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Between Clinical Writing and Storytelling: Alfonso de Santa

Cruz and the Peculiar Case of the Man Who Thought He Was
Made of Glass

Or Hasson

Hispanic Review, Volume 85, Number 2, Spring 2017, pp. 155-172 (Article)

Published by University of Pennsylvania Press


For additional information about this article

Access provided by Cambridge University Library (20 Jul 2018 11:10 GMT)
Between Clinical Writing a nd
Storytelling: Alfonso de Santa Cruz
and the Peculiar Case of the Man
W h o T h o u g h t He Wa s M a d e o f G l a s s
Or Hasson
Harvard University

abstract Composed around 1575 and published in 1622, Alfonso de

Santa Cruz’s Dignotio et cura affectuum melancholicorum was one of the
most elaborate clinical texts written on melancholy in early modern Spain.
Mostly known for its description of glass delusion, the Dignotio has been
typically read either as possible “source material” for Cervantes’s El licencia-
do Vidriera, or as a text whose literary features are, at best, accessory to
scientific knowledge. Through a close examination of the framing, texture,
and focus of the glass man’s story, I complicate the facile identification
of the narration as a case history, and showcase the importance of close,
narratologically sensitive readings of early modern medical texts. Such read-
ings, I argue, reveal the manifold—and sometimes contradictory—views on
madness present in medical writing, and offer a new perspective on the
medical–literary dialogue in early modernity, without confining it to mere
“influence” or “inspiration.”

In the spring of 1576, Alfonso de Santa Cruz, a physician from Valladolid,

wrote a letter to King Philip II, informing the monarch of a groundbreaking

The research on which this work is based was carried out with the support of the Fulbright Scholar
Program. A first draft of this essay was presented at a meeting of the Asociación de Cervantistas
held in São Paulo in July 2015, where I had the privilege of receiving valuable feedback from
Augustin Redondo and other members of the Association. I wish to thank Luis Girón-Negrón,
Adam Jasieński, William Tamplin, and Antonio Arraiza Rivera for listening, reading, or comment-

Hispanic Review (spring 2017) j 155

Copyright 䉷 2017 University of Pennsylvania Press. All rights reserved.

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book he had finished writing the previous summer. Spain, the doctor prom-
ises, will benefit greatly from the publication of the manuscript, as it
addresses “la cosa más necesaria y más olvidada, . . . que es de curar melan-
chólicos locos, furiosos, insensatos y casi brutos, cosa de que jamás persona
a dado en España ni fuera della de la manera que yo e hecho.” Pointing
out the importance of having such a book circulate among the kingdom’s
physicians, Santa Cruz asks the king for financial aid, and requests royal
permission to use the title of “médico y criado de Vuestra Magestad” when
publishing the book, as such a title, he writes, would add prestige and author-
ity to the text (qtd. in Sáez Hidalgo, Dignotio 12).
Like many other details concerning the life of Alfonso de Santa Cruz and
his professional trajectory, it is unknown whether he was, indeed, granted
the mentioned support and permission, or even whether he received an offi-
cial answer on behalf of the royal authorities. His opuscule, however, would
wait for nearly half a century before being printed, posthumously, as an
annex to the works of Alfonso’s son, himself a physician, in 1622 (Ponce de
Santa Cruz, In Avicennae) and again in 1624 (Opuscula).1
As the title Dignotio et cura affectuum melancholicorum (Diagnosis and
treatment of melancholic diseases) suggests, the purpose of the work is to
elucidate practical rather than abstract philosophical aspects of the black
bile—i.e., the etiology, symptoms, and prognosis of melancholy, and the
ways it can be treated and cured. Accordingly, in the dedicatory epistle to
the king—the only part in the text written in the Castilian vernacular—Santa
Cruz emphasizes two advantages that his Dignotio has over the existing body
of knowledge on melancholy. The first has to do with the therapeutic inter-
ventions offered in the text, which, unlike the aggressive treatments found
elsewhere (“tan fuertes que no osan los atinados y cuerdos physicos echar

ing on previous versions of this work, and the Hispanic Review anonymous reviewer, who made
helpful suggestions and corrections. Any errors or imprecisions are my responsibility.
1. A Spanish translation of the Dignotio by Raúl Lavalle was published under the title Sobre la
melancolı́a: diagnóstico y curación de los afectos melancólicos (ca. 1569) (the erroneous date in the
title is based on a common misidentification of Alfonso de Santa Cruz with his brother). An
unpublished critical edition of the Latin text, together with an annotated Spanish translation and
a biographical study on Santa Cruz can be found in Ana Sáez Hidalgo’s Dignotio. I wish to thank
her for making her unpublished edition available to me, and José Ignacio Blanco Pérez for provid-
ing me essential bibliography on the treatise. All the translations from Santa Cruz’s Latin are
mine, and were made after consulting both Spanish translations. References to Santa Cruz’s text
include the page and column numbers of the princeps, followed by the page numbers of Sáez
Hidalgo’s edition.

