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Radical Translations

Credit: Wellcome Trust

Born in a wealthy Parma family, Rasori graduated in medicine when he was 19 years old. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the French revolution and of the broad consequences that it could trigger in the Italian context. In 1796 he led the patriotic newspaper Giornale della Società degli Amici della Libertà e dell'Uguaglianza and actively took part into the activities of the Patriotic Society in Milan.

In 1793 Rasori travelled to Edinburgh and spent time in Oxford and Cambridge where he could collect several medical texts that he later translated. In 1796 Rasori published the first Italian translation of Thomas Paine’s work The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finances. Rasori published the Italian version of the French translation by François Xavier Lanthénas. The Italian doctor considered Paine’s work an important contribution to dismantling the myth of the British constitution. Rasori announced that he was ready to translate also another Paine’s success like The Age of Reason

Beside the journalistic activity, Rasori was fully committed to change profoundly Pavia University. Elected dean of the medical school, he promoted a reform of the calendar where he wanted to put figures of scientists like Galileo, Newton and philosophers like Diderot, Condorcet, Voltaire, Helvetius, Mably instead of religious feasts and saints.

However, the rapid evolution of political events did not leave Rasori any time to work on this planned translation In spring 1799 the Austro-Russian troops reached Milan and Rasori decided to enlist in the French Army and he participated in the defence of Genoa from the armies of the Second Coalition. 

The French victory at Marengo (14 June 1800) opened the way for the return of Rasori in Milan where he worked as Director of the Health System in Milan. In 1814 Rasori took part in a secret plot to overthrow the restored Austrian government and for this reason he was put into jail where he remained until March 1818.

In 1837 Rasori died of cholera in Milan. Stendhal left a portrait of Rasori that acknowledged the great virtues of the republican doctor: "Pauvre comme Job, gai comme un pinson et grand homme comme Voltaire, au caractère près, Rasori a une volonté de fer. Je mets en premier rang des hommes que j’ai connus, Napoléon, Canova et lord Byron; ensuite Rasori […] il est médecin et inventeur, de plus, poète et écrivain du premier mérite”.

Read Giovanni Rasori's more extensive biography here