Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

Sources:
1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81


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Vesalius' Jewish friend...

Theo Dirix 
Theo Dirix

Note: The following article was recently published in Dutch by my good friend Theo Dirix. Theo is one of our "Vesaliana" contributors, and he has written or has been part of several of the articles in this website. Theo was kind enough to provide a translation of his publication for this blog. There are footnotes in the original publication and I have added them to the end of this article. Dr. Miranda


Christie’s in New York recently sealed the deal of an exceptional copy of the Fabrica, the masterpiece by Andreas Vesalius. The sound resonated widely: buyers were the alma mater of the doctor, the KULeuven (University of Louvain, Belgium), and the Flemish government.

Earlier, a copy of Vesalius’s 1538 adaptation of a teacher’s manual, with his own notes, had already gone under the hammer. This copy of the second edition of the Fabrica from 1555, also richly annotated by the author, was not allowed to escape.

Vesalius enthusiasts eagerly anticipate seeing this historical wonder with their own eyes, following the promised digitization by the KULeuven and its exhibition in their ‘experience center’.

Non-medical or non-Latinist individuals may also find Vesalius captivating. The allure of such a well-traveled, exceptionally driven, and art-loving man is infectious and timeless. The Inquisition had no control over him, and his free-spirited mind and interactions with those of differing beliefs, such as Protestants or Jews, continues to inspire today.

At the end of the First Book of the Fabrica, there is a list of names for the bones of the skeleton as Vesalius knew them: first as he himself preferred to use them, then in Greek and in the Latin of others, and finally in Hebrew. In a certain way, the latter is also the Arabic translation, so he says, as they are “almost all taken from the Hebrew translation of Avicenna by my good Jewish friend and eminent physician Lazarus de Frigeis (with whom I usually study Avicenna).” 1

The opening print of the Fabrica may even feature an image of his friend.  After all, Vesalius had one of his public dissections illustrated. 2

"A colorful crowd, rows deep, stands, hangs, and drums around the table on which a corpse is being dissected. Three quarters of almost two hundred guests are students, with about fifty doctors and other notables also in attendance."

That is how the German student Baldasar Heseler described in his diary a public dissection in Bologna, conducted by the Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius.

Among the attendees were likely curious individuals who also frequented public executions or animal fights. Dissections were not serene practical lessons like today. Sometimes several dissections followed each other, often chaotic and in a festive atmosphere during the carnival period: today a hanged man, tomorrow a prostitute, in between a dog.

The image Vesalius chose for his first version of the Fabrica in 1543 is more symbolic in nature. Various authors see allegories in the ninety characters, as well as historical and contemporary prominent figures and acquaintances. 3

A striking figure who is central yet isolated is a man with a long beard, red in some colored versions, wearing a truncated conical headdress such as a tarboosh or fez. He turns towards his neighbor who whispers or shouts something to him. Or is he responding to the scene unfolding beneath him with the dismissive gesture of his left hand? With understanding or disgust?

Like other guests, he wears a heavy cloak; dissections were preferably performed during the cold winter months. It may be far-fetched, but don’t those stripes on his cloak remind us of the threads of a Jewish prayer shawl? Is this “his good Jewish friend and leading physician Lazarus de Frigeis”?

In the opening print of the second version from 1555, the stripes or threads are less clear. The sharp gaze is also blurred. And isn’t that beard shorter? Things have indeed changed in twelve years.

Title Page 1543 Fabrica

Title Page 1555 Fabrica

For example, the originally naked spectator on the balcony now wears a suit. The dog, bottom right, has a goat or goat next to him: is that perhaps the devil? The pennant of the all-dominating skeleton in the center becomes a scythe in the hands of Death.

Many find the later image less appealing than the original and speculate as to the reasons: Was it created by a different and perhaps less talented artist? Was the initial woodcut set aside because it had already been extensively used? Do the alterations suggest censorship or self-censorship, perhaps with an eye towards the advancing Inquisition?

Vesalius also made numerous changes to the text in the second edition. It remains a mystery how he communicated these changes to his Basel printer, Oporinus. This curiosity extends to his annotations and the third edition he had in mind. For instance, in the second edition, he omitted all references to his friends, retaining only the mention of Lazarus de Frigeis. However, the descriptors ‘Jewish’ and ‘leading physician’ were removed. Lazarus is still described as “his good friend.” Why did the reference to Judaism have to vanish?

One explanation posits that the descriptor ‘Jew’ had become redundant. Following the perspective of a researcher who identifies Lazarus de Frigeis as Lazzaro Freschi, the son of Rabbi Raffaele Fritschke, it is thought that Lazarus converted to Christianity in 1549, assuming the name Giovanni Battista Freschi Olivi. 4

Another explanation suggests that it may have been safer at the time to avoid allusions to Jewish beliefs or conversions. According to the same source, Lazzaro Freschi and his mother moved, or were compelled to move, to the Venice ghetto in 1547.

The word ‘getto’ is Italy’s ‘contribution’ to anti-Semitism, akin to later terms such as ‘pogrom’ from Russian, ‘Endlösung’ from German, and the slogan in English today commonly heard on European streets: “From the River to the Sea”.

Vesalius, however, continued to refer to Lazarus de Frigeis as his good friend. Not only was the anatomist well-traveled, passionate about his work, and an admirer of art, he was also loyal, open-minded, and, above all, courageous.

Theo Dirix

With gratitude to Omer Steeno, Maurits Biesbrouck, and Theodoor Goddeeris

Footnotes:

1. based upon: Maurits Biesbrouck. Nederlandse vertaling van het eerste boek van Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica 1543, handelend over het Menselijk Skelet. P. 394.
2. with differences in the frontispieces of the Fabrica’s of 1543 and 1555: https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/vesalius/
artifacts/coloured-frontispiece-1543/, and https://library.missouri.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/show/vesalius500/fabrica/a-tale-of-two-title-pages
3. for example: C.D. O’Malley. Andreas Vesalius of Brussels 1514-1564, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los
Angeles, 1964, p. 140.
4. Toaff, Ariel. Pasque di sangue, Ebrei d’Europa e omicidi rituali, Societa editrice il Mulino, Bologna, 2007, p. 197 - 198