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mano dellos”), are brought in mild, toned-down versions that can be used
with a broader range of patients.2 The second consists in the accuracy and
didactic quality of the clinical descriptions in the treatise, with which, as
he writes, “pongo delante de los ojos diferentes enfermos oprimidos deste
pernicioso humor, y curados por tal arte y orden, que con facilidad de aquı́
adelante pueda qualquier physico, por moderno [i.e., inexperienced] que sea,
remediar semejantes pasiones” (Santa Cruz n. p./25–26).
And indeed, Santa Cruz’s work offers the reader not only meticulous reci-
pes for the preparation of pharmaceuticals or instructions as to how those
are to be administered, but a cluster of seventeen clinical case histories,
“[c]ontaining the particular therapeutic method I have used with some of
those oppressed by this ailment,”3 occupying almost half of the textual space
of the opuscule. As their title anticipates, all the accounts are presented in the
first person, as personal testimonies of the doctor. Albeit varying in length,
focus, and detail, they all provide the reader some information regarding the
patient’s background, physical disposition, and symptoms, which—in almost
all cases—are linked to the physician’s diagnostic and therapeutic considera-
tions, as well as the outcome of the treatment. Thus, for example, in the case
of a delusional thirty-four-year-old monk, readers are not only informed
that the patient was “hirsute, dark-skinned, and slender,” but are actively
encouraged to infer the man’s basic temperament from such description
(“noting all this, you will [easily, obviously] perceive of what temperament
he was”). Similarly, the monk’s diet is referenced in a manner that is explic-
itly connected to the clinical condition he suffers from (“For a long time, his
nutrition consisted of thick, black wine and other foods of greasy substance,
which everyone knows is the principal cause of the development of melan-
choly”). The symptoms—sadness, fear, and the delusional belief that he had
died, been resurrected, and become immortal—are all presented together
with an evaluation of his other, unimpaired mental faculties (“other than
that, his judgment was unimpaired and he spoke in a manner such that no
one could perceive that he was delirious”). As in other case histories, the
physician then explains the rationale behind his therapeutic strategy in a

2. “Lo que mi estudio particular y larga experiencia en esto ha hecho, es . . . los remedios fuertes,
darles tal temple y prepararlos de manera que casi en todas edades, tiempos y lugares y complexio-
nes, en este mal se pueda usar dellos” (n. p./25).
3. “In quo methodus curativa particularis qua ipse usus sum erga aliquos hos affecto oppressos
continetur” (20b/80).

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manner any practitioner could follow (“since his stomach was overloaded
with undigested substance, we purged his bowels using an ordinary enema,
and the superior belly using a delicate drug of those already mentioned or
that will be mentioned in the corresponding chapter”),4 and specifies the
type of bloodletting, dietary change, and pharmaceuticals used with the
patient. Finally, the patient’s slow recovery, relapse (“due to his immoderate
consumption of food and wine”), and subsequent cure (“by complete prohi-
bition of wine, [the use of] baths, and fine foods”) are all described in didac-
tic detail, to the benefit of the reader.5

While different aspects of Santa Cruz’s clinical descriptions, theoretical

reflections, and readings of the canonical texts have attracted the attention
of a few scholars,6 the Dignotio is still mostly known for a single narration
embedded in it: the story of a melancholic who, like Miguel de Cervantes’s
Tomás Rodaja, deludedly believed he was made of glass, and therefore
avoided any form of physical contact with other people, fearing he would
shatter into pieces.
In fact, the affinities between Cervantes’s literary representation of this
form of madness and the description found in Santa Cruz’s text are so strik-
ing that when Saturnino Rivera Manescau—the first scholar to have noted
them—introduced the Dignotio to Cervantine scholarship in the 1940s, he
declared to have found no less than “el modelo que sirvió a Cervantes para
forjar, por lo menos en cuanto a su forma de locura, al Tomás Rodaja, sujeto
de su Licenciado Vidriera” (5–6).
Setting aside the theoretical problems arising from Manescau’s somewhat

