Medieval Anatomy, The Argus, 15 August 1931
Adrenal glands, adrenaline, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), anatomists, anatomy, animal spirit, blood, brain, British Medical Association, circulation, digestion, dissection, examinations, liver, medicine, medieval anatomy, natural spirit, physicians, Professor Buckmaster, Professor Osborne, Professor Wright, Renaissance medicine, surgeons, The Royal College of Surgeons, vapour, vital spirit, William Harvey (1578-1657).
Despite recognising that Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was one of the most progressive anatomists of his day, this article from The Argus in 1931 incorrectly labels his views as those of ‘medieval anatomy’. The article describes a light-hearted lecture delivered to members of the British Medical Association in which Professor Wright, one of two prestigious visitors from the Royal College of Surgeons, adopted the role of Vesalius. In this role he proceeded to outline how the internal functions of the human body were understood prior to William Harvey’s discoveries concerning the circulatory system in the seventeenth century. However this model, which consists of three spirits (animal spirit, natural spirit and vital spirit) that are transported around the body by the blood and altered by heat and various secretions, is specific to the sixteenth century rather than the medieval period. This is because bodily dissection was heavily forbidden by the Catholic Church in the medieval period, and so anatomical discussions were limited. The use of ‘medieval’ here refers rather to an early twentieth-century attitude that the theory was primitive and reactionary within a linear narrative of medical advancement. This is evident in the explanation offered by Professor Wright that “it emphasised to a modern audience the remarkable advances which had been made in 350 years”, and “should teach the harm that could be done by adhering slavishly to conceptions which might be false”.
TROVE: National Library of Australia, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4384619
15 August 1931, p.21