Fools and idiots?

Intellectual disability in the Middle Ages

By Irina Metzler

Fools and idiots?


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9637-2
  • Pages: 296
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £26.00
  • Published Date: March 2018
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Medieval history, Medicine / History of medicine, History of Medicine, Medieval History, History, CE period up to c 1500, History & Archaeology, History of medicine, SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities, HISTORY / Medieval
  • Series: Disability History


This is the first book devoted to the cultural history in the pre-modern period of people we now describe as having learning disabilities. Using an interdisciplinary approach, including historical semantics, medicine, natural philosophy and law, it considers a neglected field of social and medical history and makes an original contribution to the problem of a shifting concept such as 'idiocy'. Medieval physicians, lawyers and the schoolmen of the emerging universities wrote the texts which shaped medieval definitions of intellectual ability and its counterpart, disability. In studying such texts, which form part of our contemporary scientific and cultural heritage, we gain a better understanding of which people were considered to be intellectually disabled and how their participation and inclusion in society differed from the situation today.


'For this meticulous work in organizing evidence and arguments presented by scholars in multiple fields and languages, and focused on numerous geographies (though with a special bias towards England), specialists in the fields of disability, madness, folly, reason and unreason, and even childhood will find this work to be invaluable. This book is an opening gambit, not a definitive answer in the field, but it is a gambit for which future scholars will be very grateful indeed.'
Anne M. Koenig, University of South Florida

'A superbly researched addition to a largely unexplored field.'
Disability Studies Quarterly


1 Pre-/conceptions: problems of definition and historiography
2 From morio to fool: semantics of intellectual disability
3 Cold complexions and moist humors: natural science and intellectual disability
4 The infantile and the irrational: mind, soul and intellectual disability
5 Non-consenting adults: laws and intellectual disability
6 Fools, pets and entertainers: socio-cultural considerations of intellectual disability
7 Reconsiderations: rationality, intelligence and human status


Irina Metzler is Research Fellow in the Department of History at Swansea University

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