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Short Article The Use of Mercury against Pediculosis in the Renaissance: The Case of Ferdinand II of Aragon, King of Naples, 1467–96

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      Abstract

      The hair samples of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467–1496), King of Naples, whose mummy is preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, showed a high content of mercury, with a value of 827ppm. Furthermore, examination using a stereomicroscope and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) of head and pubic hairs of Ferdinand II, revealed a lice infestation. The reasons for the massive presence of the mercury in the king's hair are discussed and contemporary literature regarding the use of this metal in medical therapies and in cosmetic practices is analysed. As a result, the high value of mercury in the hair of Ferdinand II can be attributed to antipediculosis therapy, applied as a topic medicament. This case represents an important finding for the history of medicine, because demonstrates that in the Renaissance mercury was applied locally not only to treat syphilis, as well attested by direct and indirect sources, but also to prevent or eliminate lice infestation.

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      Affiliations
      *Professor Gino Fornaciari and Dr Valentina Giuffra, simpleDepartment of Oncology, Transplants and Advanced Technologies in Medicine, Division of Palaeopathology, History of Medicine and Bioethics, University of Pisa , Italy; Dr Silvia Marinozzi and Professor Valentina Gazzaniga, simpleDepartment of Experimental Medicine, Section of History of Medicine, University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ , Italy; Dr Malayka Samantha Picchi and Dr Massimo Masetti, simpleDepartment of Biology, Laboratory of Entomology, University of Pisa ; Professor Mario Giusiani, simpleDepartment of Neuroscience, Section of Forensic Medicine, University of Pisa .
      Primary address for correspondence: Professor Gino Fornaciari, Divisione di Paleopatologia, Storia della Medicina e Bioetica, simpleDipartimento di Oncologia, dei Trapianti e delle Nuove Tecnologie in Medicina, Università di Pisa , via Roma 57, 56126 Pisa, Italy. Email: g.fornaciari@ 123456med.unipi.it
      Journal
      Med Hist
      MEDICAL HISTORY
      MEDICAL HISTORY
      MEDICAL HISTORY
      Medical History
      Medical History
      0025-7273
      January 2011
      : 55
      : 1
      : 109-115
      3037217
      medhis5501-07-109
      © Gino Fornaciari, Silvia Marinozzi, Valentina Gazzaniga, Valentina Giuffra, Malayka Samantha Picchi, Mario Giusiani, Massimo Masetti, 2011.
      Categories
      Short Article

      History

      ferdinand ii of aragon, naples, renaissance, lice, mercurial therapy

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