1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 17

Silence greeted that sally. Everyone turned to Dr. Piazzono to see how he would react. He reacted with quiet fury. He straightened, keeping his eyes on Phillip, and pointed towards the door. “Get out of my lecture theatre and never return.” It was growled out, leaving no one in any doubt that he was angry.

A faint nod from his mentor was enough for Phillip to grab his things and leave. He waited for Giulio in the courtyard just outside the Palazzo Bo. Unfortunately, Giulio walked out in the company of Dr. Piazzono. They were involved in a heated discussion that Phillip felt might be about him, so he kept his distance as he followed them. Eventually the two men separated and Phillip was able to approach Giulio. Giulio turned at Phillip’s footfalls on the paved courtyard. “That was not very well done, Phillip.”

“But bloodletting is wrong,” Philip protested. “You’ve said so yourself.”

“Maybe I have, and I thank you for not bringing that up during your little splat with Dr. Piazzono. But you shouldn’t have compared the actions of a physician to those of an animal doctor.”

“I bet Giacomo Sedazzari loses fewer patients than Dr. Piazzono,” Phillip protested.

“It is not a competition, Phillip,” Giulio said. “And it was very bad of you to bring Paracelsus into the discussion.”

“But he was right,” Phillip protested. “A physician should rid the body of the disease that causes the fever by treating it with the right drugs, not by draining it of blood.”

Phillip was so intent on defending himself that he didn’t notice another member of the teaching staff heading towards them until he realized Giulio was looking behind him. He turned and saw Professor Prospero Alpini, the University of Padua’s head botanist, and director of the Botanical Garden of Padua approaching.

“Prospero, just the person I wanted to talk to. Could you just wait a moment?” Giulio glanced back to Phillip. “How are you going with the specimens for my course on anatomy?”

“I’ve managed to secure the animals you wanted, but there aren’t enough executions scheduled.” Phillip smiled. “Still, it’s winter. We shouldn’t have to wait long.”

“That’s not a very nice attitude, Phillip,” Prospero said.

“Unfortunately though, it is very true,” Giulio said. “Where would we be without the poor who are willing to lend us their dead in return for a fitting burial?”

“Rather short of cadavers,” Prospero admitted. “I hear you’re going to present your next course on anatomy in the public anatomical theater. I never thought I’d see the day that you stepped foot into Fabricius’ anatomy theater.” He turned to Phillip. “What do you think?”

Phillip understood why Prospero was so surprised. It was a remarkable about-face on Giulio’s part. The public anatomical theater in the Palazzo Bo owed its very existence to Professor Fabricius, and in the twelve years since he took over the chair of surgery Giulio had refused to teach in what he considered his rival’s territory. Still, there was a perfectly rational explanation. “There’s been so much advance interest in Professor Casseri’s next anatomy course that there just isn’t enough room in his private theater for them all.”

Giulio smiled at Phillip. “I’ve reserved a place on the second tier with an excellent view for you.”

“Thank you, Professore,” Phillip said. And he was thankful, because he’d been worried that he might miss out.

“You’re not assisting?” Prospero asked.

“Not this time.” Giulio reached out and patted Phillip on the shoulder. “Because the course is being held on university grounds the rector has control over who get to assist.”

“Fabricius strikes again,” Prospero muttered. “He’s never going to give up on his feud with you, Giulio.”

“He’s old, Prospero. Now, I’ve finished the draft of my Tabulae Anatomicae, and I was wondering if you’d be so good as to have a look at it.”

“Of course I’d be happy to look at it for you,” Prospero said. “Shall we go to your office now?”

“Before you go, Professor Prospero,” Phillip interrupted. “Have you had a chance to try the evaporated essence of coffee I gave you?”

“Not yet, Phillip, but I will. I promise.”

Giulio turned to Phillip. “I won’t see you again until we prepare for my anatomy course, until then, do please try and keep out of trouble.”

“Trouble,” Phillip muttered to himself as he walked off. He didn’t get into trouble.


Prospero glanced back to check that Phillip was out of earshot before speaking. “What did he do this time?” he asked.

Giulio released a heavy sigh. “He spoke out during a lecture by Francesco.”

“Speaking out isn’t exactly discouraged,” Prospero pointed out.

“In Phillip’s case, it should be actively discouraged.”

“Oh dear,” Prospero sighed. Sometimes Phillip was his own worst enemy. “Do I want to know the details?”

Giulio shook his head. “Francesco was talking about the virtues of bloodletting, and Phillip countered with Paracelsus.”

Prospero winced. Francesco wasn’t a rabid Galenist, but he certainly wasn’t a great fan of Paracelsus. “Enough said. You do realize, Giulio, that if you do manage to see Phillip through the examinations, it’ll be considered amongst your greatest achievements.”

“He’s not that bad,” Giulio protested.

“No, of course not,” Prospero said. “But neither is he a William Harvey or a Giulio Cesare Casseri. Anyone could get men of their ability through the Padua examinations, but one such as Phillip, now that will take a truly great teacher.”

“It will be one in the eye for Hieronymus, won’t it?” A smiled lit up Giulio’s face for a few seconds before he turned back to Prospero. “What’s the story with Phillip’s evaporated essence of coffee?”

Prospero smiled at the memory of Phillip’s enthusiasm when he brought it to him. “He found an untouched cup of coffee I left in the laboratory a few days ago and . . .”

Giulio waved a hand. “No need to continue. Being Phillip, he will have extracted the soluble essence of the coffee and turned it into a powder.”

“He didn’t simply reduce it to a powder,” Prospero said, a little of the outrage he felt entering his voice. “He went one better. He made it into pills.” Prospero shuddered. “One no longer has to suffer the ecstasy of a properly brewed cup of coffee to experience the benefits it can bring. No, all you have to do is take a pill.”

Giulio snorted. “Phillip still hasn’t developed a taste for coffee the way you learned to drink it in Cairo?”

“No he hasn’t. Now, about this book . . .”

Three months later, March 9, 1616, Padua

Things had been going so well. Between Giulio’s mentoring and the Sedazzari family’s acceptance of him, Phillip had felt that his goal was within sight. But now. . .

Phillip staggered into the house and collapsed into the first chair he came across. The noise he made attracted the attention of his landlady, who arrived in the room seconds after he landed in the chair.

“What’s happened?” Francesca Sedazzari asked as she entered the room.

Phillip looked up, the tears falling down his cheeks. “Giulio’s dead.”

“Your mentor at the university? What happened?” Francesca asked as she put her arms around Phillip.

“He died last night, of a fever.”

Phillip felt arms around him. He put his arms around Francesca and buried his face in her shoulder, and let the tears fall.

A few days later

Phillip sat in Giulio’s old office facing the new holder of the recently vacated chair of surgery. He was dressed in his best clothes, and had come with his portfolio of drawings and notes from the various medical lectures he had attended.

“I’m sorry, Signor Gribbleflotz, but any arrangement you had with my esteemed colleague was extinguished by his death,” Adrianus Spigelius said. “If you wish to study medicine at the University of Padua you must first demonstrate your academic credentials, and to date you have not done this.”

Phillip sighed. It wasn’t unheard of for someone to earn a doctorate without first earning a Baccalaureus Atrium, but all the cases he’d heard of had something else going for them, such as family connections, or as in this case with Giulio , apprentice themselves to a suitable mentor. Unfortunately, Giulio had been his mentor. To prove his academic credentials Phillip was going to have to earn a Baccalaureus Atrium. It would take him at least three years to learn the material needed to pass the exams, and in the meantime he wouldn’t have time to attend lectures on the things that really interested him, such as medical botany and iatrochemistry. He got to his feet. “Thank you for your time, Professor Spigelius.”