3 minute read

Medicine in Europe and the United States

Renaissance Medicine

In the sixteenth century, Greek medicine was reborn yet again but with a difference. The upside of the fall of Constantinople was an influx of Greek scholars and manuscripts into Italy. A scholarly industry soon developed for the study of ancient Greece and for the publication of the works forming the basis of Western civilization, including medicine. In 1525 the Aldine Press in Venice published Galen's complete works in Greek. (In the sixteenth century 590 different editions of Galen were published.) The next year Aldine also published the Hippocratic corpus. New Latin translations soon appeared for the Greekless. Medical humanism was on a solid footing; what the return to a true Galenism meant for the practitioner and patient is not clear, except for a new emphasis on the etiology of disease and the tailoring of therapy to a profile of the individual patient. Clinical bedside teaching—its origins are piously traced back to Hippocrates—was integrated into medical education at Padua in 1578 by Giambatista da Monte (1498–1552), who was also keen on method as the key to knowledge and practice. Galen's Method of Healing, brought up to date by the professors, could put doctors on an infallible path to correct diagnosis and treatment. All they had to do was look in a practica, or crude physician's handbook, whose professorial prolixity often reduced its usefulness.

The new anatomy.

Historians agree on the main developments in Renaissance medicine: first, the revival of a modestly revised Galenism; second, the related renewal of anatomy, which was linked to the flourishing artistic culture in Italy. Artists used the knowledge from dissection as the conceptual foundation of the new art. Anatomical texts illustrated by artists displayed a representational, natural body rather than the pedagogical schematic model of medieval texts. Michelangelo collaborated with Realdo Colombo (1516?–?1559), who in 1548 became professor of anatomy at the Papal University in Rome. A great deal of the new work in anatomy was concerned with modifying Galen, who had sometimes extrapolated from animal to human anatomy, as in the case of the five-lobed liver. The major demolition job on Galen was done by one of his most fervent disciples, Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), who in 1537 moved to Padua, took his degree and, though an academic physician, became lecturer in anatomy and surgery. Influenced by the Bolognese model, Vesalius increased his dissecting activity—a sympathetic judge increased his supply of cadavers of executed criminals—and by lecturing while dissecting, he integrated physician, anatomist, and surgeon and gave a coherence to the subject. In 1543 Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body), a great classic of descriptive anatomy. This book The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) by Rembrandt. Oil on canvas. The study of anatomy dates back as early as 1600B.C.E. In the fifth century B.C.E., the Greek physicians Herophilus and Erasistratus made the first substantial progress in the field by confirming many bodily functions through dissection. © FRANCIS G. MAYER/CORBIS was "the first proper account of human anatomy" (Wear, p. 275); the artistic but scientifically precise illustrations were a key part of the text. By his teaching and book, Vesalius eventually changed the way doctors understood the human body, ensured the triumph of an anatomical method based on dissection and observation, and left future investigators plenty of problems to solve within the emerging physiological paradigm. Galenic views on the blood and the heart, or his cardiovascular system, came to be recognized as seriously flawed. The new model was completed grosso modo in 1628, when William Harvey (1578–1657) published An Anatomical Essay Concerning the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals (De motu cordis).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMedicine in Europe and the United States - Ancient Greece And Rome, The Medieval World, Renaissance Medicine, The Harveian Revolution (seventeenth Century)