Indiana University Bloomington

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


Language was an important aspect of the study of medicine and anatomy. Early manuscripts of influential ancients like Galen, Hippocrates, and Aristotle had been carefully ferreted out by previous generations of humanists, and definitive complete works in Greek were printed throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, often edited by physicians. In the sixteenth century, debates over medical concepts commonly turned into debates over whether or not a text was corrupted, and this trend was often pursued by those who believed the medieval Arab commentators had corrupted the "pure" ideas of the Greeks. But many of these commentators, like Abu Ali al Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in Europe), were not only transmitters but also creators of knowledge, and their ideas were firmly entrenched in the study of medicine.

By the seventeenth century, publication in vernacular languages became more and more commonplace as potential readers expanded, and subjects of study included much that was of interest to the layman as well as the educated professional. In addition, institutions like the Royal Society made international cooperation in print an important part of the study of medicine. Not only were original compositions made in the vernacular languages of European countries, but also many works originally written in Latin were translated, and some texts were published as a mixture of the two.

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 is the first English translation of this classic text on midwifery. A Latin edition is displayed in the section devoted to Harvey's sixteenth–century predecessors. Over 80 years separate the two editions, showing the lasting usefulness of Rüff's text. The English translation shows the growing trend of publishing in (or translating into) vernacular languages to appeal to a broader audience.

Claudius Galen. Galeni Librorum Pars Prima ... Venice: In Aedibus Aldi et Andreae Asulani, 1525.

The first printed edition of Galen's works in the original Greek. The humanist tradition of searching for original Greek manuscripts, both known as well as unknown (or lost works), affected the study of medicine. Sixteenth–century authors often attributed mistakes in Galen's assertions to poor translations or corrupted texts. Detractors of Vesalius would use this idea as one way to dispute his condemnation of Galen.

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