4. “Quidam monachus adest, trigesimum quartum agens annum, hirsutus, subniger, gracilisque,
quibus notatis, quali praeditus sit temperatura vides: hic vino nigro crassoque nutritus diu erat, &
aliis eduliis crassae substantiae, quae omnia causam praecipuam melancholiae generationis esse
omnibus est notum. Hic (inquam) in subitum incidit delirium: fatebaturque se iam fato func-
tum, & demum resurrexisse, immortalemque iam esse, & quod mirum est in caeteris omnibus
recto iudicio discernebat, ac loquebatur, sic ut ne delirare hunc nemo comprehendere posset”
(28b–29a b/98).
5. “quia ventriculus cruditatibus refertus nimis erat, clysmate communi inferiorem ventrem, &
superiorem levi pharmaco quodam ex dictis medicamentis, vel ex dicendis postea suo proprio
capite . . . daemum aliquibus post mensibus transactis, rediit in similem affectum ob intemperant-
iam victus & vini usum, qui restitutus fuit, interdicendo illi vinum omnino, balneo, & optimo
cibo” (29a/98–99).
6. E.g., Antonio Hernández Morejón 170–72; Alberto Escudero Ortuño 45–67; Anastasio Rojo
Vega 145–55; Felice Gambin 107–30; Ana Sáez Hidalgo, “Una vision”; José Blanco Pérez.

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reductive concept of medico-literary relations—a not-too-distant relative of

the nineteenth-century search for “real life models” of which the literary text
was conceived as a replica—the thesis of El licenciado Vidriera as a re-
creation of Santa Cruz’s case history presents us with two main philological
problems, to which critics have referred several times in the past. The first
problem has to do with the fact that, while Santa Cruz must have finished
writing his treatise in the mid-1570s, it did not circulate in print until 1622;
that is, a few years after Cervantes’s death. This has led some to hypothesize
that if the latter had, indeed, read the text, it must have been in a preprinted
form, which became available to him one way or another. While the possibil-
ity of the Dignotio or parts thereof circulating as a manuscript, or that of
Cervantes having access to the text, cannot be discarded, without further
evidence, they do remain mere conjectures.7
The second problem Manescau’s thesis poses has to do with the unequivo-
cal exclusivity it attributes to Santa Cruz’s treatise in the description of vitre-
ous delusions. As several studies have shown in the past decades, early
modern European literature—both medical and other—offered its readers a
whole repertoire of individuals suffering from similar ailments. Thus, one
could come across descriptions of madmen believing they were fragile recep-
tacles, clay pitchers, or—what was more common—that a certain part of
their body was made of a delicate material, be it their head, foot, or buttocks.
Moreover, the topos of the homo vitreus was used at the time as a metaphor
for expressing the fragility of the human condition, and seems to have had a
significant presence in Humanistic writing.8
The narrative embedded in the Dignotio, however, is not only the most
elaborate of all of Vidriera’s extant antecedents, but also the only one known
to have been written in Spain. Moreover, when compared to other textual
representations of glass delusion, Santa Cruz’s bears by far the greatest affin-
ity to the novela ejemplar, both in terms of the phenomenology of madness
and in terms of the environment’s reaction to it. Unlike the majority of
the accounts, both Santa Cruz’s melancholic and his Cervantine counterpart

7. For reviews and critiques of Rivera Manescau’s thesis, see Alberto Escudero Ortuño 60–62;
Agustı́n Amezúa y Mayo 160–63; Augustin Redondo 256–57; and Garcı́a López’s bibliographic
review on the novela ejemplar (Cervantes 930–31).
8. In addition to the medical references mentioned by Redondo (256–57), see both of Gill Speak’s
articles, “El licenciado Vidriera” and “An Odd Kind of Melancholy”; Cesare Segre 127–29; and
Sandra Ramos Maldonado.

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believe they are entirely made of glass; the delusions of the two madmen are
translated to anxieties centered on physical contact with others, rather than,
for instance, a fear of sitting down or a desire that others urinate in them (!),
as registered in other cases (e.g., Speak, “An Odd Kind of Melancholy” 195);
in both cases we find an attempt in the social environment to challenge the
odd belief of the madman, causing him great discomfort but leaving him as
deluded as before; and finally, both melancholics surround themselves with
straw as a means of protection against shattering.
In the absence of new evidence, it seems unlikely that any substantial
contribution can be made to the discussion of the interrelationship of the
Dignotio and El licenciado Vidriera—at least in terms of direct influence of
the medical antecedent on the novela ejemplar. Furthermore, given the criti-
cal shift from problems related to the genesis of Cervantes’s text toward ques-
tions concerning the symbolic significance of glass and cultural associations
ascribed to “being vitreous” in early modernity, Santa Cruz’s account seems
yet another piece in a large puzzle of references, symptoms, and representa-
tions (see, e.g., Redondo, Segre, and Speak).
Thus, between the apparent philological dead end on the one hand, and
the rise of theoretical perspectives favoring distant, rather than close, read-
ings of medical texts on the other, Santa Cruz’s account of the glass man
ended up being alluded to by many, paraphrased or even quoted in its
entirety by others, but never closely read as a narrative in its own right.
Furthermore, tacitly assuming that any narrative depiction of madness in a
medical text is, by definition, a case history, scholarship referring to the
account focused almost exclusively on the pathology and intervention repre-
sented in it, ignoring almost completely the narrative peculiarities and
unusual relation to the text in which it is embedded.
Through a close examination of the framing, texture, and focus of the glass
man’s narrative, I will try to showcase the value of close, contextualized, and
narratologically sensitive readings of medical texts. Such readings, I argue,
can reveal not only the varied—and not always coherent—qualities of medi-
cal writing, but the complex dialogue it maintained with the literary realm.
How was Santa Cruz’s account of the glass man’s delusion to be read? To
what extent does it convey a medical truth about melancholy, or about
madness as a pathology that can be diagnosed and treated with the clinical
knowledge offered to the reader throughout the opuscule? To what extent
does it direct the reader’s gaze towards the medical locus of interest, i.e., the
individual body or mind, and to what extent does it reflect other perspectives

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on madness? And finally, what can this narrative tell us about the epistemic
preoccupations characteristic of early modern Spanish representations of
madness, or about the dialogue between medical writing and literature in the
Golden Age?

Like other humanists of his time—including, of course, medical writers—

Santa Cruz chose to write his opuscule in the well-established genre of the
philosophical dialogue, bringing together a knowledgeable master and a curi-
ous disciple in a locus amoenus and having them discuss the black bile and its
vicissitudes. The interlocutors in the Dignotio are Aristippus, an experienced
physician, and his friend and student, Sophronius, who asks, responds, and
at times even challenges his master’s ideas. While this choice of a genre might
seem to modern readers to be no more than a formal adherence to epochal
stylistic conventions that have little, if anything, to do with the scientific
content in them, the attempt to represent a conversational reality with at
least some degree of verisimilitude is, in fact, quintessential not only to the
process of meaning-making in the text, but also to understanding the knowl-
edge conveyed in it. More than merely facilitating the presentation of a scien-
tific argument, Sophronius’s questions, interventions, and reactions frame
the knowledge provided by Aristippus, and serve as a not-so-implicit model
for the response of the Dignotio’s readers.
It is therefore worth noting that the story of the homo vitreus does not
appear in the same section as the other seventeen case histories of the
Dignotio, a section of the opuscule which is, for obvious reasons, more narra-
tive than conversational. Instead, the account of the glass man’s ailment is
woven into one of the more dialogic parts of the text, a section dedicated to
miscellaneous topics, grouped under the nonspecific title of Problemata et
observationes. In this section, Aristippus elaborates on a theoretical principle
he attributes to Galen, regarding the devastating effects of melancholy on the
faculties of imagination (imaginatio) and reasoning (cogitatio).9 Sophronius,

9. Santa Cruz (or Aristippus) refers the reader to Galen’s De symptomatum causis, book II, but
does not quote nor paraphrase any concrete passage in it. What seems, however, to be the relevant
passage is found in section vii-2 of the treatise, in which the Greek physician explains that
humoral imbalance (dyscrasia) is at the base of all deliria (paraphrosune); states that “melancholic
derangements vary by there being several kinds of false imaginings” (emphasis added); and elabo-
rates on a Hippocratic aphorism that identifies melancholia with extensive fear and despair. The
doctor of Pergamon, however, does not mention in said passage any impairments of cogitation
(263–64). Ironically, what for Galen is a pretext for discussing the causes of extraordinary symp-

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who recalls having heard of such cases, mentions that the ones he came
across were extremely amusing (facetis plenas, lit. ‘full of jokes’ or ‘funny
things’), and implores the doctor to recount a few of the many cases of
insanae imaginationes suffered by miserable melancholics. But while the
disciple seems to be asking the doctor to tell him a facetia, the latter—while
responding quite enthusiastically—suggests a double purpose for his narra-
tion, involving both an entertaining element (recreandi animi gratia) and a
pedagogical one: to engrave in Sophronius’s memory the skill or precaution
(cautela) with which he, Aristippus, managed to deter demented patients
from their mad imaginations.10
While for early modern readers the usefulness of a text and its entertaining
qualities were not conceived as mutually exclusive, but rather complemen-
tary, Santa Cruz’s interlocutors seem nevertheless to be negotiating here
three different purposes of recounting the glass man’s story, purposes that
correspond, at least in part, to different genres, and determine the manner in
which the narrative is to be read. It could be an attempt to elucidate a theo-
retical principle found in a canonical text through a contemporary example
or commentary; it could satisfy one’s desire to have a good laugh, and be read
as a joke or an anecdote (facetia); or it could be a medical case history, through
which a diagnostic or therapeutic lesson is conveyed in an effective manner.
While the distinction between an illustration of a theoretical principle and
a case history focusing on clinical intervention is not insignificant, the greater
tension patent in this dialogic introduction of the narrative is between medi-
cal purposes and nonmedical ones. This is, in Gianna Pomata’s classification
of genres, a tension between what would qualify as pertaining to the epistemic
genres—i.e., the genres whose predominant function is to serve as a vehicle
for the transmission of scientific knowledge—and what should be read along
the lines of a literary genre (“Medical Case Narrative”; “Recipe and the
Case”). Obviously, this distinction does not imply that case histories cannot
also have aesthetic value or make their readers laugh, nor that an anecdote
ceases to be one if it contains important medical information. It does,

