaves of willows, or of rue, roses, water lily, poppy, or agnus castus—the last of which was used in the beds of the women of Attica during the Thesmophoria to keep them in a state of chastity. Avicenna, Prince of the Arab physicians, in his chapter on love, Bernard of Gordon, Arnald of Villanova, and several other modern physicians teach that in order to prevent erotic melancholy in someone who starts meddling with love, we should make him fall in love with some new friend, and that when he starts making soft eyes at her, work at making him hate her too, and to fall for a third, and so on several times over until he is tired of love altogether, thinking that, as Aristotle says, those who have a lot of friends do not really have any.

The immediate cause of this disease is sperm. Sperm is nothing other than blood bleached by natural heat, an excrement of the third digestion. Depending on its quantity and quality, it can irritate the body, thereby provoking a natural expulsion. Otherwise it would remain in its reservoirs, turn corrupt, and from there—by means of the backbone and other secret channels—send a thousand noxious vapors to the brain, troubling the faculties and principle virtues. For this reason, there is great utility in drawing off any superfluous blood by bleeding the liver vein of the right arm. If the person is temperate, sanguine, well built, and not too lean, allowing the patient to tolerate a copious bleeding, then a little more blood may be taken. This operation should be repeated three or four times a year, whenever one suspects the onset of the disease, especially where one has observed this to be an effective remedy from the outset.


Jacques Ferrand

From A Treatise on Love Sickness. Having studied medicine in Toulouse, Ferrand in his late twenties set up a practice in his native Agen in 1603. He published his treatise on the cures and causes of the disease in 1610, eleven years before Robert Burton published his more famous The Anatomy of Meloncholy. In 1620 Ferrand’s work was recalled and burned by the Inquisition.