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Climate theories in Italy

Citation: Miglietti, Sara (2022) Climate theories in Italy. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of the Renaissance World. Routledge.


Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

“Climate theory” is a modern umbrella term for various historical doctrines that highlighted the impact of climatic and geographical factors (e.g., temperature, winds, relief, etc.) on human bodies, minds, and behaviours. Such doctrines were often associated with ethnic stereotyping, as different regions of the earth were thought to engender distinctive “national characters”: e.g., the gluttonous German, the vengeful Italian, the fickle French. While the origins of climate theory date back to classical antiquity, with the Hippocratic school of medicine and the theory of the humors, the early modern period is often considered the heyday of this tradition. Modern surveys of climate theory generally highlight the role played by French thinkers such as Jean Bodin (1529-1596), who wrote extensively about the impact of climate on national character and about its implications for politics and law-making. Yet climate theory was not the monopoly of any one thinker or nation. On the contrary, it circulated widely throughout Europe, crisscrossing geographic and linguistic borders through the medium of print, translation, and epistolary networks of intellectual exchange. At the same time, climate theory particularly flourished in places where universities, academies, and princely courts fostered continued engagement with ancient and medieval texts steeped in that tradition. Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was just such a place. Doctors, philosophers, theologians, and political thinkers discussed these theories from various standpoints, sometimes engaging in heated controversies. In particular, three major points of debate were the scale at which environmental influences should be studied, the relationship between environment and ethics, and the accommodation of classical ideas to Catholic doctrine and to the missionary agenda of the Counter-Reformation Church.

Creators: Miglietti, Sara (0000-0003-2872-1400) and
Subjects: Classics
Culture, Language & Literature
Keywords: Astrology, Counter-Reformation, History of Environmental Ideas, Ethics, Intellectual History, Early Modern Europe, History of Medicine, Colonialism, Moral philosophy, Natural philosophy, Political thought
Divisions: Warburg Institute
  • May 2022 (submitted)


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