Paolo Zacchia

Zacchia, Quaestiones, 1657, Frontispiece, National Library of Medicine

Who was Zacchia?

Born in Rome and educated by Jesuits, Paolo Zacchia (1584-1659) was a physician and a lawyer who rose to become the head doctor of the papal court.

His greatest work was a lengthy treatise in Latin: Quaestiones medico-legales. It was published in installments from 1621, and the first complete editions were posthumous from 1661.

For more on Zacchia’s life, see several articles by Silvia de Renzi, published from 1999 to 2010, and the volume of Alessandro Pastore and Giovanni Rossi, eds. Paolo Zacchia. Alle Origini della Medicina Legale 1584-1659. Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2008. On the evidence that he was born Jewish as Avram Betarbo, see the article by Isabelle Poutrin (2018).

What are Zacchia’s Consilia?

Beginning in 1651, Zacchia included a special section of his Quaestiones containing up to 85 sample Consilia (or consultations) to illustrate the main arguments of the rest of his treatise.

They cover a wide range of medicolegal problems from murder, rape, times and causes of death, personal identity, paternity, birthing, physical and mental disabilities, sexuality, healthy living, and the possibility of miracle healings.

Each consultation begins with an abstract of the clinical problem followed by a numerical summary of the argument, which is cross referenced in margins. The discussion itself also proceeds through numbered suppositions and arguments presenting evidence for and against each side.

List of Consilia titles in Latin.

List of Consilia titles in English.

More than 250 sources are cited, from ancient writers, such as Hippocrates, Aristotle, Aretaeus, and Galen, to early modern contemporaries, such as Jean Fernel, Girolamo Fracastoro, Girolamo Cardano, Johan Schenck, and Daniel Sennert.  Click on names for references to Hippocrates and Galen with the Consilia where they appear. For a list of all the other authors cited click here.

Each Consilium is 2 to 3 dense pages in length.

For more on Zacchia and his Consilia, see Jacalyn Duffin, Questioning Medicine in 17thC Rome: The Consultations of Paolo Zacchia, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 28.1 (2011): 149-170 (also available here).

What is this project?

In April 2008, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine, we launched a collaborative online project to translate all 85 Consilia. Since that time our team has grown organically.

Our goals are

    • to raise awareness about this important medical writer
    • to make his work more accessible in English, and
    • to have fun.

Latinists and their students volunteer to “adopt” one or more consilia based on their own interests and tastes.

As the translations are completed, they will be posted at this website.

For more on the project itself, see

Amanda Lepp, Translating Zacchia: A Novel Way to Use the Internet to Make Medico-Historical Sources Accessible, Queen’s Medical Review 6.2 (April 2013): 11-12.

Katie Coakley described how the award-winning educator Diane McCorkle has used the Zacchia translations in her high school Latin classes at Emma Willard School in Troy, New York (Fall 2018, pp 18-20).

How can I join?

Examine the list of consultations by following the link to the Latin list. Each is described with the short Latin title used in the index of the 1725 Nuremberg edition. A few English key words and a link to a separate page with English translations of the titles are also provided.

Send a message with your email and snail contact info to Jacalyn Duffin at

Since we began this site, a source for the Consilia has become available through Google books here or here. Other editions abound.

If you prefer paper, let us know and a photocopy of your chosen Consilium will arrive by snail.

Your chosen Consilium will be marked “adopted” on the List at this site.

When you have completed your translation, send it to us by email attachment and it will be posted here with full credit given to you. You may also include endnotes, a commentary and bibliography.  We would be pleased to add you to our team of Zacchia translators.

If you wish more information or suggestions based on your own areas of interest, do not hesitate to send us your Desiderata, or Quaestiones.

Last update 1 March 2024. 34 translations; 28 adoptions