Indiana University Bloomington

Anatomia Animata: Anatomy and Medicine in William Harvey's Century

Generation and Reproduction

Aided by new experimental techniques, the study of generation and reproduction grew immensely in the seventeenth century. The structure of the testicles and the ovaries were clearly described, thus helping to uncover their true function and thereby debunking the Aristotelian notion that conception occurred with the combination of semen and menstrual fluid. However, many aspects of the study of reproduction carried over from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and thus works published during those centuries continued to influence physicians. Medical periodicals and scientific societies, where many of the discoveries and experiments were transmitted to a larger audience or were reproduced for purposes of verification, were also important.

William Harvey. Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium ... London: Typis Du–Gardianis, Impensis Octaviani Pulleyn, 1651.

In this long treatise, a major study of generation, William Harvey wrote on a variety of subjects. In particular, this work is important as it contained a notably more accurate description of the early development of the chick embryo. Harvey had adopted this line of research from his mentor, Hieronymous Fabricius, who had earlier published on this subject in his text, De Formatione Ovi et Pulli (1604). Furthermore, Harvey's dissection of the uteri of hinds (female deer) during different stages of pregnancy was unprecedented. Harvey used findings from these investigations to formulate his own theory of generation.

Regnier de Graaf. De Mulierum Organis Generationi Inservientibus Tractatus Novus ... Leiden: Ex Officina Hackiana, 1672.

Regnier de Graaf's portrayal of the female reproductive anatomy stands above anything produced by his contemporaries or those who preceded him. His precise images and extensive descriptions make this book invaluable to the history of human anatomy. This text helped to disprove the idea that the female ovaries were actually "female testicles" and that they produced a type of semen.

De Graaf had earlier published a work on the male reproductive anatomy (1668), but the work did not sustain nearly as much interest as this later work on the female reproductive anatomy. De Graaf studied the ovaries from many different mammals, and thus succeeded in isolating the ovarian vesicles with their envelopes, as well as discovering the morphological changes in the ovary that occur during normal the normal physiological cycle.

Nathaniel Highmore. Corporis Humani Disquisitio Anatomica ... Hague: Ex Officina Samuelis Broun, 1651.

Corporis Humani Disquisitio Anatomica was the first anatomical treatise to accept Harvey's circulation of the blood. Highmore also published The History of Generation, which he dedicated to Robert Boyle, and which contained a reference to the use of the microscope.

Highmore discovered the mediastinal testis (Corpus Highmori), where the lines of the membraneous septa and the cellular membrane of the testicle meet on the back of the testicle. Highmore supposed this to be a hollow tube much like the salivary duct, and that it led to the epididymis and thereby carried sperm away from the testicle. This notion was refuted by Regnier de Graaf and Claude Aubery (Dathirius), who showed that it was through many smaller tubules that the sperm came from the testicle.

Thomas Bartholin. Acta Medica et Philosophica Hafniensia. Copenhagen: Sumptibus Petri Haubold, 1673–[80].

Acta Medica et Philosophica Hafniensia, a recent acquisition of The Lilly Library, was edited by Thomas Bartholin (see also the section devoted to the viscera and the glands) and was one of the first medical periodicals distributed throughout Europe. It contained information on a diverse array of subjects, including medicine, botany, and zoology.

Almost immediately after the development of the newspaper in the seventeenth century, scientists and physicians began to disseminate natural knowledge through periodicals. In the earlier half of the century, knowledge was spread across geographic boundaries almost exclusively through correspondence, personal travel, and word of mouth.

The periodical allowed doctors to give short observations on natural subjects – usually written in Latin – such as the birth defects presented in these images. As knowledge spread more rapidly, other physicians could more easily test the observations and experiments of their colleagues.

Govard Bidloo. Anatomia Humani Corporis, Centum & Quinque Tabulis ... Amsterdam: Sumptibus Viduae Joannis à Someren, Haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & Viduae Theodori Boom, 1685.

Like many of the other images in Bidloo's tome, this image is represented as if we, the viewers, were present to witness the cadaver. Thus, we see the almost fully–formed child in the womb, surrounded by layers of skin and muscle peeled back during the middle of a dissection.

Jakob Rüff. The Expert Midwife, or, An Excellent and Most Necessary Treatise of the Generation and Birth of Man ... London: Printed by E. Griffin for S. Burton and Sold by Thomas Alchorn, 1637.

This text, first published in the sixteenth century, was Jakob Rüff's most important work, and was so popular that even as late as 1670, over 100 years after the author's death, it was still being reissued. This English translation was first published in London in 1637.

The displayed page gives Rüff's advice on how to deal with "the most perilous birth of all," when the baby proceedeth "forth brestward, the hands and feet cast and turned backeward." To remedy this, Rüff writes that the midwife should first anoint her hands and then proceed to "search for the armes of the childe, with her hand conveyed in, and let her hold them fast when shee hath hold of them, untill shee shall take hold of the head, all her care and diligence being used that she may first reduce the head to the out passage."

Regarding this "monstrous birth" from Oxford in 1552, Rüff exhorts the curious midwife:

"If it be demanded of the cause of such conceptions and birthes, we must know before all things that they come not to passe without the providence of the Almighty and Omnipotent God; but also that they are permitted oftentimes by his just judgment for to punish and admonish men for their sinnes. Likewise we allege the immoderate desire for lust to be a cause, whereby it commeth to passe, that the seeds of men and women are caused to be very feeble and imperfect, whereby of necessity a feeble and imperfect Feature must ensue."

