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c h a p t e r t e n The Fortunes of Malpighi’s Mechanistic Anatomy 10.1 Mechanistic Anatomy and Malpighi’s Vita Toward the end of the seventeenth century mechanistic anatomists became embroiled in controversies on two fronts, externally with those holding different philosophical views, and also among themselves, as a result of different techniques of investigation and the resulting views about the minute constituents of the body. No work is better suited to study those controversies than Malpighi’s extensive and often polemical Vita. This chapter uses Malpighi’s Vita to explore two of the most significant of those controversies and a subsequent attack on Malpighi. Section 10.2 provides a framework for reading his work, relating it to a tradition of writing about the self that inspired him. Section 10.3 moves to Malpighi’s extended criticism of Borelli’s De motu animalium, which was the initial stimulus behind Malpighi’s work; his replies form the single most extensive portion of his Vita, about eighteen folio pages. Section 10.4 examines the controversy with Paolo Mini. Whereas that with Borelli was an internal affair between mechanists, that with Mini was entirely different, since Mini was a defender of the role of the faculties and an iatrochymist. Malpighi’s reply to Mini’s wide-ranging objections is the second largest in his Vita, about fourteen folio pages. These two controversies provide a vivid picture of a broad set of themes and debates in the history of anatomy and botany in the last two decades of seventeenth-century Italy. Finally, section 10.5 adopts a different perspective: the 1699 edition of Malpighi’s Vita in the Bibliotheca anatomica includes numerous footnotes, mostly supplied to the editors by the Amsterdam anatomist Frederik Ruysch, whose seminal and wideranging Epistolae problematicae were being published starting from 1696. At that time Ruysch was developing novel injection techniques leading to results that challenged Malpighi’s views about the ultimate components of the body and especially the structure of glands. Thus, the most advanced and sophisticated techniques of investigation of the time were leading to striking contradictions rather than mutual support. 276 Anatomy, Pathology, and Therapy The debates between Ruysch and the Leiden professors Govert Bidloo and Herman Boerhaave highlight the stalemate on central issues of mechanistic anatomy. Starting from Ruysch’s insidious footnotes, I reconstruct his investigations of those years and his ensuing exchanges. 10.2 Writing about the Self On 26 and 27 December 1689, during his Iter italicum, Leibniz met Malpighi at Bologna : Malpighi’s diary and a later letter by Leibniz to Thévenot provide us with valuable insights into Malpighi’s projects at the time. Leibniz reports that Malpighi read to him extracts from a work he called “testamento” or will, in which he replied to the objections from his critics and especially Borelli. On his part, Malpighi wrote in his diary that he read (to Leibniz’s approval) his responses to Borelli’s objections with regard to respiration, the vegetation of plants, and other matters.¹ The word “testamento” indicates a text to be opened after the author’s death, thus suggesting that by then Malpighi was already planning to publish a posthumous work in reply to his critics and specifically to Borelli, his erstwhile philosophical mentor to whom he had dedicated his Epistolae on the lungs in 1661. Borelli had died on the last day of 1679, thus blunting Malpighi’s sword, lest he was to publish a tasteless rebuttal to his former mentor when he could no longer respond. In such circumstances a posthumous reply must have looked like the only viable alternative, especially since he thought death was imminent. A letter to Lorenzo Bellini of October 1689 announced that in the summer of that year he had started writing some memoirs to be left to his heir in defense of his writings, “to remove from my mind the horror of the impending death.” Malpighi was suffering from a kidney affliction and could not walk even short distances without urinating blood; other letters from the same time show that he thought his days were numbered. In fact, Malpighi was to live for another five years, carrying out with dogged determination his unusual project in the form of an imposing posthumous volume including not only a one-hundred-folio-page Vita a seipso scripta but also the Risposta to Lipari and the new Risposta to Sbaraglia. In 1691...


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