Covid, Medicine and Charlatanry

Town of CerretoAssociating medicine with charlatanry smacks of ignorance and arrogance, two semantic relatives often found together. Perish the thought! But there is currently an exuberance of acknowledgment of a dubious medical pandemic, coupled with gross discrepancies in related statistics and fierce debates among disagreeing experts.

Furthermore the media, at its domestic and international large, rarely misses an occasion to demonstrate a blind mistrust of its readers’ intelligence. And with the energetic futility of a squirrel in a revolving cage, it feeds them with absurd theses. Theses constructed with obtuse ingenuity, demonstrating a tight and subservient link with the leaders of the therapeutic-political pack and their puppetry. All this raises the bar of credibility, as if to test the level of turpitude and deception that can be accepted without meaningful revolt, mutiny or sedition.

Unwilling and unable to promote a sedition, and yet an implacable enemy of all empty sonorities, I will subject the patient reader to a short historical exploration of how and when charlatanry came very close to be deceitfully interpreted as medicine. And, as we will see, just as the devil is in the detail, the limits are in the lexicon.

‘Charlatan’ is a compound word of Medieval Florentine origin. One is ‘ciarla’ or ‘ciarlare’. Benedetto Varchi, a linguistic historian whose work was published in 1570, says that, “The word ‘ciarla’ and the verb ‘ciarlare’ are applied to those who speak only because they have a tongue, while having nothing else to do but talking. And because they cannot do anything else, what they say is nonsense, as they don’t know what they are talking about.”

In turn, the word ‘ciarla’, is associated with Charlemagne, as during 600 years (800-1400 AD), the legends surrounding him, his feats and adventures had become too fantastic and unrealistic, even for the fertile imagination of Medieval Italy.

The other contributing word is ‘Cerreto’, the name of a medieval fortified town close to Spoleto, in the region of Umbria. ‘Ciarlatano’ then derives from the lexical admixture of ‘ciarla’=nonsense and ‘Cerretano’=an inhabitant of Cerreto.

For it came to pass that in the 14th century the citizens of Cerreto were granted the right of fund-raising for the benefit of certain hospitals of the “Order of St. Antony.” This is documented in the Statutes of Cerreto for the year 1380.

Very urgent was indeed the need to re-build and re-organize the hospitals and the “system of charity” (read ‘free health-care for the poor’), which had been disrupted and almost destroyed by the plague epidemic of 1348-49, and by subsequent recurrences. A plague that, allegedly, killed about 1/3 of all Europeans.

The system of fund-raising was managed and administered by sundry official concessions, and related concessionaries. It was a meritorious and lucrative activity, for contributing to the funds were not just the offerings by the poor but the elargitions of the rich.

It is currently predicted that after Covid-19 nothing will remain the same, but after the plague of 1348, everything had indeed changed, including the ethics of mercy.

The wealthy had the option of reducing the time and the intensity of their after-life sufferings, caused by sins committed in the nether-world while building their fortunes. The discount was proportional to the size of the elargition.

The collectors from Cerreto were essentially social workers and mediators between the rich who survived the plague and the infirm poor who crowded the ‘hospitalia’ of the lower Middle Ages. Numerous Cerretans, however, took a cut out of the offerings, or set themselves up independently in business. Masuccio Guardati, called the “Salernitan,” in chapter 18 of his ‘Novellino’ reports as follows: “… the Cerretans, as pseudo-friars of St, Antony, roam around Italy, asking for money in exchange for promises (made to or by St. Antony). Under this disguise, they pretend to be the mediators of miracles.”

And in the “Confessional of St. Antony and Mirror of Conscience” (Florence, 1477) reference is made to the “Cerretani, of whom it is better said that they go around more stealing than collecting offerings.”

The degeneration, due to widespread trickery and treachery, accompanied by petulance and imposture, prompted the bishop of Spoleto, on the recommendation of Pope Innocent III, to invite the Franciscan preacher Bernardino da Feltre to visit and deliver sermons of reproach and redemption to the locals. Bernardino was famous for his tirades against any form of license and greed – a kind of Billy Graham ‘ante litteram.’