toms has no echo in Santa Cruz’s narrative or subsequent discussion, which is only loosely
connected to the canonical reference.
10. “Ita res se habet, & placet aliquas enarrare, tum animi recreandi gratia, tum etiam ut memor-
iae tuae fixa maneat cautela, qua erga hos in dimovendis dementes istis, a suis imaginationibus
usi fuimus” (16a–b/69).

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however, call for a more careful reading of the story, a reading that problem-
atizes, rather than presupposes, its predominant function.
Let us move, then, to Aristippus’s narrative, and examine to what extent
its purpose—insofar as “purpose” can be deduced from a close reading—is
to teach readers a clinical lesson related to melancholy, and if so, to what
degree that lesson fits with Santa Cruz’s explicit agenda of rendering patients
and their pathologies visible to readers, or that of promoting nuanced, mild

Aristippus opens his narration by telling Sophronius about one of his masters
in the Academia in Paris, “a distinguished man, and a great expert in our
art,” who once treated “a very well-known man” (illustrissimus vir) who
believed that he was made of glass. As one could expect from a proper clinical
history, Aristippus describes the core symptoms of the patient with clarity
and in a vivid manner, referring not only the patient’s belief that he was a
glass vessel, but also his fear of shattering, his consequent avoidance of
contact with others, and his “hatred for those who openly challenged his
delusion.”11 However, unlike the patients who populate the majority of Santa
Cruz’s other case histories, the only detail provided at this point about the
illustrissimus patient is his illustriousness: as readers, we are deprived of any
information concerning the age, medical background, humoral complexion,
or life circumstances that might be relevant for understanding the patient’s
pathology. Moreover, the narrative does not include any specific diagnosis
beyond the generic, all-encompassing label of “melancholy.” Any attempt to
reflect on the bodily mechanisms behind the symptoms or to connect the
patient’s particular case to a medical rule, theory, or canonical work is absent
from the text.
The therapeutic intervention—or, to be accurate, the interaction that
includes the doctor, the patient, and the immediate familiar context—is
nonetheless narrated in great detail, and with a dramatizing zeal that cannot
be found in any other case history in the Dignotio:

11. “In Primis in Parisiensi Academia praeceptor quidam meus in arte hac nostra insignis vir, &
satis expertus, curam cuiusdam illustrissimi viri melancholici habebat: qui quidem se vas vitreum
esse existimabat: accedente tamen aliquo, ut illum coloqueretur, statim diligentia & velocitate
maxima discedebat, existimans, aut potius timens, ne alicuius accessu, aut contactu fragerentur;
dementi hac imaginatione aliquandiu permansit, odio magno prosequendo omnes, qui contrar-
ium huius delirii profitebantur” (16b/69).

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Finally, one day, the highly discreet (prudentissimus) doctor approached

[the patient] and said: “My illustrious prince, I cannot avoid laughing at
those who deny that you are a glass vessel, [a fact] that is as clear as the
sun. It is, therefore, necessary that you lie day and night in a bed made
solely of straw, where you will be safe from harm and injury, the same
way glass merchants keep the vessels they transport from colliding or

The doctor’s advice—or ruse—immediately brings to mind the image of

Cervantes’s vitreous loco, transported from Salamanca to Valladolid “en unas
árguenas de paja, como aquellas donde llevan el vidrio . . . , porque se diese
a entender que como vaso de vidrio le llevaban” (281). Indeed, this moment
in Santa Cruz’s narrative, as well as in its novelistic counterpart, seems to
demonstrate to the reader how rapport can be established using what, in
modern terms, would be called a “pace-and-lead” technique, i.e., validating
the subjective experience of the deluded and thereby gaining their trust.
But from a narratological perspective, what needs to draw our attention at
this moment is the employment of direct speech in the passage. While the
mimetic effects of such a choice are somewhat mitigated by the fact that, in
sixteenth-century Paris, no physician would speak Latin to a patient, the
choice of making the doctor’s utterance in his own—as opposed to the
narrator’s—voice converts the readers into spectators who are not merely
informed of what the latter said, but accompany the dramatis personae as
they act; spectators who can perceive the irony of the situation as soon as the
narrator calls the doctor prudentissimus; spectators who, unlike the deluded
melancholic, understand that we are witnessing a manipulation in the
In fact, the narrator seems to take such pleasure in the moment he is
describing, that, like someone who is afraid the story will end too soon, he
slows down the narrative pace as much as he can:

Once the bed was made and muslin sheets spread on it, the doctor asked
him to lie down, and he complied immediately. The physician pretended

12. “Tandem prudentissimus hic medicus quadam die ad illum accessit, cui dixit: Illustrissime
Princeps, non possum non irridere omnes hos, qui te vitreum vas esse negant; quod quidem ita
verum est, ut Sol nunc lucet: quapropter operaepretium est, te noctu diuque in lecto quodam ex
solis paleis constructo iacere, ibi secure & absque laesione eris, sic enim mercatores omnes istorum
vasorum itinerando sua portant vitrea vasa ne collidantur, aut frangantur” (16b/69).

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to have lost something in the room, close to the patient’s bed, and carrying
a lighted torch, he started searching for that thing walking to and fro.
When he was near one of the corners of the bed, he leaned the torch against
that corner and escaped faster than the wind. He closed the bedroom door
and the melancholic was left all alone, surrounded by enormous flames
that nearly destroyed the house.13

A reader whose primary concern is learning how to treat patients suffering

from glass-melancholy would probably need to know that the Parisian
doctor, after gaining the patient’s trust and compliance, set the room on fire.
But the minute details with which the situation is described—the muslin
sheets, the physician walking from one side of the room to the other, the fact
that the bed is set on fire from its corner—seem to serve different purposes:
they contribute to the narrative’s verisimilitude by making the interaction
and the physical setting more imaginable, and they create suspense by post-
poning the moment in which the significant action of putting the bed on fire
is related. While these two qualities can very much make the difference
between a good anecdote and a poor one, they are irrelevant for a clinical
case history, a genre premised on the assumption that the described event
truly occurred, and in which suspense is hardly a necessary component.
Although it may be a by-product resulting from a reader’s attempt to reach
a diagnosis on their own or guess the outcome of an intervention as they
read, it cannot be regarded a substantial component of the genre.
As the narration proceeds, Aristippus describes to his disciple—and to
the readers—the reaction of the patient, who, locked in the bedroom, starts
screaming, banging his head and body against the door, and begging the
members of his household (domestici) to rescue him. Curiously enough, at
this moment the Parisian doctor disappears from the narrative, and those
who finally challenge the madman’s delusion and bring about his cure are
the (lay) members of his household: “From outside [the burning room], they
responded, asking him how it was possible for him to be banging the door

13. “lecto praeparato, syndonibusque supra illud extensis, medicus illum decumbere rogavit; qui
statim concessit: medicus vero fingens se aliquid amissum in cubiculo, praecipue circa infirmi
lectum, sumpta cerea candela accensa, hac & illac quaeritabat, & cum iam prope lecti quendam
angulum accessisset, applicita candela angulo ipsi, vento celerius aufugit, clausoque cubiculi ostio
solus melancholicus mansit, quem quidem ingentissima ignis flamma circundabat, quae etiam
fere domum incendio consumeret” (16b/69).

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with his legs, hands, and head, with all his force, and remain uninjured; and
how he did not shatter into the smallest pieces while claiming to be made of
glass.” After this response, which, in psychological—anachronistic—terms,
we would call unempathetic, the narrative reaches a dramatic climax with
the patient renouncing his delusion from within the burning room: “Open
up, I beg you, dear friends and family members! I no longer believe I am a
glass vessel, but rather the most miserable man on Earth, especially if you
decide to let me perish in this fire!”14
This pathetic cry for help is not only the single occasion in which the glass
man speaks for himself, but the sole moment in which any madman in Santa
Cruz’s opuscule is given voice—a fact that becomes even more suggestive
considering the large portion of textual space dedicated to clinical case
histories in the Dignotio. While relating a patient’s words verbatim could
very well be of value to the clinical reader insofar as language reflects an
internal condition that is better shown than told, the function of direct
speech in this particular moment seems to have more to do with the
dramatic climax the narrative reaches here than with any clinically significant
information the narrator could not have conveyed by a simple statement (cf.
Huarte de San Juan 306–08).
Be that as it may, the patient’s forced confession is followed by two closing
statements by Aristippus. The first is a post hoc attempt to explain the ratio-
nale of the Parisian doctor’s intervention in theoretical, generalizable terms,
according to which “the fear of being consumed by the flames was so intense
that it brought about the abolition of this false imagination.” The second,
serving as a followup description, informs the reader that the patient “not
only ceased to claim he was made of glass, but reprimanded all those who
recounted his madness.”15
While this latter comment seems, at first glance, to be a simple indication

