Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice (1550-1650) is a highly readable adaptation of Ruth Martin's Ph.D. thesis. It was published by Basil Blackwell in 1989, and except for the fact that Ruth and I are sporadic running buddies would never have come to my attention. More's the pity; the book offers glimpses of a society rather alien to current experience in some ways, but quite similar in others.

Witch mania did not erupt in Italy four centuries ago, unlike the situation in many other countries. As the dust jacket notes, "While in Switzerland, France and Germany those accused of witchcraft were subject to terrible ordeals of innocence, and if convicted, burnt alive, the severest treatment meted out to Venetian witches was a whipping."

To an analytic mind one of the most fascinating discussions in Dr. Martin's book is her taxonomy of witchcraft (also referred to as stregoneria) as used in Venice:

Ruth concludes that the bottom line for the Inquisition in Venice was to focus on the individual, to correct errors in doctrine, and to increase public awareness by education. The Inquisition's most important achievement was thus the total avoidance of mass hysteria. "Witches were different, but, thanks to the Inquisition's interpretation and prosecution of witchcraft, they never assumed the threatening proportions that would have called for their elimination rather than their correction, and Venice did not experience the witch-hunt that hit so many other parts of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."

A huge success, in other words — perhaps one that offers lessons to other situations of social turmoil.

(cf. HAT Run 2006 (31 Mar 2006), SpongeBath (29 Jun 2006), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - TopicFaith - 2006-12-01

(correlates: Espoo, SeptemberSayings, EngineeringEnlightenment, ...)