|69 The Anatomy Lesson 1543
As a boy, Andreas Vesalius dissected cadavers of stray dogs and cats he found on the streets of Brussels. Eventually, his passion for anatomy became a compulsion to dissect the human body in order to present exact descriptions of all its parts. At the University of Padua, where he taught surgery, he realized that many prevalent theories about anatomy--most of them handed down from the Greek physician Galen--were wrong. As he sliced muscle from bone, Vesalius learned that the jaw is one bone, not two; that the thigh bone is not curved like a canine's; that men and women possess the same number of ribs. The 29-year-old doctor, in collaboration with artist Jan Calcar, created an astonishingly detailed, seven-volume work called On the Structure of the Human Body, published in 1543. It marked the beginning of the modern science of anatomy. But it also created a furor. His views came under attack by the Catholic Church, his colleagues and society at large. Stung by the criticism, Vesalius burned his notes. He went to work as court physician to Emperor Charles V and didn't perform any dissections for 20 years. After he resumed cutting open bodies--including, as one legend has it, the body of a nobleman whose heart was still beating--the emperor sent him on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Shipwrecked, he starved to death on the island of Zante.
Share with your friends: