Showing posts with label 1835. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1835. Show all posts

6 November 2017

Cesare Lombroso – criminologist

Professor who first encouraged study of criminal mind

Cesare Lombroso changed the way the  world thought about criminals
Cesare Lombroso changed the way the
world thought about criminals
Cesare Lombroso, a university professor often referred to as ‘the father of criminology’ was born on this day in 1835 in Verona.

Although many of his views are no longer held to be correct, he was the first to establish the validity of scientific study of the criminal mind, paving the way for a generation of psychiatrists and psychologists to create a greater understanding of criminal behaviour.

In broad terms, Lombroso's theory was that criminals could be distinguished from law-abiding people by multiple physical characteristics, which he contended were throwbacks to primitive, even subhuman ancestors, which brought with them throwbacks to primitive behaviour that went against the rules and expectations of modern civilized society.

Through years of postmortem examinations and comparative studies of criminals, the mentally disturbed and normal non-criminal individuals, Lombroso formed the belief that ‘born criminals’ could be identified by such features as the angle of their forehead, the size of their ears, a lack of symmetry in the face or even arms of excessive length. He even argued that certain characteristics – he called them “stigmata” – were common to particular types of offenders.

He also believed that criminals had less sensitivity to pain, sharper vision, a lack of normal morals, were more vain, vindictive and cruel, although he did not suggest that there was no prospect of anyone born with “stigmata” leading a blameless life.

Lombroso at work at the University of Pavia
Lombroso at work at the University of Pavia
Indeed, he proposed reforms to the Italian penal system that included more humane and constructive treatment of convicts through the use of work programmes intended to make them more productive members of society.

Lombroso’s theories were initially widely influential in Europe and the United States, even though over time the idea that criminal behaviour had hereditary causes was largely rejected in favour of environmental factors, and the idea that someone could be born a criminal was established as implausible.

At the time, however, Lambroso was a respected figure. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Verona, descended from a long line of rabbis, Lombroso studied at the universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris.

From 1862 until 1876 he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pavia and of forensic medicine and hygiene (1876), psychiatry (1896) and criminal anthropology (1906) at the University of Turin. He was also the director of a mental asylum in Pesaro. 

The monument to Lombroso in his home town of Verona
The monument to Lombroso in his home town of Verona
He published books entitled L’uomo delinquente (The Criminal Man; 1876) and Le Crime, causes et remèdes (Crime, Its Causes and Remedies; 1899).

In addition to his work in the field of criminology, Lambroso devoted much time to studying his belief that genius was closely related to madness.  He wrote a book in 1889, The Man of Genius, in which he argued that artistic genius was a form of hereditary insanity and in which he claimed that, in his exploration of geniuses descending into madness, he could find only six men who exhibited no tendencies towards madness - Galileo, Da Vinci, Voltaire, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Darwin – but that Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Mozart and Dante all displayed what he called "degenerate symptoms".

The Roman amphitheatre in Verona
The Roman amphitheatre in Verona
Travel tip:

Verona, Lombroso’s home town – under Austrian rule at the time of his birth – is now the third largest city in the northeast of Italy, with a population across its whole urban area of more than 700,000. Famous now for its wealth of tourist attractions, of which the Roman amphitheatre known the world over as L’Arena di Verona is just one, the city was also the setting for three plays by Shakespeare – one of those geniuses Lambroso believed sat on the cusp of madness.  Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew all had Verona as their backdrop, although it is unknown whether the English playwright ever actually set foot in the city.  There is a monument to Cesare Lombroso in a park also named after him on the banks of the Adige river opposite the Cathedral of Santa Maria Matricolare.

The Courtyard of the Statues inside the University of Pavia
The Courtyard of the Statues inside the University of Pavia
Travel tip:

Situated only 35km (22 miles) from Milan, Pavia has the advantages of close proximity to all the services and opportunities on offer in northern Italy’s principal city yet itself offers a calmer way of life amid its ancient streets and elegant buildings, which remain as a legacy of its stature as the one-time capital of the Lombardy region. It is a city of rich cultural heritage with 19 museums, four public libraries, four cinemas and theatres, two schools of music arts and a music conservatory. Its university, home to 24,000 students, was founded in 1361 and now has 13 faculties.

27 July 2017

Giosuè Carducci – poet and Nobel Prize winner

Writer used his poetry as a vehicle for his political views 

Giosuè Carducci in a photograph  taken in about 1870
Giosuè Carducci in a photograph
 taken in about 1870
Giosuè Carducci, the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born on this day in 1835 in Tuscany.

Christened Giosuè Alessandro Giuseppe Carducci, he lived with his parents in the small village of Valdicastello in the province of Lucca.

His father, a doctor, was an advocate of the unification of Italy and was involved with the Carbonari, a network of secret revolutionary groups. Because of his politics, the family was forced to move several times during Carducci’s childhood, eventually settling in Florence.

During his time in college, Carducci became fascinated with the restrained style of Greek and Roman literature and his work as an adult often used the classical meters of such Latin poets as Horace and Virgil. He published his first collection of poems, Rime, in 1857.

He married Elvira Menicucci in 1859 and they had four children.

Carducci in around 1900
Carducci in around 1900
Carducci taught Greek at a high school in Pistoia and was then appointed as an Italian professor at the University of Bologna.

Carducci was a popular lecturer and a fierce critic of literature and society. He was an atheist, whose political views were vehemently hostile to Christianity generally and the Catholic Church in particular.

These opinions were voiced in a deliberately blasphemous and provocative poem, Inno a Satana - Hymn to Satan. This poem was published in Bologna’s radical newspaper, Il Popolo, at a time when feelings against the Vatican were running high and the public were pressing for an end to the Vatican’s domination over the papal states.

In 1890 Carducci met Annie Vivanti, a writer and poet with whom he had a love affair.

His greatest works have been judged to be his collections of poems, Rime Nuove (New Rhymes) and Odi Barbare (Barbarian Odes).

A bust of Carducci stands proud in Castagneto Carducci
A bust of Carducci stands proud
in Castagneto Carducci
Carducci received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1906 and was also made a Senator of Italy.

In the words of the citation, the award was made to Carducci "not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces"

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded subsequently to five other Italians - Grazia Deledda, Luigi Pirandello, Salvatore Quasimodo, Eugenio Montale and Dario Fo.

During his life, Carducci wrote 20 volumes of literary criticism, biographies, speeches and essays.

He died in 1907 at the age of 71 in Casa Carducci, his home in Bologna and was buried in the Certosa di Bologna monumental cemetery.  His achievement is commemorated with busts and statues in public places in several Italian towns, including Castagneto Carducci, a hill town in the province of Livorno where he spent some years as a child.

Marina di Pietrasanta's beach is considered  to be in among the best in Italy
Marina di Pietrasanta's beach is considered
to be in among the best in Italy
Travel tip:

Valdicastello, where Carducci was born, is part of Pietrasanta, a small town in the province of Lucca in the north-west corner of Tuscany. The town has Roman origins and part of the Roman wall still exists. The town is three kilometres (two miles) inland from the coastal resort of Marina di Pietrasanta. The Marina, with its golden sand, is considered to have one of the best beaches in Italy.

The Casa Carducci in Bologna houses the  Civic Museum of the Risorgimento
The Casa Carducci in Bologna houses the
Civic Museum of the Risorgimento

Travel tip:

Casa Carducci, where the poet lived until his death in 1907, is a 16th century villa in Piazza Giosuè Carducci in Bologna. The ground floor now houses the Civic Museum of the Risorgimento, which tells the story of the unification of Italy from a cultural, social and economic perspective. Visitors can also see Carducci’s bedroom, with the small granite washbasin he used, and the family dining room, which has a large clock with the hands stopped at the exact moment of the poet’s death. In his office there is a framed fragment of a tunic belonging to Petrarch and an armchair, where Garibaldi is said to have sat while he was recovering from an injury. The library contains about 40,000 books, pamphlets and documents, meticulously catalogued by Carducci himself.

14 March 2017

Giovanni Schiaparelli - astronomer

Discoveries sparked belief there was life on Mars

Giovanni Schiaparelli, in a photograph taken in Milan in the 1870s
Giovanni Schiaparelli, in a photograph taken
in Milan in the 1870s
The astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, whose observations in the late 19th century gave rise to decades of popular speculation about possible life on Mars, was born on this day in 1835 in Savigliano, about 60km (37 miles) south of Turin.

Schiaparelli worked for more than 40 years at the Brera Observatory in Milan, most of that time as its director.

It was in 1877 that he made the observations that were to cause so much excitement, a year notable for a particularly favourable 'opposition' of Mars, when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up so that Mars and the Sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth, making the surface of Mars easier to see.

Oppositions occur every two years or so but because the orbit of Mars is more elliptical than Earth's there are points at which it is much closer to the Sun than at others.  An opposition that coincides with one of these points is much rarer, probably taking place only once in a lifetime, if that.