14. “prae metu maximo non solum aeger hic clamabat, verum capite, totoque corpore ostium
quatiendo fortiter auxilium a domesticis expostulabat, qui foris respondebant, ab eo inquirebant,
quo pacto, manibus pedibusque capite ac totis suis viribus ostium frangebat, absque laesione
ulla? & quomodo in minutissimas partes non decissum erat, quandoquidem se vitreum vas esse
fatebatur. At ille? Aperite (obsecro) amici mei, et clarissimi familiares, iam enim non vas vitreum,
sed miserrimum omnium me iudico, praecipue si hic igne isto me vitam agere finitis” (16b/69–70).
15. “Timor enim ille, ne flamma consumeretur, sic intensus fuit, ut causa esset abolitionis falsae
imaginationis . . . deinceps, nam solum tale esse haud confitebatur, verum obiurgabat omnes, qui
huiusmodi referebant dementiam” (16b–17a/70). Note that the verb used to convey the relation
between the patient and the idea that he is made of glass is confiteor, “to confess, to claim,” as
opposed to existimo, “to believe,” which was used in the beginning of the narrative.

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of the successful treatment of an affectus melancholicus, it actually maintains

a certain ambiguity concerning the individual’s internal state (we only know
he stops claiming he is made of glass). Moreover, it shifts the reader’s atten-
tion from the diagnostic and therapeutic realm to the social or interpersonal
drama that takes place when madness becomes a story, a rumor, or an anec-
dote that is recounted in the presence of its uncomfortable protagonist.
As for Aristippus’s theoretical observation, the rationale of eliminating one
passio by imposing another one—stronger or more overwhelming—clearly
resonates with early modern views on madness expressed, for example, by
the popular proverb “El loco por la pena es cuerdo.” This proverb, docu-
mented and commented upon in a variety of sources of the time, conveyed,
inter alia, the idea that punishing those who deviate from the truth, inducing
fear in them or causing them pain, could reducirles a razón, reinstate them
in the realm of reason.16 But while this logic is not foreign to Golden Age
culture, an intervention based on such a principle is quite uncharacteristic of
Santa Cruz’s theoretical stance insofar as it remains within the mental
domain, without referring to any sort of bodily (humoral) mediation. Felice
Gambin, in his book Azabache, tries to make sense of the Parisian doctor’s
treatment by situating it in the context of ancient medical interventions, such
as Caelius Aurelianus’s, led by the principle of “zarandear y trastornar al
paciente buscando efectos similares a los obtenidos por el eléboro. Ası́ como
la potente planta expele la carne infecta, los agitados movimientos y los
sustos imprevistos buscan recalentar, disolver y expulsar las imágenes fijadas
en la cera endurecida de la memoria y reemplazarla con otros phantasmata”
(121). While I agree that blanks concerning the exact psychophysiological
mechanism behind the curative process could be filled by ideas similar to
those Gambin alludes to—though, perhaps, related to the faculty of imagina-
tion rather than to memory—it seems to me that the existence of such blanks

16. See, for example, Sebastián de Covarrubias’s explanation on the proverb: “este proverbio se
verifica algunas veces en los mismos locos de las gavias, a los cuales castigan los que curan dellos,
y entonces no temen como hombres, sino como animales, de la manera y forma que el caballo y
el perro y otro cualquier bruto se sujeta a la disciplina temiendo el castigo” (“Loco”). A slightly
different interpretation emerges from a gloss written a few decades earlier by Sebastián de Horoz-
co, the lexicographer’s father: “Este proverbio segund la letra se ha de entender en el verdadero
loqo [sic] que está fuera de juizio que este tal, si remedio tiene su mal, se ha de curar con penas,
con prisión y con açotes y otros malos tratamientos que se les hazen a los locos para curallos”
(289). For other commentaries, see Gonzalo Correas (277, E748). For an example of the proverb
used in a real-life, nonliterary situation, see Dale Shuger (78–79). On the concept of reducción and
spatial notions of madness in the Golden Age, see David A. Boruchoff.

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attests precisely to the very limited attempt to give medical—humoral,

bodily—sense to the narrative as a whole. Moreover, on a more practical
level, a cure that entails locking a patient in a room set on fire, even when
conceived as a serious or effective treatment, can hardly count as a remedio
templado such as the ones the physician from Valladolid so proudly declared
to be the raison d’être of his opuscule.
Sophronius’s final response to the master’s story seems to address the
atypical intervention depicted in the narration, and seems to point—or at
least hint—at the generic key for reading it: first, he notes the fact that the
cure was carried out “in spite of the danger of burning down the house,
and—even more important than that—the man”; and then, instead of a
question, a clarification, or a comment that would highlight the scientific
teaching he would take from the narrative, he simply states, “I was unable to
contain my laughter.”17

