De Morbo Gallico

book 1

Nicolai Massae


Nicolo (Nicolai) Massae was a highly successful Venetian physician and surgeon that was consulted by Popes and Kings from across Europe. He earned a degree in Surgery and one in the “Arts and Medicine”, even though he could practice with either one of them. As a witness of the ravages of syphilis (French Disease (Morbo Gallico), or Neapolitan Disease was brought back by Columbus’ sailors returning from the New World and spread in 1494 during the Siege of Naples. Massa published his book on syphilis Liber De Morbo Gallico in 1527. The volume in our collection is an expanded third edition (1563). During his lifetime he published at least 7 other books on topics ranging from logic to anatomy, the plague or venisection, etc. He never held a chair at any of the universities of his time. He was enterprising and became independently wealthy from his practice.

De Morbo Gallico accurately describes the symptoms of syphilis and its mode of transmission. As a believer of the Hippocratic and Galenic Humoral Theory of disease he explained syphilis as the “product of excess cold and dry phlegm”. In this expanded 3d Edition of his book, Massae introduced treatment of syphilis using Chinese root and sarsaparilla, brought back from China and the West Indies. They were used as “sudorifics”, sweating agents. For treatment of syphilis Massae also used guaiac and mercurial salve, a mixture of mercury and animal fat, spread nightly on the joints of the patients

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