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Medicine in the Renaissance

Beoordeling 3
Foto van een scholier
  • Werkstuk door een scholier
  • 5e klas vwo | 1347 woorden
  • 13 maart 2005
  • 11 keer beoordeeld
  • Cijfer 3
  • 11 keer beoordeeld

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I’m going to write about Medicine in the Renaissance. The basics of medicine had already been developed in the Ancient Greece and Roman culture but in the Renaissance it developed even more. I think it’s a very fascinating subject because of the brilliant minds behind every detail discovered up until now. You will see that a lot I’ve written about is based on people.

Medicine in the Renaissance

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the beginning of the dark ages, a lot of the civilization, culture and learning disappeared from Western Europe. Then in the 9th and 10th century Christianity spread over Europe. People were highly religious and a lot of civilization (e.g. architecture, manuscripts, etc) and discoveries disappeared. In the 14th and 15th century in Italy people began to doubt that this was really the point of life. They still believed in God, but they didn’t believe that abandoning all the civilization was what life was for. They rediscovered old Greek and Roman manuscripts (The Greeks had been more concerned about philosophy than the Romans). These people were called humanists. After that, the rest of Europe changed too.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), a Florentine artist, architect and a man of letters called this period “a rinàscita”, or in English “a rebirth”. It was called rebirth because it was the rebirth of the ancient Greek and a bit of the ancient Roman culture. Although the ancient Greek and Roman discoveries, philosophies and culture were important another important factor for this huge change was the invention of printing. They could now spread information with reduced costs. The development of trade still resulting from Crusades also made trade more likely and easier possible. Methods, culture and a lot more could now be exchanged so a lot of things became different and improved. The same goes for medicine.

Medicine was of course, after domination of the Christian church, still strongly influenced by it. Doctors of that time also were highly interested in Astrology and magic, because these had been taboo during the “regime of the church”. But slowly those who were interested in this started to read books translated from Arabic Medieval texts and they began to study anatomy in a different and scientific way. Andreas Vesalius and Leonardo Da Vinci were the first to start opening up human bodies to find out how it worked and how it looked like. The church did not permit them to use bodies of normal people, as they believed it would be needed to go to heaven. But they were allowed to use bodies of criminals or sinners. As punishment some of the criminals were still alive when Leonardo Da Vinci or Andreas Vesalius started.
The basics of medicine were established by the ancient Greeks and it endured until the Renaissance. It was the principle of the four humours or liquids in the human body (blood, phlegm, choler, melancholy or black choler). If a person was ill, his humours were out of balance. Vomiting and bleeding were aimed at restoring the balance between those four humours by the body.
They made a diagnosis by checking the colour of the patient’s complexion and testing the humours (by looking and tasting the urine).

Medical humanists

As I wrote before humanists were the people who thought the world should no longer be only about religion. So medical humanists were doctors. They were doctors who weren’t bound to the rules of the church. I could of course write about Leonardo Da Vinci or Andreas Vesalias but I think that they are famous enough as it is and that there are a lot of other brilliant people not so famous, who deserve it too!

The first renaissance doctors also knew a lot about physics and astronomy like Copernicus (1473-1524), mainly because of their continued interest in magic and astrology. They continued to be interested in astrology and magic but it was now easier because those things had been taboo during the “regime of the church”.

A lot of major courts and cities of Europe sent their best to Italy for training and advanced education. The humanists were also very tolerant towards new ideas or maybe more against old ideas.

Niccolò Leoniceno (1428-1524), on of the early medical humanists, taught medicine at the universities of Padua, Bologna and Ferrara. He was against the humanist tradition of only tolerating new ideas. He might have threatened the early humanists and he might’ve showed them how many attributes of medieval thinking outlived the middle ages.

Theophrastus Bombastus von Homenheim or also called Paracelsus (1493-1541) earned himself the title: “father of pharmacology”. He was also educated in Italy, in Ferrara under Niccolò Leoniceno. He distinguished himself from the others by his great interest in Alchemy and Astrology. When he finished his study he wandered around the world he only stayed in Freiburg, Strassburg and Basel briefly where some remarkable cures gained him fame. Further he quarrelled with the authorities for not accepting some old classics (old traditions or possibilities with medicine that came from before the Renaissance). This angered the old in Authority but attracted the young and those in training. He was also different because he taught not in Latin but in the country in which he was staying. As last thing he wrote a book about pharmacology (this actually was the main reason for his title: “father of pharmacology”) in spite of his medieval beliefs about the influences of stars and planets on diseases his book contained the basics, which we still profit of today.

The last famous medical humanist I will write about is Jean Fernel (1497-1588) who was trained in Paris; this proved that not all medical progress was dependent on Northern Italy.
He wrote a book called A Universal Medicine this was the first book in which the author had divided the study of medicine into the three now standard parts of medicine. They were physiology (the normal functioning of the body), pathology (the abnormal functioning of the body) and therapeutics (those things which might resolve abnormalities).

There were of course a lot more brilliant medical humanists or doctor from the renaissance but that are too many to write about.


Before the Renaissance there wasn’t much surgery except from cutting of people’s arms or legs. Slowly that started to change.

In the Renaissance clinical surgery came originally from France and most came from one man. His name was Ambroise Paré (1517?-1590). He came from the countryside to become a barber and later he became a wound-dresser at Hôtel-Dieu in Paris. In 1537 he joined the army where he became famous. At that time it was known that gunshot wounds had to be treated with boiling oil. Ambroise Paré wrote in his book (The Method Of Treatment For Wounds Caused By Firearms) that one night when he was treating the wounded after a battle, he discovered that he was out of oil and he had only treated half of his patients. With a guilty conscience but without choice he just cleaned their wounds and dressed them. The next morning he went to see them, thinking that he would see them in worse state than the ones he had treated with boiling oil but the ones treated with boiling oil were feverish and their wounds red inflamed. The ones treated without were sleeping comfortably and healing well. This one was of the many discoveries he made. Development of surgery in the Renaissance was mainly because of him.


I think you can say that medicine had an important part in the development of the Renaissance. It was one of the big changes, which occurred in the dark ages when it was becoming the Renaissance. In the dark ages a lot of medical advancement was stopped by the church (for example, cutting open people’s bodies to see how it worked) and was forgotten. Luckily that changed! And luckily the Ancient Greeks and Romans were so brilliant that today have quite a high life expectancy, at least in Europe!


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