Anatomy in the School of Bologna

From Academic Kids

The era of Saracen learning extends to the 13th century; and after this we begin to approach happier times. The university of Bologna, which, as a school of literature and law, was already celebrated in the 12th century, became, in the course of the following one, not less distinguished for its medical teachers. Though the misgovernment of the municipal rulers of Bologna had disgusted both teachers and students, and given rise to the foundation of similar institutions in Padua and Naples,--and though the school of Salerno, in the territory of the latter, was still in high repute,--it appears, from the testimony of M. Sarti, that medicine was in the highest esteem in Bologna, and that it was in such perfection as to require a division of its professors into physicians, surgeons, physicians for wounds, barber-surgeons, oculists and even some others. Notwithstanding these indications of refinement, however, anatomy was manifestly cultivated rather as an appendage of surgery than a branch of medical science; and according to the testimony of Guy de Chauliac, the cultivation of anatomical knowledge was confined to Roger of Parma, Roland, Jamerio, Bruno, and Lanfranc or Lanfranchi of Milan; and this they borrowed chiefly from Galen.


In this state matters appear to have proceeded with the medical school of Bologna till the commencement of the 14th century, when the circumstance of possessing a teacher of originality enabled this university to be the agent of as great an improvement in medical science as she had already effected in jurisprudence. This era, indeed, is distinguished for the appearance of Mondino (Mundinus), under whose zealous cultivation the science first began to rise from the ashes in which it had been buried. This father of modern anatomy, who taught in Bologna about the year 1315, quickly drew the curiosity of the medical profession by well-ordered demonstrations of the different parts of the human body. In 1315 he dissected and demonstrated the parts of the human body in two female subjects; and in the course of the following year he accomplished the same task on the person of a single female. But while he seems to have had sufficient original force of intellect to direct his own route, J. Riolan accuses him of copying Galen; and it is certain that his descriptions are corrupted by the barbarous leaven of the Arabian schools, and his Latin defaced by the exotic nomenclature of Avicenna and Rhazes. He died, according to G. Tiraboschi, in 1325.

Mondino divides the body into three cavities (ventres), the upper containing the animal members, as the head, the lower containing the natural members, and the middle containing the spiritual members. He first describes the anatomy of the lower cavity or the abdomen, then proceeds to the middle or thoracic organs, and concludes with the upper, comprising the head and its contents and appendages. His general manner is to notice shortly the situation and shape or distribution of textures or membranes, and then to mention the disorders to which they are subject. The peritoneum he describes under the name of siphac, in imitation of the Arabians, the omentum under that of zirbus, and the mesentery or eucharus as distinct from both. In speaking of the intestines he treats first of the rectum, then the colon, the left or sigmoid flexure of which, as well as the transverse arch and its connection with the stomach, he particularly remarks; then the caecum or monoculus, after this the small intestines in general under the heads of ileum and jejunum, and latterly the duodenum, making in all six bowels. The liver and its vessels are minutely, if not accurately, examined; and the cava, under the name chilis, a corruption from the Greek koile, is trcated at length, with the emulgents and kidneys.

His anatomy of the heart is wonderfully accurate; and it is a remarkable fact, which seems to be omitted by all subsequent authors, that his description contains the rudiments of the circulation of the blood. "Postea vero versus pulmonem est aliud orificium venae arterialis, quae portat sanguinem ad pulmonem a corde; quia cum pulmo deserviat cordi secundum modum dictum, ut ei recompenset, cor ei transmittit sanguinem per hanc venam, quae vocatur vena arterialis; est vena, quia portat sanguinem, et arterialis, quia habet duas tunicas; et habet duas tunicas, primo quia vadit ad membrum quod existit in continuo motu, et secundo quia portat sanguinem valde subtilem et cholericum." The merit of these distinctions, however, he afterwards destroys by repeating the old assertion that the left ventricle ought to contain spirit or air, which it generates from the blood. His osteology of the skull is erroneous. In his account of the cerebral membranes, though short, he notices the principal characters of the dura mater. He describes shortly the lateral ventricles, with their anterior and posterior cornua, and the choroid plexus as a blood-red substance like a long worm. He then speaks of the third or middle ventricle, and one posterior, which seems to correspond with the fourth; and describes the infundibulum under the names of lacuna and emboton. In the base of the organ he remarks, first, two mammillary caruncles, the optic nerves, which he reckons the first pair; the oculomuscular, which he accounts the second; the third, which appears to be sixth of the moderns; the fourth; the fifth, evidently the seventh; a sixth, the nervus vagus; and a seventh, which is the ninth of the moderns. Notwithstanding the misrepresentations into which this early anatomist was betrayed, his book is valuable, and has been illustrated by the successive commentaries of Alessandro Achillini, Jacopo Berengario and Johann Dryander (1500-1560).

Matthew de Gradibus, a native of Gradi, a town in Friuli, near Milan, distinguished himself by composing a series of treatises on the anatomy of various parts of the human body (1480). He is the first who represents the ovaries of the female in the correct light in which they were subsequently regarded by Nicolas Steno or Stensen (1638-1686).

