The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity
by: William A. Therivel, PhD
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William A. Therivel
William Therivel
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-High Creativity Unmasked
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-Studying National Creativity
Biography of Author

The origin of Western Medicine from the dissections practiced by Mondino de Luzzi is discussed in
Therivel's GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity.

Western Medicine's Origin

The DP Origin of Western Medicine -- On the History of Scientific Use of Dissection - Mondino de' Luzzi

Excerpts from volume 1 chapter 13 and volume 4 chapter 14 of William A. Therivel's The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity (G stands for genetic endowment, A for assistances of youth, M for misfortunes of youth, DP for division of power, UP for unity of power). For an introduction to the GAM part of the theory click "Introduction to GAM"; for an introduction to the DP part click on "Introduction to DP".
In this website, the reader is also offered a shortcut: The GAM/DP Synopsis and an expanded version, The GAM/DP Summary of volumes 1 through 4.

A) From Volume 1

     The use of dissection (autopsy) of dead human bodies for scientific purposes is what differentiated Western medicine from the healing and curing approaches of the other civilizations. Because of this fundamental difference, the practice of dissection of humans deserves to be seen as the real beginning of Western medicine. Without dissection, there is no way to know how the human body is made, how it functions, how it can be repaired and cured. The prohibition of dissection in other civilizations has been one of the primary reasons for their lack of further medical progress beyond some very promising beginnings.
     Very correctly, Roy Porter has entitled his 1997 medical history of the humanity: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, but without scientific research this benefit would have remained very small. Indeed, in the words of Benjamin Gordon: "The lack of scientific knowledge bound medical practice to superstition, to the beliefs in amulets, and to the reliance on herb decoction, astrology, and uroscopy" (1959, p. 592). And without dissections there would have been no scientific understanding of the body first and then of the diseases.
     "Because Hindus were prohibited by their religion from cutting the dead body, their knowledge of anatomy was limited" (Underwood & Rhodes, 1993, p. 776). Not only the Hindus were restricted, but also the Jews, the Muslims, and the Byzantines. Among the Jews: "Respect for the dead, and the utmost reverence for the human body after death are enjoined by both Jewish law and custom. The rabbis deduce the prohibition of the desecration of the corpse as well as the duty of the reverent disposal of the body by burial as soon as possible after death from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23. Mutilation of the body, whether for anatomical dissection or for post-mortem examination, would appear to violate the respect due to the dead, and is consequently to be forbidden. [There were exceptions, and later special rules, for the Medical School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, led to the Law of Anatomy and Pathology passed by the Knesset in 1953. Yet,] in 1965, following allegations of widespread abuse of the safeguards contained in the Law, certain Orthodox circles in Israel agitated to have the law amended by reverting to the strict limited permission given by Ezekiel Landau [who in the 18th century said that autopsy on the body of a Jew was permitted only in order to find the cause of his death if in the same hospital another patient was suffering from the same symptoms, so that the autopsy would immediately help]" (Rabinowitz, 1971, pp. 932-3).

     In Byzantine medicine, "Great stress, almost to the point of worship, was laid on ancient tradition. The medicine of Galen (Claudius Galenus, ca. 130-200 A.D.) and other ancient physicians (as interpreted by the church of course) was considered the last word on the subject of medicine. Independent thought was considered a heresy even by physicians themselves. . . . Byzantine medicine, to be exact, is a mechanical preservation of ancient thought or an anthology of the classical medical writings" (Gordon, 1959, p. 44). In these conditions, any idea of going beyond the dissection of animals as practiced by Galen would have been anathema.
     In the Islamic countries, "the theory and thought of the Greeks were left untouched and treasured up after careful systematization and classification. It must be remembered that the Muslims were strictly prohibited from dissecting either human bodies or living animals. Thus experiment was practically impossible in medicine, so that none of Galen's anatomical and physiological errors could be corrected" (Meyerhof, 1931, p. 344).
     Williams and Steffens had similar comments in their discussion of the great Arabic physician Rhazes (al-Razi, ca. 865-925): "Rhazes also was well-versed in anatomy, although here he was forced by religious circumstances to rely upon tradition, particularly Galen, rather than upon first-hand observation. Dissection of cadavers was forbidden by Islamic law. Thus, the treatises by Razes and other Islamic physicians did little more than echo their Greek predecessors" (1979, p.195).

