Aspetti poco noti della storia dell'anatomia patologica tra '600 e '700 (review)
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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 74.2 (2000) 360-362



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Book Review

Aspetti poco noti della storia dell'anatomia patologica tra '600 e '700


Giorgio Weber. Aspetti poco noti della storia dell'anatomia patologica tra '600 e '700. Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere "La Colombaria," "Studi," no. 161. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1997. 170 pp. L 35,000.00 (paperbound).

Weber tells us that while seeking writings by Cartesian physicians his attention was led to a notebook by Antonio Cocchi, an eminent Florentine physician, whose notes included several pages that had been written in 1736-37 and had never been examined completely. This introductory fact leads to chapter 1, titled "William Harvey and the Medical Anatomy of the Prelections"--a valuable discussion presented in the pages of Weber's text, fortified by fifty lines of microscopic footnotes, plus thirty-four pages of collateral materials in Appendix 1. This [End Page 360] unusual method of presentation can be described either as circuitous or as richly instructive.

Weber describes Harvey as being "of the Italian anatomical mold" (p. 11 n. 1 ), inasmuch as he had been the pupil of Girolamo Fabrici of Aquapendente (who, while Harvey was his student, discovered the valves in veins and revealed the embryogenesis of the chick, a subject later developed by Harvey and Malpighi). Harvey subsequently acquired a long experience with autopsies. Parts of this development have been described by Keele, Pagel, and O'Malley. Keele, for example, observed that outside cardiocirculatory anatomical pathology, in the domain of systematic pathological anatomy, Harvey was more descriptive than interpretive, but the findings are presented in such a manner that today we can participate in a retrospective diagnostic interpretation.

Weber points out that published works include sixty-three explicit references to autopsies conducted by Harvey personally, but that the autopsies conducted by him can really be estimated as exceeding one hundred, and that there are about fifty dissections of hanged people in whom Harvey mentioned postmortem changes in their tissues. Weber extends his discussion to Harvey's observations of diseased structures in various parts of the body and to observations made by Cesalpino, Realdo Colombo, Servetus, and Steno. This extensiveness of scope is impressive and valuable.

Weber's chapter on Malpighi exceeds that on Harvey in length and equals it in interest. Part of its richness is due to Gaetano Atti, an instructor in Latin and Italian literature in the town of Crevalcore, who had the astuteness to rescue many of Malpighi's manuscript volumes; his contribution is of great value, as are the relevant manuscripts deposited in the library of the University of Bologna. Weber studied these and also examined indices and miscellaneous records containing relevant information, such as descriptions of individual diseased organs.

For his third target, the Florentine physician Antonio Cocchi (1695-1758), Weber used an autograph notebook that records autopsy experiences for two years, 1735-36. He points out the similarity of these pages to records of the Institute of Pathologic Anatomy in Florence, written one hundred years later!

The last physician in Weber's impressive series is Lancisi. As Weber reminds us, Lancisi's work was multiform: he studied malaria; he was an anatomist, physiologist, surgeon, and botanist; and he cultivated literature at the same time. In connection with Lancisi's book on sudden death, Weber shows that a preoccupation was present already in the writings of Baglivi, especially his comment on the autopsy of Malpighi only a few years before. Weber also writes of "an aspect still little developed today . . . the aspect by which pathological anatomy can form the morphological base of epidemiology and hence of preventive medicine" (p. 58). He introduces an extremely surprising similarity to sudden death in the epidemic of plague in a.d. 563 in Constantinople, studied by Procopius. [End Page 361]

The extensive remainder of Weber's contribution is a series of four appendices containing documents relating to Malpighi.

Saul Jarcho
New York, New York

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