Objections similar to those already urged in speaking of Mondino apply to another eminent anatomist of those times. Gabriel de Zerbis, who flourished at Verona towards the conclusion of the 15th century, is celebrated as the author of a system in which he is obviously more anxious to astonish his readers by the wonders of a verbose and complicated style than to instruct by precise and faithful description. In the vanity of his heart he assumed the title of Medicus Theoricus; but though, like Mondino, he derived his information from the dissection of the human subject, he is not entitled to the merit either of describing truly or of adding to the knowledge previously acquired. He is superior to Mondino, however, in knowing the olfactory nerves.


Eminent in the history of the science, and more distinguished than any of this age in the history of cerebral anatomy, Achillini of Bologna (1463-1512), the pupil and commentator of Mondino, appeared at the close of the 15th century. Though a follower of the Arabian school, the assiduity with which he cultivated anatomy has rescued his name from the inglorious obscurity in which the Arabian doctors have in general slumbered. He is known in the history of anatomical discovery as the first who described the two tympanal bones, termed malleus and incus. In 1503 he showed that the tarsus consists of seven bones; he rediscovered the fornix and the infundibulum; and he was fortunate enough to observe the course of the cerebral cavities into the inferior cornua, and to remark peculiarities to which the anatomists of a future age did not advert. He mentions the orifices of the ducts, afterwards described by Thomas Wharton (1610-1673). He knew the ileo-caecal valve; and his description of the duodenum, ileum and colon shows that he was better acquainted with the site and disposition of these bowels than any of his predecessors or contemporaries.


Not long after, the science boasts of one of its most distinguished founders. Berengario, commonly called Berenger of Carpi, in the Modenese territory, flourished at Bologna at the beginning of the 16th century. In the annals of medicine his name will be remembered not only as the most zealous and eminent in cultivating the anatomy of the human body, but as the first physician who was fortunate enough to calm the alarms of Europe, suffering under the ravages of syphilis, then raging with uncontrollable virulence. In the former character he surpassed both predecessors and contemporaries; and it was long before the anatomists of the following age could boast of equalling him. His assiduity was indefatigable; and he declares that he dissected above one hundred human bodies. He is the author of a compendium, of several treatises which he names Introductions (Isagogae), and of commentaries on the treatise of Mondino, in which he not only rectifies the mistakes of that anatomist, but gives minute and in general accurate anatomical descriptions.

He is the first who undertakes a systematic view of the several textures of which the human body is composed; and in a preliminary commentary he treats successively of the anatomical characters and properties of fat, of membrane in general (panniculus), of flesh, of nerve, of villus or fibre (filum), of ligament, of sinew or tendon, and of muscle in general. He then proceeds to describe with considerable precision the muscles of the abdomen, and illustrates their site and connexions by woodcuts which, though rude, are spirited, and show that anatomical drawing was in that early age beginning to be understood. In his account of the peritoneum he admits only the intestinal division of that membrane, and is at some pains to prove that Gentilis Fulgineus, who justly admits the muscular division also, is in error. In his account of the intestines he is the first who mentions the vermiform process of the caecum; he remarks the yellow tint communicated to the duodenum by the gall-bladder; and he recognizes the opening of the common biliary duct into the duodenum (quidam porus portans choleram.) In the account of the stomach he describes the several tissues of which that organ is composed, and which he represents to be three, and a fourth from the peritoneum; and afterwards notices the rugae of its villous surface. He is at considerable pains to explain the organs of generation in both sexes, and gives a long account of the anatomy of the foetus. He was the first who recognized the larger proportional size of the chest in the male than in the female, and conversely the greater capacity of the female than of the male pelvis. In the larynx he discovered the two arytenoid cartilages. He gives the first good description of the thymus; distinguishes the oblique situation of the heart; describes the pericardium, and maintains the uniform presence of pericardial liquor. He then describes the cavities of the heart; but perplexes himself, as did all the anatomists of that age, about the spirit supposed to be contained. The aorta he properly makes to arise from the left ventricle; but confuses himself with the arteria venalis, the pulmonary vein, and the vena arterialis, the pulmonary artery. His account of the brain is better. He gives a minute and clear account of the ventricles, remarks the corpus striatum, and has the sagacity to perceive that the choroid plexus consists of veins and arteries; he then describes the middle or third ventricle, the infundibulum or lacuna of Mondino, and the pituitary gland; and lastly, the passage to the fourth ventricle, the conarium or pineal gland, and the fourth or posterior ventricle itself, the relations of which he had studied accurately. He rectifies the mistake of Mondino as to the olfactory or first pair of nerves, gives a good account of the optic and others, and is entitled to the praise of originality in being the first observer who contradicts the fiction of the wonderful net and indicates the principal divisions of the carotid arteries. He enumerates the tunics and humours of the eye, and gives an account of the internal ear, in which he notices the malleus and incus.

See also: History of anatomy


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools