Paolo Mantegazza  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Paolo Mantegazza (18311910) was a prominent Italian neurologist, physiologist and anthropologist, noted for the isolation of cocaine from coca leaves and his experimental investigation into its effects on the human psyche. He was also a writer of fiction, in novels such as L'Anno 3000.


Mantegazza was born at Monza on October 31, 1831. After spending his student-days at the universities of Pisa and Milan, he gained his M.D. degree at Pavia in 1854. After travelling in Europe, India and the Americas, he practised as a doctor in the Argentine Republic and Paraguay. Returning to Italy in 1858 he was appointed surgeon at Milan Hospital, in Milan, and professor of general pathology at Pavia. In 1870 he was nominated professor of anthropology at the Instituto di Studi Superiori, Florence. Here he founded the first Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in Italy, and later the Italian Anthropological Society. From 1865 to 1876 he was deputy for Monza in the Italian parliament, subsequently being elected to the senate. He became the object of bitter attacks on the ground of the extent to which he carried the practice of vivisection.

In a time when the popular and official science and culture in Italy were still under heavy influence of the Roman Catholic Church, Mantegazza was a staunch liberal and defended the ideas of darwinism in anthropology, his research having helped to establish it as the "natural history of man". From 1868 to 1875 he maintained a correspondence with Charles Darwin, too.

Paolo Mantegazza also believed that drugs and certain foods would change humankind in the future, and defended the experimental investigation and use of cocaine as one of these miracle drugs (its addiction potential was not known at the time). When Mantegazza returned from Peru, where he had witnessed the use of coca by the natives, he was able to chew a regular amount of coca leaves and then tested on himself in 1859. Afterwards, he wrote a paper titled Sulle Virtù Igieniche e Medicinali della Coca e sugli Alimenti Nervosi in Generale ("On the hygienic and medicinal properties of coca and on nervous nourishment in general"). He noted enthusiastically the powerful stimulating effect of cocaine in coca leaves on cognition:

"...I sneered at the poor mortals condemned to live in this valley of tears while I, carried on the wings of two leaves of coca, went flying through the spaces of 77,438 words, each more splendid than the one before...An hour later, I was sufficiently calm to write these words in a steady hand: God is unjust because he made man incapable of sustaining the effect of coca all life long. I would rather have a life span of ten years with coca than one of 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 centuries without coca."

Mantegazza died at San Terenzo (La Spezia) in 1910.


Mantegazza's published works also included Fisiologia del Dolore (Physiology of Pain, 1880); Fisiologia deli Amore (Physiology of Love, 1896); Elementi d'igiene (Elements of Hygiene, 1875); Fisonomia e Mimica (Physiognomy and Mimics, 1883); Gli Amori degli Uomini (The Sexual Relations of Mankind, 1885); Fisiologia dell'odio, (Physiology of Hate, 1889); and Fisiologia della Donna (Physiology of Women, 1893). His advanced philosophical and social views were published in a 1,200-page volume in 1871, titled Quadri della Natura Umana. Feste ed Ebbrezze ("Pictures of Human Nature. Feasts and Inebriations"). Many consider this opus his masterpiece.

As a fiction writer, Mantegazza was very original and daring. He wrote a romance on the marriage between people with disease, Un Giorno a Madera (1876), which made quite a sensation. Less well known is his science fiction and futuristic romance L'Anno 3000 (The Year 3000, written in 1897).

La sua opera

  • Un giorno a Madera (1868)
  • Rio de la Plata e Tenerife (1867, Brigola, Milano)
  • La fisiologia dell'amore (1873)
  • Igiene dell'amore (1877 - Libreria Editrice G.Brigola - Milano)
  • La fisiologia del piacere (1880)
  • Quadri della natura umana. Feste ed ebbrezze (1871) Testo su
  • Le estasi umane (1887, Treves, Milano, ristampato nel 1943 da Marzocco Edizioni, Firenze).
  • Fisiologia della donna (1893)
  • L'anno 3000: sogno (1897) (romanzo di fantascienza)
  • Bibbia della speranza (1908)
  • Profili e paesaggi della Sardegna (1870)
  • L'arte di essere felici (1886)
  • Il dio ignoto (1876)
  • Testa (romanzo, 1887)
  • Il secolo nevrosico (1887)
  • Studi sulla etnologia dell'India (1886, Società Italiana d'Antropologia, Firenze)
  • Epicuro, saggio di una filosofia del bello, (1891, Treves, Milano, II ed.)
  • Elogio della vecchiaia (1893, Treves, Milano, ristampato nel 1993 da Franco Muzio Editore, Padova)
  • Le leggende dei fiori (1890, Dumolard, Milano)

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