Bernardino complied and, according to the Acta Sanctorum (‘Acts of the Saints’), “… to obey the Pope’s mandate, he came to Spoleto but he found the Cerretans to be beyond redemption. He therefore expelled them from the town as a noxious and fraudulent breed.” Bernardino da Feltre (1439-1484) was made a saint shortly after his death, an impossibility today because he was a passionate anti-Semite. (See article, “Quo Vadis Vatican?”)

Not everyone was pleased. There were ideological efforts to justify the wickedness of the Cerretans by dating back their origins to Paganism. In other words, they were disguised pre-Christians priests of the ancient goddess ‘Ceres’ (hence ‘cerretani’), further corrupted as time went on.

They came originally from the Orient, in partibus infidelium (land of the faithless). And the term ‘cerretano’ was equally traced back to the Byzantine-Greek word ‘keratas’, meaning ‘scoundrel’.

But the humanists of the time did not buy this notion. Lexicographer Ambrogio da Calepio (1440-1510), in his dictionary of 1502, for the entry ‘Cerretani’ writes, “Those who take all the world for a ride, with a bit of wine and ugly superstition….they hail from the castle of Cerreto.”

The notoriety of the Cerretans-charlatans even reached Machiavelli, who in his 1512 satirical poem ‘L’asino d’oro’ (The Golden Ass) says,

“Lately a certain Cerretan.
Of whom many are seen around,
Promised that he would heal his father”…

And geographer Leandro Alberti (1479-1522), in his book “Description of the Whole of Italy”, dedicated to the Duke of Spoleto writes,

“There is found, among high and rocky mountains, Cerreto, a castle of recent naming and full of people. From there the Cerretans derive their name. They roam throughout the whole of Italy, pretending to sanctity through various means and with diverse colors, to obtain cash. And therefore from them it is derived the term, which – when someone importunely and shamelessly asks for something for free and colors his words with new ways and fictions in order to obtain it – it is said of him that he is a Cerretan.”

But it took about a century for the word ‘cerretano’ to migrate into multiple European languages as the word ‘charlatan.’ The meaning remained though its history was forgotten.

Perhaps expectedly, the Cerretans, having experienced success from promising discounts in the sufferings of the afterlife, turned themselves into faith healers of the infirmities of the nether world.

Which is why, when, where and how the reproachful and irreverent association came about. For the gulf between medicine and charlatanry has widened through the centuries, but a sense of a presence, a lingering, a difficultly-measured in-between grey area has never completely disappeared.

As recently as 1998 the medical doctor and poet Alessandro Bajini wrote that “… man is often disappointed by medicine, which is much ‘earth-earth’, and by faith, which is much ‘sky-sky’. Meaning that patients were dissatisfied by both allopatic (if-you-don’t-feel-well-there-is-a-medicine-for-it- courtesy of-Big Pharma) and esoteric medicine (in the style of Indian gurus, faith healers and similar).

In the XIX century, the respected doctor Peter Lahan wrote that, “The practice of medicine is besieged on one side by charlatanry and on the other by science.”

And in the report covering an international Medical Congress held in 1985 we read that,

“…in the Western industrialized world, medicine is claimed to be a homogeneous, well defined, contradiction-free resource field, and a solid common good for society, but actually it is a profoundly contradictory and problematic resource…. for the deepening of the diagnostic gaze and the strengthening of therapeutic means have changed – but not for the better – the cultural background on which concepts, values and symbols concerned with human health and its opposites rely: disease, precarious aging and premature death.

The doctor, from a direct contact with the patient and his environment, has gradually developed an increasingly mediated relationship: a technological mediation often exasperating and destabilizing. This changed relationship tends to close the spaces that belong to the patient as a person… The technological boom in contemporary medicine, and the uncontainable increase in healthcare expenditure, risk being paid for by a decrease in profit, economically, and by a growing dissatisfaction of the health-care providers and especially of the health-care provided in terms of well-being.

