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Polish Journal of Pathology
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vol. 70
Review paper

Famous books in the history of pathology

Jan G van den Tweel

Department of Pathology, University Medical Centre Utrecht, The Netherlands
Pol J Pathol 2019; 70 (1): 1-6
Online publish date: 2019/04/24
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Although there are many texts from the Greek, Roman, and Arabic periods in our history referring to diseases, books describing pathological investigations were not published until the early 16th century. Five authors and their books stand out because they were key to our current understanding of disease. They undermined the humoral theory of Hippocrates and Galen and were the first to show that organs were the site of a disease, later that diseases originated from certain tissues in an organ, and finally that single cells in those tissues were the origin of the problem. In order of appearance, the following five books are selected for this article.

De Abditis Nonnullis ac Mirandis Morborum et Sanationum Causis (1502)

The first of these books was written by Antonio Benivieni [1]. Born in 1443 in a Florentine family as the oldest of five sons, he obtained his scientific education in Pisa and Siena. There are no records of his study, but he must have finished his training around 1470. Benivieni was a physician in Florence for his whole professional life. One of the hospitals he worked in was probably Santa Maria Nuova, the hospital where Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) performed anatomical dissections. Da Vinci writes about an old man who passed quietly away in his hospital bed, and he wrote, “I did an autopsy on him to see the cause of such a quiet death”. It is not unlikely that Benivieni and da Vinci met, and maybe they discussed their cases.
From various records it is clear that Antonio Benivieni was the author of many medical manuscripts. However, his most famous work is De Abditis Nonnullis ac Mirandis Morborum et Sanationum Causis (About some hidden but miraculous causes of disease and cure), in which he accurately described the diseases of his patients and of the autopsies that he performed on them with permission of the families (Fig. 1). After his death in 1502, his brother Geronimo discovered the notes ...wherein he (Antonio) had diligently and minutely set down noteworthy events and useful pieces of knowledge encountered in thirty-two years of years of medical experience. Struck by their novelty and variety, I felt it my duty to put together these (160) unpolished and hurriedly written fragments. With the help of a good friend, the philosopher and physician Giovanni Rosati, they selected 111 cases. The letters that both men wrote to each other are included in the book. The 49 cases were omitted, were fortunately later found...

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