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Sweat. Learned Concepts and Popular Perceptions, 1500–1800

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Chapter Summary

This chapter analyses the perception and interpretation of sweat and insensible transpiration in early modern learned medicine and medical lay culture. Early modern medical writing on sweat was based above all on Galen. In view of the many variations of sweat, depending on bodily constitution, age, sex, way of life and disease, the examination of sweat could have evolved into an important diagnostic tool. The positive perception of sweating as a salutary excretion reflected overarching notions and images of a salutary cleansing which is described for other bodily evacuations. Early modern learned physicians also pointed out other potential causes of suppressed sweating. The belief in the beneficial effects of sweating also lay behind its widespread prophylactic and therapeutic use among ordinary lay people. When the body lost too much 'serum' in this manner, patients became exsiccated, and their blood and the other humours thickened.

Keywords:early modern learned medicine; insensible transpiration; medical lay culture; prophylactic sweating; salutary excretion; serous humour; suppressed sweating; therapeutic sweating; variations of sweat



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