The dissatisfaction of patients, regarding their own well-being, due to a techno-medicine often more efficient than effective, is the fertile ground that has yielded a renewed breed of healers, exorcists, sorcerers and wizards.”

This was said in 1985. 35 years later, the needle has further shifted towards technology and mechanization.

How do you know? – you may ask. Or rather, on what authority can you say so, other than having read it? In answer, authority I have none, but during the last five years I have held a part time job as a medical interpreter for Spanish speaking patients. I participated in about 2,000 sessions, during which I saw and/or learned about different pathologies, illnesses, conditions and practices.

As many or most will probably agree, social phenomena do not occur in isolation. In the instance, the technicalization of medicine has evolved with the simultaneous mechanization of patients – meaning here that all patients had/have a car. And the analogy between the car and the body is too tempting to be overlooked. The body is made of parts and so is the car. The remedy for a defective car is the garage, for a defective body is the clinic.

A doctor actually indirectly suggested the analogy. During an intervention to remove a small cist in a patient’s throat, his heart stopped for one whole minute. The patient recovered but in the aftermath of the surgery the doctor spoke with the waiting relatives and told them about the occurrence. At which they were significantly upset and complained for not having been told immediately when their relative’s heart stopped – a practically unwise if not impossible request. Nevertheless, to sooth the worried relatives the doctor said, “…. This is why we do not do these interventions in a garage.”

Nor it ends here. The car may be just fine, but every so many miles, it is driven to a garage for routine maintenance. In the sociological analogy, the body is brought to the clinic for a routine medical check-up. Far from me to question the practice – I only report it. Even hearing from a doctor that you are in perfect health may have positive psychological benefits.

That the body-mind system is infinitely more complex than a car-parts assembly none will dispute. And even discounting the impropriety of the analogy, only the body-mind system can tell us how we feel. Its never-resting, dynamic operation is called metabolism. Metabolism, in turn, is conceptually and practically quite different from medicine as we know it.

Perhaps for this reason, Pythagoras said that after the age of 30 a man ought to be the physician of himself. And more than 1000 years later, in the 10th century, the Salerno Medical School had this Latin inscription at the head of one of its books, “Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fiant haec tria: mens laeta, requies, moderata diaeta” (If you do not have a doctor, let these three things be your doctors: a serene mind, rest and a moderate diet.”

Nor is the clinic-garage analogy the first instance of puzzling associations. New discoveries have inspired different ages to create new models to define physiological analysis, medical practice and, in the end, medical truths.

Take the alembic for example. Its use was known since the High Middle Ages, but it had remained for long a mysterious and cabalistic device, used by alchemists and sorcerers. However, it acquired widespread use and notoriety in the XVI century, as the engine of distillation.

From the alembic medicine drew the model for the direction of fluids in the body and their purification. Subtle gaseous humors ascend from the lower to the upper body, cleansing its components of pollutants in a process of filtering and decanting.

Gerard Dorn, a French alchemist (1530-1584), and a follower of Paracelsus’ medical theories, represents man actually inside an alembic while alongside, at different ascending levels, are represented a burner, a boiler, a condenser and a spout.

To obtain a positive medical outcome, a satisfactory distillation occurs only if the direction of the gaseous humors is facilitated by the position of the body. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), in his famous ‘Essays,’ subscribes to this model describing the type of heat that is generated in the feet, to be transformed into vapors “that grow and exhale.”

Francois de Bassompierre, in his memoirs, gives proof of the theory by the way he used to recognize the cadavers of Turkish soldiers, killed during the siege of Vienna in 1529. Their key characteristic – he wrote – was their rotten teeth, caused by wearing a turban, a headwear that impaired the distillation and therefore the ascension of the cleansed vapors and the complete purification of the body.

The theory of the distillation of humors gradually shifted towards a theory of ‘invisible emanations.’ Writes Pierre Bailly, in his “Questions nouvelles et curieuses” – (New and curious questions, 1628), “If fresh laundry has the power of cleansing and attract impurities, then as much, as long and as often we wear fresh laundry, the more quickly we will be purified.”

