Monday, October 12, 2015

1316: Mundinus publishes book of anatomy

Figure 1 -- Title page of Mundinus:
 "Anathomia," Leipzig, 1493
(1, page 151)
So we know that the School of Salerno was a great medical institution from the 10th to 13th centuries, and physicians from all over the world flocked there to get the best medical instruction.  Yet most historians will acknowledge that while it was a great learning place, there were few medical advancements made there. 

One of the great exceptions occurred in 1316 when Mundino de'Luzzi, or Mundinus of Bologna (1270-1326), who wrote a book called "Anathomia," which translates to "Dissection."  Still, while he wrote it while teaching at Salerno, it was first published until 1487 at Padua, and 1493 at Leipzig by Martin Pollich-von Mellerstadt. (see figure 1) (1, page 150-151)

Mundino was professor of medicine and anatomy at the University of Bologna, and he was one of the few physicians "to turn his eyes from the pages of Galen to the book of nature, and to learn for himself, by actual dissection of the human body, how this body was constituted." (5, page 199)

It was, therefore, from his own observations that he compiled his book.  (4, page 199)

The book was basically an account of how to perform an autopsy beginning with the abdominal cavity, which contains the perishable viscera, and then moving to the chest, where he provides a description of the heart, and to the skull where he describes opening it.  (4, page 376) (1, page 150-151)

However, because of the dogmatic nature of the Church, he was not able to sway far from the teachings of Galen, said D. Kerfoot Shute in 1910.  "The all-powerful Church still taught the sacredness and the inviolability of the human corpse and was alert and ready to punish as a sacrilege the use of the anatomist's scalpel; and what Mundinus did was done in the face of this powerful opposition." (5, page 199)

Perhaps this is why Garrison said:
In intention, this work was really a little horn-book of dissecting, rather than a formal treaties on gross anatomy.  (1, page 150)
He said the book was full of...
...Galanic errors in regard to the structure of the human frame, preserving the old fictive anatomy of the Arabists, with the Arabic terms, this book was yet the sole textbook on anatomy for over a hundred years in all the Medieval schools." (1)
The book would be the "universal textbook" of anatomical dissection for the next 200 years at all medieval schools, passing through "39 separate editions and translations." (4, page 376) (1, page 151)

His work was continued by his pupil Niccolo' Bertuccio (died 1347), said Garrison.  He said:  "After this time, dissecting gained a firmer foothold as a mode of instruction." (1, page 151)

However, Shute said that, perhaps due to the opposition of the Church, "Mundinus had no disciples carry on his work.  All that remained of him was his very inadequate book which was used in schools merely as an introduction or help to Galen.  At best he became little more than a later and smaller Galen." (5, page 199)

While there were little or no advancements in medicine as a result of his book, it helped to preserve medicine during the dark ages of medicine.  It would be over 200 years after Mundinus (at the beginning of the 16th century) that the Church would finally start to lose its grip and influence over medcine.   (5, page 199)

Jacobus Berengarius da Capri, who lived from 1460-1530, was an Italian physician who continued the work of Mundinus.  Shute said:
But he had his struggles with the church. He was driven to desert Bologno, where he had long been a teacher, and to live in exile in Ferrara.
Yet this was a time when the Church learned to appreciate anatomy, although trough paintings more so than medicine.  Shute said
In the sixteenth century the ruling powers of the church not only sanctioned but even favored the pursuit of that branch of anatomy which is indispensable to sculpture and painters. In 1525 Albert Durer published a work illustrating the symmetry of the body—but as an artist and not anatomist. Under the protection of the Popes, Julius II and Leo X, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, and Raphael copied from nature the superficial muscles. (5, page 199)
This was the state medicine was in when two of the most significant figures in our medical history were born: Jacobus Sylvius and Andreas Vessalius.

  1. Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "An introduction to the history of medicine," 1922, Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Company
  2. The John Hopkins Hospital bulleton," (volume XV 1904), "from the epoch of the Alexandria School (300 B.C.)"
  3. "The Ancient Medical School of Salerno,",, accessed 12/4/12
  4. Frampton, Michael, "Embodiments of Will: Anatomical and Physiological Theories of Voluntary Animal Motion from Greek Antiquity to the Latin Middle Ages, 400 B.C. - A.D. 1300," 2009, Berlin, VDG Verlag
  5. Shute, D. Kerfoot, "The life and works of ndreas Vesalius," Old dominion journal of medicine and surgery, Tomkin, Beverly R. Tucker, Douglas Vanderhoof, Murat Willis, R.H. Wright, editors, 1910, Richmond Virginia, The Old Dominion Publishing Corporation, pages 195-211
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