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An unusual disease with harsh signs: Figures of epilepsy in the correspondance of Conrad Gesner (1516–1565) Volume 20, supplement 2, Numéro spécial : Epilepsie et Renaissance

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This paper focuses on a consultation by letter between Zurich town physician Conrad Gesner and his Winterthur colleague, Conrad Forer. The latter consults his master on the tricky case of an epileptic butcher. I argue that the practice of the consultation at a distance, through the constraints linked to the use of the epistolary form, stressed for early modern physicians a restricted number of fields of inquest, such as the quality of the urine, the history and the feelings of the patient. Through the analysis of several cases of epilepsy collected by Gesner, I show that by juxtaposing cases he had examined, Gesner could determine an interpretative grid enabling him to diagnose epilepsy as a specific disease characterised by recurring fits, phlegmatic urine and sensations of cold. Gesner thus comes to a compromise between the multiple variations of the illness and an understanding of the epileptic disease.