Mademoiselle de Montpensier, found herself in Paris at the time of the famous “Frondes” (a rebellion by the nobility against the King) in 1649. She had to escape quickly and take refuge in the Castle of Saint Germain. Another carriage, adventurously carrying her accouterments and general wardrobe, only reached her 10 days later. In her Memoirs she writes that, during those 10 days and being short of clothes, she was compelled to wash her nightgown by day and her daygown by night.

And in a subsequent further evolution, the ‘invisible emanations’ turned into ‘impalpable humidities.’ Which increased the intermediate stages between health and illness, as most of the symptoms remained hidden (in today’s medicine this corresponds to the asymptomatic Covid-19 carrier). This state of affairs created medical management problems. In her Memoirs, Madame de Maintenon (1683-1715, mistress of King Louis XIV, the “roi-soleil”), writes, “According to the doctor I am very well, but according to me I feel very bad.”

In the context of medical visits, it is worth mentioning that the popular ‘medical check-up’ was an American invention. In an amusing and somewhat irreverent book written by a European doctor, he recalls having heard of the ‘check-up’ in the 1950s, from some sailors who plied the American route.

They told him that, with the check-up, the patient was able to know his state of health and what could or would happen to him in the future. The patient’s economic conditions had an influence. And often it happened that the poorer patient was found healthier, while the wealthier had to undergo sundry additional tests and treatments to prevent future likely infirmities.

There have been voices against the excesses of medical pseudo-authority and pharmaceutical miracle-marketing. Seminal, in this respect, were the books by Ivan Illich, “Limits to Medicine”, “Medical Nemesis, The Expropriation of Health,” and “The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine”, written by a medical and impeccable source.

Given this long introduction, what has it to do with Covid-19 and the new therapeutic order, that seemingly and seamlessly blends with the neo liberal, globalist ideology?

The link, I think, is straight-forward without resorting to conspiracy theories. The decline of religion and religious feelings in the West has been widely documented. But the sense of the Transcendent, of which religion is a conduit, never completely dies out in humans. A vacuum remains when religion fails. Techno-medicine seems the nearest alternative, in time, moment and properties, to fill the vacuum and give the Transcendent a local habitation and a name. (2)

Consequently, to question not the existence of a virus but its associated and related structures, statistics, tales of death and dying, overflowing hospitals, rejected or approved vaccines, tests, swabs, masks and their effectiveness, disastrous news and blood-curdling narratives, partakes of the heretical. For doubting techno-medicine is akin to doubting the Transcendent, now mystically embodied in the new therapeutic order.

As we know, Covid-19 is a worldwide occurrence and trend, but I use Italy as an example because, for whatever reason, Covid-19 chose Italy as its first European, spectacular victim. Besides, as a country, Italy has shown historically a special ability to spectacularize the paradox.

The first evidence of Covid-19’s transmigration from China was in the region of Lombardy in February 2020. But in the same period, for example, 450,000 people gathered in close quarter in Tenerife, Canary Islands, to celebrate their traditional Carnival, and another 6 million in Rio de Janeiro. As one dissenting journalist wrote, one would expect the partying Tenerifans and Brazilians to be all dead though they were not.

Many may still remember the internationally shown TV broadcast, with terrifying images of army trucks leaving Bergamo’s hospital (Lombardy), in a lugubrious caravan of coffins. Here is the translated text from an Italian newspaper of the time,

“It is frightening to see 40 coffins aligned and waiting for cremation. There is no more room. Death targets too many too quickly. Even the mortuary chamber is full. The cremation facilities have extended the hours of operation, now 24. A shiver runs through the veins at the thought of it. The number of deaths is extremely high: 146 during the last five days. And all for the same cause. The blood curdles.”

