Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 27: Florence, Part 7

January 1, 2023


Piazza della Signoria (Square of the Lords)

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the people of the autonomous city of Florence embraced the republic and regularly gathered in the square to engage in debates and conduct votes by raising their hands.

In one corner of the square, there is a place where a circular bronze paving is buried.

This is the spot where Girolamo Savonarola was executed by hanging and then burned at the stake, after undergoing torture.

Savonarola was a strict friar of the Dominican Order and vehemently criticized the Renaissance, which praised human physicality and desires, as well as the Medici family who were its patrons.

He lamented the moral decay of secular culture and delivered his message to the citizens at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Furthermore, he piled up works of art and decorations in this Piazza della Signoria and set them ablaze, claiming it to be "incineration of vanities."

This event occurred at the end of the 15th century and is considered a precursor to the religious Reformation.

However, his strict ideology was not accepted in the Renaissance-era Florence, and the economy stagnated.

The following year, citizens who had turned against Savonarola captured him.

Those from the Franciscan Order and the Medici family, who resented the rise of the Dominican Order, subjected Savonarola to the "trial by fire."

They demanded, "If you are a true prophet, prove it by walking over the roaring flames."

He refused, saying, "You shall not test God."

Seeing this as an excuse, the citizens judged him, framed him as a criminal, and after the hanging, subjected him to burning at the stake!


Loggia dei Lanzi

Piazza della Signoria was the political center where citizen assemblies were frequently held.

To allow for gatherings even in rainy weather, a covered arcade, known as "Loggia" in Italian, was constructed in the 14th century.

The name "Lanzi" derives from the historical fact that under the rule of Cosimo I de' Medici, the arcade was used by "Landsknechte" (German mercenaries).

Over time, "Landsknechte" evolved into "Lanzi" due to pronunciation.

Today, the Loggia dei Lanzi displays ancient and Renaissance sculptures, resembling an open-air museum with a roof.

Among them, the work "Perseus " by Cellini stands out.

We cannot overlook it.

The brave hero Perseus is holding high the freshly severed head of the monster Medusa in his left hand.

Medusa is one of the three Gorgon sisters in Greek mythology.

Innately a beautiful lady, Medusa had an affair with the sea god Poseidon, which led to her transformation into a hideous monster by the goddess of war, Athena, out of jealousy.

Her beautiful hair turned into writhing snakes, and she gained wild boar tusks, bronze hands, and wings.

Furthermore, her eyes gleamed with a magical power that turned anyone she looked into stone.

Perseus borrowed a shield from Athena and stealthily approached sleeping Medusa.

Since making eye contact would turn him into stone, he relied on the reflection on the shield and  finally beheaded the monster with great success.

In portal hypertension conditions like liver cirrhosis, portal blood flows into the umbilical vein and then towards the inferior vena cava.

This is called the portosystemic shunt, and when the blood flow through this pathway increases, the subcutaneous veins in the abdominal wall become engorged radially.

This appearance resembles wriggling snakes, leading to the term “Caput Medusae”, or "Head of Medusa."