1902 Encyclopedia > Medicine > Period of the Revival of Learning

(Part 20)

Period of the Revival of Learning

The impulse which all departments of intellectual activity received from the revival of Greek literature in Europe was felt by medicine among the rest. Not that the spirit of the science, or of its corresponding practice, was at once changed. The basis of medicine through the Middle Ages had been literary and dogmatic, and it was literary and dogmatic still; but the medical literature now brought to light, including as it did the more important worked of Hippocrates and Galen, many of them hitherto unknown, and in addition the forgotten element of Latin medicine, especially the work of Celsus, was in itself far superior to the second-hand compilations and incorrect versions which had formerly been accepted as standards. The classical works, though still regarded with unreasoning reverence, were found to have a germinative and vivifying power that carried the mind out of the region of dogma, and prepared the way for the scientific movement which has been growing in strength up to our own day.

Two of the most important results of the revival of learning were indeed such as are excluded from the scope of this brief sketch, namely, the reawakening of anatomy, which to a large extent grew our of the study of the works of Galen, and the investigation of medicinal plants, to which a fresh impulse was given by the revival of Dioscorides and other ancient naturalists. The former brought with it necessarily a more accurate conception of physiology, and thus led up to the great discovery of Harvey, which was the turning-point in modern medicine. The latter gave rise, on the one hand, to the modern science of botany, on the other to a more rational knowledge of drugs and their uses. At the same time, the discovery of America, and increased intercourse with the East, by introducing a variety of new plants, greatly accelerated the progress both of botany and pharmacology.

But it was not in these directions that improvement was first looked for. It was at first very naturally imagined that the simple revival of classical and especially of Greek literature would at once produce the same brilliant results in medicine as in literature and philosophy. The movement of reform started, of necessity, with scholars rather than practicing physicians, -- more precisely with a group of learned men, whom we may be permitted, for the sake of a name, to call the medical humanists, equally enthusiastic in the cause of letters and of medicine. From both fields they hoped to expel the evils which were summed up in the word barbarism. Nearly all mediaeval medical literature was condemned under this name; and for it the humanists proposed to substitute the originals of Hippocrates and Galen, thus leading back medicine to its fountain-head. Since a knowledge of Greek was still confined to a small body of scholars, and a still smaller proportion of physicians, the first task was to translate the Greek classics into Latin. To this work several learned physicians, chiefly Italians, applied themselves with great ardour. Among the earliest were Nicolaus Leonicenus of Vicerza (1428-1524), Giovanni de Monte or Montanus (1498-1552), and many others in Italy. In northern Europe should be mentioned Gulielmus Copus (1471-1532) and Günther of Andernach (1487-1584) better known as Guinterius Andernacenis, both for a time professors at Paris; and, among the greatest, Thomas Linacre (about 1460-1524; see LINACRE). A little later Janus Cornarius or Hagenbut (1500-58) and Leonard Fuchs (1501-66) in Germany, and John Kaye or Caius (1510-72) in England, carried on the word. Symphorien Champier (Champerius or Campegius) of Lyons (1472-1539), a contemporary of Rabelais, and the patron of Servetus, wrote with fantastic enthusiasm on the superiority of the Greek to the Arabian physicians, and possibly did something to enlist in the same cause the two far greater men just mentioned. Rabelais not only lectured on Galen and Hippocrates, but edited some works of the latter; and Servetus, in a little tract Syruporum universa ratio, defended the practice of Galen as compared with that of the Arabians. The great Aldine press made an important contribution to the work, by editiones principes of Hippocrates and Galen in the original. Thus was the campaign opened against the mediaeval and Arabian writers, till finally Greek medicine assumed a predominant position, and Galen took the place of Avicenna. The result was recorded in a formal manner by the Florentine Academy, sometime shortly before 1535: "quae, excusso Arabicae et barbarae servitutis medicae jugo, ex professo se Galenicam appellavit et profligato barbarorum exercitu unum totum et solum Galenum, ut optimum artis medicae authorem, in omnibus se sequuturam pollicita est." Janus Cornarius, from whom this is quoted, laments, however, that the Arabians still reigned in most of the schools of medicine, and that the Italian and French authors of works called Practica were still in high repute. The triumph of Galenism was therefore not complete by the middle of the 16th century. It was probably most so, and earliest, in the schools of Italy and in those of England, where the London College of Physicians might be regarded as an off-shoot of the Italian schools. Paris was the stronghold of conservatism, and Germany was stirred by the teachings of one who must be considered apart from all schools – Paracelsus. The nature of the struggle between the rival systems may be well illustrated by a formidable controversy about the rules for bleeding in acute diseases. This operation, according to the Arabian practice, was always performed on a vein at a distance from the organ affected. The Hippocratic and also Galenic rule, to let blood from, or near to, the diseased organ, was revived by Brissot (1470-1522), a professor in the university of Paris. His attempt at reform, which was taken to be, as in effect it was, a revolt against the authority of the Arabian masters, led to his expulsion from Paris, and the formal prohibition by the parliament of his method. Upon this apparently trifling question arose a controversy which lasted many years, occupied several universities, and led to the interposition of personages no less important than the pope and the emperor, but which is though to have largely contributed to the final downfall of the Arabian medicine.

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