1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 18

Adrianus stood also and walked Phillip to the door. “You’re still welcome to attend the open lectures,” he said.

“Thank you, Professor Spigelius, I will do that,” he said. Unfortunately, without his mentor’s support Phillip knew he would struggle to get into the lecture theaters for some of the more interesting courses. He’d certainly never have got into Giulio’s three week course of anatomy back in January if the Professore hadn’t arranged a spot for him.

Phillip stepped out of the room and shut the door behind him. He paused for a few moments to think, but he was distracted by a sound. He looked down the corridor and saw two men step out of the shadows. One of them was Dr. Piazzono, but the other was old Fabrictus himself — Hieronymus Fabricius. And judging by the sly smiles he and Dr. Piazzono were exchanging, they knew exactly what had happened in Professor Spigelius’ office. Phillip nodded his head in an informal bow to his mentor’s great rival and hurried off in the other direction.


Professor Prospero Alpini stood at the door to the courtyard and waited. The man he wanted to talk to had to pass through this way. Right on schedule Phillip Gribbleflotz entered the courtyard. Prospero left his doorway and moved to intercept him.

“Phillip, just the man I was looking for. How did your interview with the new chair of surgery go?”

Phillip grimaced and glanced back the way he’d come. “I think Professor Fabrictus gave Professor Spigelius orders that I was no longer to be admitted into any medical classes.”

“You should be careful about the names you use to describe important members of the faculty, Phillip,” Prospero said. Then he did an about face. “How did you work out the name?”

“Did you ever see the way he smiled when someone complimented Giulio?”

“Oh yes.” Prospero sniggered. “Yes I have, and yes, the nickname fits Hieronymus. Now, what are you planning to do with yourself?” he asked.

Philip shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s clear that as long as Fabrictus is around no one of stature will take me on as their apprentice, but everything has happened so suddenly that I haven’t had time to think.”

As a member of the faculty, Prospero knew that Phillip faced an uphill task completing his medical training at Padua. It wasn’t just Hieronymus having it in for him as Giulio’s last apprentice. There was also the enmity of the many people Phillip had had managed to offend with his loose tongue. Prospero studied the young man. His paranoia over Hieronymus could make it so much easier to carry out his plan.

“Why don’t we go to my office and talk about your options?” Prospero asked. He didn’t give Philip a chance to decline the offer. Instead he put a hand behind his shoulder and steered him towards the exit he’d been waiting by.


It was a leisurely walk of little more than ten minutes from the university to Prospero’s office at the botanical gardens. Once there Prospero gently pushed Phillip towards some chairs. “Please, take a seat,” he said before slipping into his favorite chair. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

Phillip hesitated, and Prospero smiled. “It’s okay. Battista knows how you like it.”

“Thank you very much. I would like coffee, please.”

“Battista,” Prospero called out. “Coffee for me, and colored water for Phillip.” He turned back to Phillip. “Now, you’re probably wondering why I wanted to talk to you . . .”

Prospero was interrupted by the entry of a matronly woman bearing a tray. She laid a cup and a plate with a piece of cake beside Phillip before doing the same for Prospero, except he only got cookies, and plain ones at that. “Why does he get pampepato and I don’t?” he demanded.

Battista ruffled Phillip’s hair. “He’s a growing boy, and you know it’s not good for you,” she said before leaving.

“Would you like the cake, Professore?”

Prospero turned back to see Phillip offering him his plate. He was tempted. In fact he was sorely tempted. Unfortunately, he knew that even though he might enjoy it while eating it, it would come back to haunt him later. It was better that he stuck to the plain cookies, which wouldn’t disagree with his stomach. “No, no,” he said, waving away the plate. “You have it.” He sighed again. “What did you do to deserve such favored treatment?” he asked. “Battista only serves her special pampepato to especially favored people.”

“It was nothing,” Phillip said. “One of her cousin’s had an ox with bad sores from a badly fitted harness. All we did was let it get flyblown and left the maggots to clean up the wound.”

Prospero realized that the “we” Phillip was talking about were him and the animal doctor he boarded with. “Yes, one does tend to forget that you sometimes help your landlord in his animal practice.” He smiled at Phillip. “That just makes you even more suitable as the replacement physician for the botanical expedition to Dalmatia that Michael Weitnauer is leading. Are you interested? I need an answer quickly, because they’re already in Venice.”

“But I’m not a qualified physician,” Phillip said.

“I know, but you are more than adequately qualified for the job, Phillip. The expedition doesn’t need a fully qualified doctor. It only needs someone capable of dealing with common complaints, and someone who can help Michael cataloging specimens. The fact you know a little about the care of livestock is a valuable extra. So, are you interested?”

“Could you tell me more about what will be expected of me?” Phillip asked.


Phillip stood in preparation to taking his leave. He and Prospero had hammered out the details and he had to make arrangements to leave Padua as soon as possible, so as not to delay any longer than necessary the already delayed expedition.

Prospero also stood. He looked at Phillip for a few seconds. “There is something I want you to take with you.” He pulled a folder from his bookshelf and laid it in Phillip’s hands.

Phillip opened the folder and quickly came to understand what it was he held. “But this is the manuscript for Professor Casseri’s last book, his Tabulae Anatomicae,” he said. “I can’t take this.” He tried to give it back to Prospero.

Prospero refused to take it back. “But you must. Hieronymus is already looking for it. I expect he wants to include the plates in his own book on anatomy.

Phillip froze. The sometimes bitter rivalry between his mentor and Hieronymus Fabricius had lasted over thirty years and Prospero obviously didn’t think that Fabricius was going to let the little matter of Giulio’s death get in the way of him carrying on the feud. He flipped open the folder again and leafed through the pages. “These are just proof copies of the plates,” he said. “Even if I take this, Professor Fabrictus will still have access to the plates.”

“But he won’t have access to the text, Phillip,” Prospero shook the manuscript. “This is the only copy of Guilio’s text. It will take Fabricius years to create a text to go with the plates.”

The implication was obvious to Phillip. Professor Fabricius was eighty-three years old and he might not have the years in which to write a new text. It would be something he could do to protect the memory of his mentor. “I’ll take it.” He slid the manuscript into the student’s satchel he always carried. “Thank you for thinking of me for a place on the expedition to Dalmatia, Professore.”

“You are a natural for the expedition, Phillip.”

May, 1616, Near Lake Varna, Dalmatia

The expedition was in a small village about twenty miles north northwest of Vodice, their port of entry, in the south of Dalmatia. The three teamsters responsible for the expedition’s pack animals were gathered around a table drinking and eating. Michael Weitnauer, the expedition leader and botanist, was checking his notes for today’s destination at another table, and Phillip was sitting on a log weaving together long stemmed white flowers.

One of the teamsters had been watching Philip for a while. He turned back to his companions. “That Gribbleflotz is such a waste of space. We should have a proper physician,” Gasparo Luzzatto said. “Not some failed medical student.”