Schiaparelli was deeply fascinated with Mars and knew that this opposition gave him the opportunity of his lifetime to make a detailed survey of the red planet and made every effort to ensure his vision and his senses were as sharp as they could be when he put his eye to the telescope.

Schiaparelli's map of the surface of Mars
Schiaparelli's map of the surface of Mars
In his memoirs, he noted that he avoided "everything which could affect the nervous system, from narcotics to alcohol, and especially... coffee, which I found to be exceedingly prejudicial to the accuracy of observation."

In previous research, Schiaparelli had noted the appearance of 'seas' and 'continents' but during the 1877 opposition he was convinced he could see a network of links between his so-called 'seas' which he described as "canali".

Schiaparelli used the word to indicate "channels" but in the reports of his findings in the English language press, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, the word was translated as "canals".

Coming soon after the construction of the Suez Canal, a a major feat of engineering on Earth, the possibility that Mars had a system of such artificially constructed waterways caused a frenzy of excitement, giving rise to much hypothesis and speculation about there being intelligent life on the planet.

Schiaparelli in a lithograph by Achille Beltrame in  the magazine La Domenica del Corriere
Schiaparelli in a lithograph by Achille Beltrame in
 the magazine La Domenica del Corriere
Among the most enthusiastic supporters of this theory was the American astronomer Percival Lowell, who dedicated much of his life and personal fortune to building on Schiaparelli's work, convinced he could prove that life on Mars did exist.

Later, notably as a result of the work of another Italian astronomer, Vincenzo Cerulli, astronomers developed a consensus that the "canals" were an optical illusion, although the public hung on to the notion of life on Mars until halfway through the 20th century. In 1938, a radio adaptation in the United States of the HG Wells novel, The War of the Worlds, which included simulated news bulletins, caused many listeners to believe that an invasion of Earth by Martians was actually taking place.

The canal hypothesis was not finally laid to rest until spaceflights began in the 1960s and telescopes much more powerful than were available to Schiaparelli and his contemporaries confirmed that his canals simply did not exist.

At the time of the discovery, though, Schiaparelli had been convinced what he was seeing was real and produced detailed maps, showing his 'seas', land masses and numerous channels, that created an image of the surface of Mars that resembled the lagoon and islands of Venice.

Schiaparelli's grave at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
Schiaparelli's grave at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
Of his channels, he wrote: "It is [as] impossible to doubt their existence as that of the Rhine on the surface of the Earth."

His hypothesis was that Mars was a planet, like Earth, with seasons and that water was produced by the melting of a polar ice cap.  The system of channels, he suggested, carried this water to other parts of the planet, providing irrigation in the absence of rain. Although he felt these were more likely to have developed naturally, he did not rule out the possibility that some were created artificially.

Educated at the University of Turin, Schiaparelli worked at the Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg in Russia from 1859 to 1860 before being appointed to the staff of the Brera Observatory. He was also a senator of the Kingdom of Italy. The fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli was his niece.

He died in Milan in 1910 at the age of 75. He is buried at the city's Monumental Cemetery.

The Piazza Santarosa in Savigliano
The Piazza Santarosa in Savigliano
Travel tip:

Savigliano is a town of some 21,000 people with an industrial heritage based around its iron foundries and locomotive works, but also has silk manufacturers and sugar factories. The feature of the historic centre is the picturesque Piazza Santarosa, surrounded by pleasant arcades. Rail enthusiasts might like the Museo Ferroviario Piemontese, in Via Coloira, which has a collection of steam, diesel and electric locomotives. It is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday all year round and also on Thursdays in the summer.  For more details visit

The Brera Observatory in Milan
The Brera Observatory in Milan
Travel tip:

The Brera Observatory can be found at the historic Palazzo Brera in the centre of Milan, established in 1764 by the Jesuit astronomer Ruggero Boscovich.  The Palazzo is also home to the Accademia di Brera, the city's art academy, and its gallery, the Pinacoteca di Brera; the Orto Botanico di Brera, a botanical garden; and the Biblioteca di Brera library. For more information, visit

More reading:

How Niccolò Zucchi designed one of the earliest telescopes

The 16th century cosmologist burned at the stake for challenging orthodox thinking on God and the universe

Why astronomer Galileo Galilei is called the father of modern science

Also on this day:

1820: The birth of future king Victor Emmanuel II

1972: The accidental death of publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

(Gravestone by Deeday-UK; Brera Observatory by Ansgar Hellwig; via Wikimedia Commons)