Andreas Vesalius and the Science of Anatomy

Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius – Anatomy

On December 31, 1514, Brabantian (in modern-day Belgium) anatomist, physician Andreas Vesalius was born. Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy. He is best known as author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body).

During the 16th century, it is assumed that Europeans had only little understanding of the human anatomy. Only a handful of universities taught this subject and most often read the works of the Greek physician Galen. During his lifetime, Galen combined philosophical works of Aristotle with his medicinal findings. His works were translated numerous times and often, the content was changed during translation, or comments and different interpretations were added to his works. It is also believed that Galen’s emphasis on observing the body instead of just relying on authorities was lost during these ‘translations’. [1]

It is assumed that Andreas Vesalius studied medicine at the University of Louvain and the University of Paris. He also understood, that it was essential to analyze real human bodies in order to fully understand it. [2] Vesalius, a former Galen defender, began to notice that Galen was wrong in many things, for instance, he noticed that the human breastbone is made of three segments while Galen said seven. Further mistakes were noticed while studying his works and Vesalius was trying to understand their origin. He started dissecting animals while reading Galen’s works more carefully and he came to realize that apparently, Galen has never dissected a human being, as this was strictly forbidden by the Catholic Church. [1]

Vesalius performed several dissections, regardless of the strict law by the church. Next to the mistakes found in Galen’s works, Vesalius also noticed, that contrary to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, men and women had the same amount of ribs. His book ‘De Humani Commis Fabrica Libri Septem’ consisting of his findings is considered very influential and contains more than 200 anatomical illustrations. It is considered the first known precise presentation of human anatomy and was published in seven volumes. [2] This work was part of his teaching activities at Padua and Bologna. Vesalius wanted to show his students how wrong Galen’s writings were and also rigged up skeletons of humans to show them in the classroom. Vesalius made an important step in the history of science, in which researchers trusted only their own observations. It became clear that humans were just a species among many with just a few unique traits. [1]

At yovisto you may be interested in the video “Anatomy of Movement: Intro to Musculoskeletal & Neuromuscular Anatomy

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