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Say it in Latin, Mortui Vivos Docent

June 23, 2016 , , , , ,

Anatomical theater Leiden 1610

Anatomical theater Leiden 1610

Anatomical theater in Padua 1594

Anatomical theater in Padua 1594

The dead teach the living is the meaning of the phrase mortui vivos docent. It was used to justify dissection of human bodies for science.  In the middle ages there was fear of dead bodies that, coupled with real danger present in corpses, made dissection dangerous.  The biggest danger faced by science, however, was the long arm of Catholic Church. Miguel Serveto (1511-1553),  was a physician and theologist who studied medicine in Paris at Sylvius’.  He published work describing post mortem examinations of corpses.  For this sin Serveto was burnt at the stake along with his books, both medical and religious, sentenced to death by the Holy Inquisition.

The Greek physician Gallen taught anatomy in the second century, teaching by direct empirical observation.  Ironically, his teachings were used to dissect one or two executed prisoners a year in the Middle Ages, but this practice was done more for theater than for research.   In 1543 of Andreas Vesalius published his  masterpiece, De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Vesalius, a young physician and professor at the University of Padua, changed the course of medical history. He demonstrated the importance of direct observation, creating illustrations of anatomy in action, teaching the secrets of the inner workings of the human body.  Public dissection for educational purposes became popular.

The Middle Ages were plagued by the black death.  Those dark ages were characterized by superstition and ignorance.  The Renaissance occurred when science, art, and humanism gave rise to new philosophies.  Some of these same ideas drove my ancestors to colonial America in the 1600’s.  One of my ancestors, Dr John Greene, was perhaps the first surgeon in America.  I have to wonder if he ever did any dissection in his training.  I have not.  I puked in the clay bucket for the art class (located right next to the science lab) in the 10th grade and was excused for frog dissection.  It was never mentioned again, and boy was I glad.

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Wow. I have not dissected anything. I took chem rather than biology. I find that dissection is for those with a stronger stomach… though I have seen some cross cut photos and bodies but it’s easier to deal with when they don’t look like humans.


Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

June 26, 2016

1 notes

  1. Inquisition also bad for Jews | From guestwriters reblogged this and added:

    […] Say it in Latin, Mortui Vivos Docent […]


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