To conclude, both the framing of the glass man’s story and its texture clearly
distinguish it from the rest of the clinical narratives related in the Dignotio.
Emphasizing, on the one hand, details that are useless for the diagnosis or
cure of melancholy, and lacking, on the other, explanations a medical prac-
titioner would find indispensable, the homo vitreus narrative hardly fits into
the rubric of a medical case history, as amply defined as that category may
Abundant in literary devices, the short narrative seems to be more inclined
towards the creation of meaning than toward serving as a vehicle for the
transmission of medical knowledge. The ironic gap between what the
deluded patient believes and what the informed readers are supposed to
understand; the suspense resulting from the narrator’s sudden change of
rhythm; the atypical use of direct speech; and the pathos with which the
patient declares his so-called cure—all these, together with the framing of
the narrative as “something funny,” suggest that the account should be read
as something closer to a cuentecillo or a facetia than anything else. While this
by no means implies that a patient like the glass man could not have existed,
or that therapeutic methods such as those employed by the Parisian doctor
could never be used in extratextual reality, it does draw our attention to the

17. “Mediusfidius haud poteram (si animadvertisti) risum detinere, praecipue inter recitandum
historiam hominis vitrei, quo pacto restitutus ille suae saluti fuit, periculo posthabito destruendae
domus, & (quod magis est) cremandi viri illius” (17a/71).

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gap between the medical agenda of the Dignotio’s writer and the intentional-
ity of the embedded narrative.
From a philological perspective, one cannot avoid suggesting that the story
of the glass man is not only of a different genre and intentionality, but of a
different provenance altogether. Framed as an account of something the
narrator never claims to have witnessed or experienced himself, it does
not seem unreasonable to think that our cuentecillo is yet another tale that
circulated—orally or in a manuscript version, in Latin or in a vernacular
language—in sixteenth-century Spain, a tale that, due to its thematic affinity
or appealing aesthetic qualities, found its way into Santa Cruz’s medical trea-
tise, and could have reached Cervantes even if the latter had no access to or
knowledge of the Dignotio at all.
This would not be the first case in which nonmedical narratives of popular
genres—dealing, specifically, with madness—found their way into the works
of early modern Spanish medical writers. Such narratives can be found in
works such as Pedro de Mercado’s Diálogos de filosofı́a natural y moral (1558),
Juan Huarte de San Juan’s Examen de ingenios para las ciencias (1575), or
Andrés Velásquez’s Libro de la melancholı́a (1585), often reframed as scientific
exempla and subjected—with different degrees of effort and with varying
degrees of success—to the philosophical or practical agendas of their writers.
On this point I agree with Gambin, who, in a footnote to his reading of
Velásquez’s Libro de la melancholı́a, mentions without further development
the understudied “presencia de materiales aparentemente folklóricos
también en la literatura cientı́fica,” and explains that “un análisis al respecto
podrı́a revelar que muchos casos considerados clı́nicos remiten a menudo, a
la vez, a elementos narrativos tradicionales con los que conviven y se
confrontan” (202–03, note 43; for the original narration see Velásquez 136).
While Gambin does not raise such a hypothesis concerning the story of the
glass man (120–21), nor even reflects on the meaning of such presence in
medical literature on melancholy, he does offer us another example for such
a case, based on Maxime Chevalier’s choice to include one of Huarte’s case
histories in an anthology of Golden Age folk narratives (Chevalier 342–43;
Huarte de San Juan 308–09).18
But beyond showcasing the generic heterogeneity of early modern scien-
tific writing, the presence of a cuentecillo in the midst of a professedly clinical

18. For a close reading of Huarte’s case, see Or Hasson, “Locura e ingenio”; for the presence of
other popular narratives in Santa Cruz’s clinical writing, see Hasson, “Narrating Lovesickness.”

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text can tell us something about the dialogue—and tensions—between the

medical approach to madness and popular discourses thereof, embodied,
inter alia, in narratives such as that of the glass man. Challenging medical
equanimity and the amoral view of madness as a reflection of unbalanced
humoral—i.e., bodily—dynamics, the story of the glass man diverts readers’
attention from the pathological core of the patient’s delusion, allowing them
to enjoy the amusing aspects of the physician’s astuteness, the servants’
complicity, and the dramatic declaration of sanity provided in the loco’s own
voice. Rather than a diagnostic enigma or a therapeutic how-to narrative, the
glass man’s story is a spectacle—whether funny or pathetic—of a reducción,
the moral act of proving someone wrong, whether in religious matters, in
social behavior, or in their perception of reality, and the act of reinstating
them in the realm of truth or reason, even at the risk of burning them alive.
Thus, whether readers identify more with Sophronius’s inability to control
his laughter or with his astonishment at the radical, dangerous treatment,
the cuentecillo epitomizes the limitations of the medical paradigm, or the
exceptions to its rule. It is a moment in the medical text in which madness
cannot be thought of merely as a clinical question—an aberration of the
imaginative faculty caused by melancholy—and becomes a social and ethical
question, a drama taking place in the communal—or at least interpersonal—
realm: in short, a story.

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