In March, Raoult announced that his hospital would test and treat anyone who cared to show up. Crowds gathered at the entrance to the IHU in winding single-file lines, like pilgrims shuffling toward their private audience with the oracle. On March 16, Raoult released the results of a small clinical trial that showed, he said, a 100 percent cure rate. The study has since been widely debated, and Raoult’s boosterism has been lamented by scientists and health officials around the world; in a comment more or less representative of the tenor of the controversy in France, where Raoult’s name and image have now been everywhere for weeks, one detractor, a generally thoughtful politician, suggested that Raoult “shut his face and be a doctor” and that he “stop saying ‘I’m a genius’ all over the place.”

His colleagues liken his psychology to that of Napoleon, though he is not physically small. When asked by one journalist about his tendency to “swim against the current” of scientific thought, Raoult responded: “I’m not an ‘outsider.’ I’m the one who’s farthest out in front.” Axel Kahn, a geneticist and physician who has known Raoult for nearly 40 years, told me that he has always been this way. “One of Professor Raoult’s abiding characteristics is that he knows that he’s very good,” Kahn told me. “But he considers everyone else to be worthless. And he always has. It’s not a recent development.” At his home, alongside a collection of Roman busts, he is said to keep a marble statue of himself.