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Title: A Moral Anatomy of the Early Modern Sneeze
Author(s): OSSA-RICHARDSON, Anthony
Volume: 40 Issue: 2 Date: 2013
This article discusses the interrelation between the history of science (in this case the anatomy and physiology of the skull) and the history of social behaviour, using the case of the sneeze and the customs surrounding it, as discussed in early modernity (approximately 1543–1756) – a subject absent from existing scholarship. In the first main section, I examine the redescription of skull anatomy by Conrad Victor Schneider (1655) and its implications for the sneeze, previously assumed to be a function of the brain. In the second, I analyse moral and religious discourses about the propriety of blessing those who sneeze, discourses which ostensibly turn on claims about the nature of the sneeze itself. These two aspects are brought together most vividly in a monograph on sneezing (1664) by the Dutch professor Marten Schoock. In conclusion I argue that the interrelation between ‘scientific’ and ‘moral’ discussions of sneezing was an early modern illusion which began to be dispelled in the eighteenth century.