Now, 146 victims divided by 5 days is 29. I found the statistics for the year 2018 related to the city of Bergamo and surroundings – an administrative division roughly equivalent to an American county. In 2018 the population was 1.114.600, the dead 9,977 – divided by 365 equates to 27. Meaning that in 2018, 27 persons on average died every day of the year, of all causes. The journalist’s blood shivers because the daily victims – in the period of the year most affected by seasonal flu and afflictions – were 29 instead of 27.

Besides, 40 coffins in line are the norm. And here is another headline from one of the major newspapers. “During March (2020) mortality has increased by 49.4% but in Bergamo by 568%.”

In any city of Bergamo’s size, with funeral parlors shut down due to the lockdown, 40 coffins is a normal number. And given that each military truck carries 4 coffins, the line of trucks, shown on TV in funereal parade and carrying out the dead of five days, are normal. 146/5 = (rounded) 29.

As for the whole of Italy, during the first trimester of 2019 (no Covid) there were 185.967 deaths, in 2020 (with Covid) 165.367 (statistics from the National Statistics Institute). Furthermore, the numbers from the Institute of Health shows that the average age of the Covid fatalities was 82. Besides, as only the Covid victims made to the headlines, a pedantic reader may conclude that in the meantime medicine has declared victory on other diseases, such as, for example, ictus, tumor, cancer and diabetes.

Still, Covid 19 is a strange and socially selective virus. As of now it has killed 712,000 people worldwide, among whom there have been no actors, politicians, athletes, singers, soccer players and cardinals.

But just last week (3rd week of August 2020), Covid had its revenge, at least in Italy. An Italian tycoon was hospitalized in dangerous conditions, due to Covid 19. Two days later it was announced that he had been admitted due to an acute prostatitis, and when hospitalized he was also found a Covid 19 carrier. He is now recovering (from prostatitis), and spending his quarantine (because of Covid), in the soothing comfort of his mansion.

I found a new term in the Covid related nomenclature. A patient who has been determined as having Covid, but who at a later test has none, is defined as ‘negativized.’ Whereas someone who has Covid but shows no effects is asymptomatic. As I was writing this article, I read on a newspaper about 13 deaths in a region of Italy, whose declared cause of death disturbed some health authorities. The victims (aged between 75 and 90) had tested positive for Covid earlier on, but were later ‘negativized.’ The authorities of the new medical clergy objected on the ground that the cause of death should really have been recorded as due to Covid.

There are more related incongruent or plainly absurd statements, numbers and events, including the saga about the ‘protective’ masks – but describing them would tax the reader’s patience. That so many accept acritically the pandemic narrative is to facilitate, or perhaps to accept and anoint the operation of social engineering lurking besides the (false according to many) pandemic.

To conclude, the implied purpose of medicine is to extend life indefinitely, which, lexically speaking, is a definition of immortality. To deny the equivalence of the definition is to load the semantic and linguistic resources of the English language with a greater burden than it is reasonably expected to bear. For, as of now, all that lives still must die, passing through nature to eternity. (1)

Therefore, from the social and semantic point of view, medicine stands on the very narrow ledge and lexical limit that divides immortality from the indefinitely extension of life.

Historically, massive disasters and bloodbaths can be (also) traced back to doubtful lexical interpretations, in the instance, the interpretation of ‘Freedom,’ ‘Equality,’ even ‘Fraternity.’ The Rights of Man led to thousands losing their head during the Terror. Communism caused countless victims, in the name of mythical equality. Turbo-capitalism, along with its agent, the invisible hand of the market, brought massive misery and poverty to millions. Imperialism led to WW1, 2, Hiroshima and maybe WW3. Exceptionalism has caused America to be among the most hated countries outside her borders. And now therapeutic capitalism attempts to deprive humans of basic, common, long acknowledged individual liberties.

For what is worth, I think that a great improvement would occur if most, but especially the so-called authorities, were not spending much of their energy into upholding their own importance. To quote Spanish writer Carlos Castaneda, ”If we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen. For one, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.”

*** (1) Hamlet
*** (2) Midsummer Night’s Dream

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