Thus, the sins of the parents are visited on the children.

Many of the birth defects discussed by Rüff seem entirely credible, but at times throughout the work he devolves into some rather fantastical and extraordinary accounts, which, of course, were often secondhand. In this section, Rüff tells of a "Monster" born at Ravenna, "which had a horne on his head, two wings, no armes, a crooked foot with talons, like a ravenous bird, an eye on his knee, of both sex, in the midst of his brest he had the forme of the Greeke letter Ypsilon, and the Figure of a Crosse."

Naturally, such a monster must have prophetic meaning, thus Rüff writes that "Some interpreted this thing after this manner, That the horne did signifie pride, the wings ficklenesse and inconstancy, the want of armes to signifie a defect of good workes, the ravenous foot, rapine, usury, and all kinde of covetousness, the eye on the knee, to portend a respect and regard alone to earthly things, and that hee was of both sex, to signifie filthy Sodomy."

Ambroise Paré. The Works of that Famous Chirurgeon Ambrose Parey, Translated out of Latin, and Compared with the French by Th. Johnson: Together with Three Tractates Concerning the Veins, Arteries, and Nerves ... London: Printed by Mary Clark for John Clark, 1678.

Ambroise Paré lived and practiced medicine in the sixteenth century, but his works were important enough to later generations that they went through many printings and translations. Physicians in the seventeenth century were still fascinated by children with birth defects – or "monsters" as they were often called — such as hermaphrodites or conjoined twins. Paré wrote that such a "monstrous child" was deformed due to a deficiency in the seed, such as in quantity.

While Paré's treatment of reproduction is very interesting, and the images are most striking, his greatest contribution to medicine was probably his revolutionary treatment for gunshot wounds. Rather than cauterizing the wound with boiling oil, as most in his time did, he dressed it with a compound of egg yolk, oil of roses, and turpentine. His motto thus became: "Je le pensai, Dieu le guarist," or "I dressed him, God healed him."

As can be seen in the caption immediately to the left of the figure, physicians' reports about the "monsters" were often based on the reporting of one or a few individuals. Before the age of photography, readers had to trust that the images produced were faithful representations and that the men who reported them were trustworthy.

In this example, the author, Paré, says that he saw "a Boy nine years old, born in the Village Parpavilla, six miles from Guise; his Father's name was Peter Renard, and his Mother's, Marquete: he had but two fingers on his right hand, his arm was well proportioned from the top of his shoulder almost to his wrist, but from thence to his two fingers ends it was very deformed; he wanted his legs and thighs, although from the right buttock a certain unperfect Figure, having only four Toes, seemed to put it self forth; from the midst of the left buttock two Toes sprung out, the one of which was not much unlike a mans Yard, as you may see by the Figure."

Marcello Malpighi. Opera Omnia, Figuris Elegantissimis in Aes Incisis Illustrata ... London: Apud R. Scott & G. Wells, 1686.

Marcello Malpighi's microscopic techniques allowed him to make much more accurate descriptions of the avian embryo than either Harvey or Fabricius. Thus, he was able to detect features of the chick embryo prior to the fourth day. Malpighi had turned his microscope toward the lungs and had discovered the capillaries – the elusive link between the arteries and the veins – and also, from the study of the tongue, he discovered the existence of taste buds. These are only a few of his many distinguished accomplishments.

These images show the early stages of the life cycle of chicks that could only be perceived by an expert with the microscope, such as Malpighi. He thus discovered many structures including the vascular areas surrounded by the terminal sinus, the cardiac tube and its segments, the aortic arches, the somites, the neural folds, the cerebral vesicles, the optic vesicles, the protoliver, the glands of the prestomach, and even the feather follicles.

Malpighi summarized his own method as follows: "The nature of things, enveloped in shadows, is revealed only by the analogical method." Thus, in order to understand higher animals, the good physician must study the analogues provided by nature – simple animals, insects, and even plants.

Malpighi spent several years working in the Accademia del Cimento (The Academy of Experiment) alongside such individuals as Alfonso Borelli and Francesco Redi. Much like their contemporaries at the Royal Society, the members of the Accademia benefited greatly from their collaborative experimentation in the newly developed society.

Claude Aubery. Philosophical Transactions, Giving Some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours of the Ingenious, in Many Considerable Parts of the World. London: Printed by T.N. for John Martyn, 1668.

This image is from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, which started publication in 1665, only five years after the Royal Society had been founded to promote the newly developed experimental philosophy. The journal was edited by Henry Oldenburg and was the first scientific journal published in English. It included articles on any subject related to science and experiment, from medicine, to botany, optics, and zoology.

The displayed image of the testicle was produced by Claude Aubery, who published a short article called Testis Examinatus in 1658 in Florence under the pseudonym Vauclius Dathirius Bonglarus. This text was republished in the Philosophical Transactions in 1668. Through an analysis of a bull testicle, Aubery discovered that the testicle is not a lump of simple flesh but is rather composed of a series of intricate tubules.

Regnier de Graaf replicated this discovery (without any knowledge of Aubery's work) several years later and wrote that the testicle was "not glandular, porridge–like or marrow–like as had been believed," a discovery he made through the use of colored injections.

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