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Radical Translations

Giovanni Rasori


Giovanni Rasori (Parma 1763- Milan 1837), was a physician, translator and revolutionary active in Milan.

Born in a wealthy Parma family, Rasori graduated in medicine when he was 19 years old. He specialized in anatomy and surgery in Florence before moving to Pavia where he attended classes taught by eminent scientists such as Alessandro Volta and Lazzaro Spallanzani. In 1792 Rasori published the first Italian translation of Elements of medicine (1788) the medical treatise written by the Scottish doctor John Brown. The new theory proposed to adopt the Newtonian model, based on the concept of gravity, to the world of medicine with the creation of the principle of the stimulation that works through the nervous system causing well-functioning or diseases of the body. To adopt the new Brunonian system was an open disavow of the old-regime medical world.

In 1793 Rasori travelled to Edinburgh and spent time in Oxford and Cambridge where he could collect several medical texts that he later translated. Rasori 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 until October 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. From the pages of this newspaper, Rasori offered translations of texts from English and French such as the work of William Morgan on the national debt in Britain or stories taken from Voltaire’s writings.

Beside the journalistic activity, Rasori was fully committed to change profoundly the 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.

In 1796 Rasori published the first Italian translation of Thomas Paine’s work The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finances. This work has been already translated by François-Xavier Lanthénas, a close friend of the author and member of the 500 Council, and Rasori published the Italian version of the French translation. The Italian doctor considered Paine’s work an important contribution to dismantling the myth of the British constitution and in particular the good functioning of the funding system. This system was based on a certain number of taxes that were raised to collect money to pay interests due to holders of government securities. Rasori’s main interest resides to show the weakness of the British Crown due to the overburdening of its national debt with the monetary supports offered to all counter-revolutionary powers in Europe. Following Paine’s argument, Rasori condemned the deviousness of the British support to the counterrevolutionary forces and praised the French efforts to liberate European people from British control. Rasori announced that he was ready to translate also another Paine’s success like The Age of Reason.

However the rapid evolution of political events did not leave Rasori any time to work on this planned translation. At the end of 1797 Rasori left his position of dean and was called as secretary of the Interior Ministry. 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 opened the way for the return of Rasori in Milan where he worked as Director of the Health System in Milan. Rasori resumed his activities of teaching in medical facilities like the military Hospital in Milan. He also translated the work by Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, Zoonomia or the laws of the organic life.

In 1814 Moscati 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. During his imprisonment Rasori translated from German the work of Johan Jacob Engel Ideen zu einer Mimik. Out of prison, Rasori started to collaborate with the liberal newspaper Il Conciliatore that could not help incurring in the wraths of Austrian authorities and closed. 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”.


Bilancioni, Guglielmo. « GIOVANNI RASORI medico e patriota ». Annali delle Università Toscane. Sezione delle Scienze Mediche, Fisiche, Matematiche e Naturali 12 (46) (1927): 115‑73.

Chiappa (del), Giuseppe Antonio. Della vita di G. Rasori: libri sei. Molina, 1838.

Cosmacini, Giorgio, Giovanni Rasori, et Pietro Moscati. Scienza medica e giacobinismo in Italia: l’impresa politico-culturale di Giovanni Rasori (1796-1799) / La società italiana moderna e contemporanea 8. Milano: Angeli, 1982.

L’amico della libertà, e dell’eguaglianza ossia raccolta de’ principj repubblicani estesi in un foglio periodico dal celebre cittadino Professore Rasori spiegativi al primo arrivo de’ francesi. Milano: presso Francesco Bolzani all’insegna della Libertà, 1797.

Delogu Giulia. «Compagno delle vostre fatiche»: Giovanni Rasori maestro di virtù nella Pavia del triennio repubblicano (1796-1799) / Giulia Delogu. Fonti e studi per la storia dell’Università di Pavia 69. Milano Italia: Cisalpino, Istituto editoriale universitario, 2015, 2015.

Rossi, Ennio. « GIOVANNI RASORI (1766-1837) OR ITALIAN MEDICINE IN TRANSITION ». Bulletin of the History of Medicine 29, no 2 (1955): 116‑33.