     The scientific study of the human body through dissection was unique to the West for a long time. Among the pioneers, two names stand out: those of Mondino de' Luzzi and Andrea Vesalius."The first recorded public human dissection was conducted in Bologna around 1315 by Mondino de Luzzi (c. 1270-1326). . . . His fame rests on his Anatomia Mundini (c. 1316), which became the standard text on the subject. Built on personal experience of human dissection, the Anatomia was a brief, practical guide, treating the parts of the body in the order in which they would be handled in dissection, beginning with the abdominal cavity, the most perishable part" (Porter, 1997, p. 132).
     After the famous public dissection by Mondino in Bologna in January 1315 and his writing of Anatomia Mundini of 1316-17, things started rolling: public dissections were decreed in 1377 at the university of Montpellier, "and Catalonia Lerida followed suit in 1391. At Bologna, where dissection had long been customary, it received official recognition in the University Statutes in 1405, and the same event took place at Padua in 1429. (Singer, 1955, p. 79).

And the Church?

     There was a papal bull: Detestande feritatis [abhorred wounds] issued in 1299, but it "did not prohibit dissections, but the cutting up of corpses and their boiling in order to separate the bones from the flesh. That practice had originated during the Crusades to make possible the repatriation of at least part of the body. . . . Boniface VIII's prohibition was frequently lifted in favor of powerful people who were able to pay for the necessary indult or license" (Sarton, 1947, p. 266). Specifically, the bull read: "Persons cutting up bodies of the dead and barbarously cooking them in order that their bones be separated from their flesh are by the very act excommunicated" (quoted by Gordon, 1959, p. 422). Yet even in this limited form, the papal ban proved ineffective, and various followers of Mondino--De Cahuliac, Achillini, Benedetti, Berengario--used to cook parts of the body to liberate the bones from the flesh (Favaro, 1929, p. 115).
     On one side we can admire how open-minded Pope Boniface VIII was, on the other we can see that the popes in those times had limited moral and practical authority. In 1315, the year of the first public dissection by Mondino, Christianity had no pope. The Holy See, already forced to move to Avignon, was vacant from 1314 to 1316. The French members of the college, who out-numbered the Italians, were unable to agree amongst themselves. Finally they agreed on another Frenchman, Jacques Dréze de Cahous, who reigned as John XXII from 1316-1334, after Clement V (1305-1314) who, as already mentioned, is one of the three popes that Dante placed in Hell with Nicholas III (1277-1280), and Boniface VIII (1294-1303).
     Shortly after, Christianity suffered its Great Schism of 1378 to 1417, when there were two, and later three, rival popes, each with his own following, his own Sacred College of Cardinals, and his own administrative offices. The spectacle of rival popes denouncing each other produced great confusion and resulted in a tremendous loss of prestige for the papacy, especially in Italy, the country most involved in the fight among popes of the Roman obedience, Avignon obedience, and the Pisan obedience.
     However, all this did not mean a major increase in lay power, not by the emperor, nor by kings or signori. These, indeed, were years of Division of Power, when new things could be tried out.

B) From Volume 4

     The beginning of this scientific understanding of the human body is relatively new in the history of mankind, and can be dated with some precision to the early years of the fourteenth century when Mondino de' Luzzi made his first public dissections of human cadavers at Bologna, and then described them in his famous Anotomia Mundini of 1316-17. Before this date, and elsewhere in the World (with the exception of some work done in Alexandria around 300 B.C.), there were such strong religious/ethical prohibitions against dissection of human cadavers that the beginning of the medical science was blocked.
     In chapter 13 of volume 1 of my GAM/DP Theory, I briefly discussed the contrast between what had been done in the West and what had not been done elsewhere, and how the visitor mentality which began at Canossa 1077 (see chapter 11 of volume 1) and the existence of a greater division of power (DP) in Italy at the time of Mondino de' Luzzi, were essential for the beginning of the medical use of dissection. Still, more needs to be said on this important subject, especially on the forensic (partial) dissections and on the university public/book-driven (complete) dissections (e.g., those of Mondino de' Luzzi) which preceded the truly scientific dissections (e.g., those of Vesalius). We also need to examine the exceptional conditions in Alexandria at the time of Ptolemy I which favored the dissections by Herophilus, and then discuss the rapid surge of the unity of power (UP) under Ptolemy II and the consequent decline of the Alexandrian School of Medicine.
     Before proceeding, we need to appreciate how revolutionary those first dissections at Bologna were because, from our present point of view, those dissections may not seem so heroic; so un-heroic, in fact, that a number of modern historians have been critical of the slow pace with which things progressed, and astonished that the dissections by Mondino de' Luzzi were not performed more scientifically and did not produce major anatomical discoveries. However, at a minimum, these historians forgot to ask why scientific dissection was not practiced in the other civilizations, nor did they address the strong repulsion against tampering with human cadavers which was also an integral part of the Greco-Roman world and of the first twelve centuries of Christianity:

[In mainland Greece] knowledge of human internal anatomy had been seriously hampered by superstitious beliefs which still invested the human corpse. Religious scruples, veneration of the dead and dread of the corpse itself had all combined to bring about a deeply entrenched and powerful taboo against human dissection. (Longrigg, 1993, p. 184)

As long as men have still been capable of humane sensitivity, it has never been possible to dissect without a feeling of inner revulsion. No one, aware that the body into which he is cutting is the body of a human being, can do so without emotional resistance, even though his reason may refute all arguments and show him that his feelings are unreasonable.... The Hellenistic physicians had at least had the help of the kings, who were themselves schooled in philosophy. The Roman Empire permitted no dissections. Only in Egypt, as Galen says, not in the European provinces, could anatomy still be practiced. The latinized world at any rate allowed no dissecting, and it is not by chance that a Latin writer tells that even dissection of animals was sufficient grounds for convicting him of the practice of magic. (Apuleius, Apologia, ch. 25 ff.) (Edelstein, 1932/1967, pp. 279, 280, 283)

     There had, indeed, been a short-lived exception around 300 B.C. when Herophilus and Erasistratus had been able to practice dissections on human cadavers in Alexandria, with the help of Ptolemy I. However their work was neither repeated nor expanded: "In Alexandria human pathological necropsies were probably obtained without difficulty; in Rome the current prejudice against them was prohibitive, and it persisted even into the fifteenth century" (Allbutt, 1921/1970, p. 161).
     The situation was not much different during the early Middle Ages, thereby explaining the admiration by Lino Sighinolfi (1930) for the Bolognese School of Medicine which, toward the end of the thirteenth century had been able to "overcome the obstacles kept for long centuries by the prejudices on the inviolability of the cadavers and the blind faith in the authority of Galen, through the direct study of anatomy" (p. 9).
     It is, therefore, against this very restrictive background that we must place our understanding of the first steps in the Western practice of the dissections of cadavers.

Dissections in the West evolved in four stages, each preparing the way for the next:

  • Forensic/post mortem dissections, to establish the cause of death in uncertain cases
  • (Simple) University-public-bookdriven dissections, to teach anatomy (Mondino de' Luzzi)
  • (Formal) University-public-bookdriven dissections, to teach anatomy (post Mondino
  • Scientific dissections, to learn more about the human body (Vesalius)

     Public dissections, practiced first at the University of Bologna in 1315, were indeed exceptional, the result of the DP between emperors and popes, which had begun at Canossa in 1077 and had been greatly expanded, after the battle of Legnano of 1176, by the freedoms granted by the Magna Carta of the Communal Freedoms of 1183. After Bologna, the practice of public dissection spread throughout Europe: Montpellier, 1377; Lerida, 1391; then Prague, 1460; Paris, 1478; Tübingen, 1485.

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