Anatomical Snark

Anatomical Snark

Galen was a Greek physician and philosopher who lived in the 3rd Century (129-c. 210 AD).  He traveled extensively, was the personal physician to several Roman emperors, and his teachings on human anatomy were largely uncontested until the 1500s. Galen subscribed to the theory posited by the ancient Greek Hippocrates that humans have four humors: black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. As for what the interior of a human body looked like, he based his anatomical reports on dissections of monkeys, pigs, and dogs. Can you imagine your doctor trying to treat your ailments while believing you have the internal workings of a dog? It sounds crazy to our modern ears, but back then, there were enormous cultural and religious strictures against cutting into a human body. The words desecration and criminal come to mind. So even though it sounds absurd, Galen was doing the best he could.

Nothing truly substantial changed until centuries later when the Flemish Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) came along and broke all the social mores of his time. He stole cadavers and convinced authorities to give him the bodies of executed criminals and he took a knife to them. He wasn’t quiet about what he was doing, either. He showed what he discovered to others, dissected bodies in theatres, and drew what he saw. In 1543 he published a ground-breaking text called, “On the Anatomy of the Human Body,” all of which earned him the grandiose title of Father of Anatomy.

This illustration of a human skull resting on top of a dog’s skull shows up several times in Vesalius’s text. Like any good academic, he knew how to make fun of his predecessors in such a way that other academics would know exactly what he was doing. He overthrew Galen and wanted to make sure everyone else to knew it, too.

You gotta love a cheeky bastard in any field. If you'd like to add a little bit of anatomical snark to your collection of art, you're in luck. A hand embroidered reproduction is available here


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