John Caius

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Caius (Pronounced and Sometimes Written Keys), John

(b. Norwich, England, 6 October 1510; d. London, England, 29 July 1573), medicine.

After preparatory studies in Norwich, John, son of Robert and Alice Caius, entered Gonville Hall, Cambridge, in 1529. He was graduated in 1533 and received the M.A. in 1535. Thereafter he studied medicine and in 1539 transferred to the University of Padua, where he received the M.D. degree on 13 May, 1541.

Despite his anatomical training under the iconoclastic Vesalius, with whom he lived for eight months in Padua, Caius firmly believed that once Galen’s writings had been properly reconstructed, they would make medical research unnecessary. “Except for certain trivial matters nothing was overlooked by him, and all those things that recent authors consider important could have been learned solely from Galen” (De libris suis, f. 10r). An excellent Greek scholar, Caius sought to contribute to the corpus Galenicum, and in the summer of 1542 began an extensive trip through Italy, studying the Galenic manuscripts in the principal libraries. He returned to England in 1545, by way of Switzerland (where he began a lifelong friendship with Conrad Gesner) and then Germany and Belgium. The first results of his investigations were two books published in Basel in 1544: (1) Librialiquot Graeci, a collection of emendated Greek texts of Galen’s writings, notably the hitherto unpublished first book of the Concordance of Plato and Hippocrates, the Anatomical Procedures, and the Movementof Muscles; (2) Methodus medendi, a general work on medical treatment based on the doctrines of Galen and Giambattista da Monte, Caius’s professor of clinical medicine at Padua. A number of emendated Greek texts and Latin translations of Galenic and Hippocratic writings, products of Caius’s further studies after his return to England, were published under the titles Galeni de tuenda valetudine (Basel, 1549), Opera aliquot et versiones (Louvain. 1556), and Galeni Pergameni libri (Basel, 1557).

On 22 December 1547 Caius was admitted to the College of Physicians of London, of which he soon became a fellow and, in 1550, an elect. In 1555, he was chosen president, an office to which he was reelected for the ninth and final time in 1571. He was a strict disciplinarian who sought not only to strengthen the power of the college in its control of medical licensing in London but also to extend that control over all England. Although he was not always successful, nevertheless he did gain a greater respect for the profession of medicine in England: and in 1569 the college was able to force the powerful Lord Burghley to agree to banishment of a quack he had been shielding and to declare that he held no animosity against the college and “had the highest opinion of all the Fellows.” As part of his well-intended but frequently strongly opposed efforts to raise the level of medical education in England, Caius sought to prevent the universities of Oxford and Cambridge from granting medical degrees to those of dubious ability. It was also through the urgings of Caius that in 1565 the College of Physicians, like the United Company of Barber-Surgeons in 1540, was annually awarded by the crown the bodies of four executed criminals for anatomical demonstration; his old college at Cambridge received two.

Meanwhile, in 1546, Caius had been appointed anatomical demonstrator to the Company of Barber-Surgeons, a position that he held for seventeen years, during which time he made notable contributions to the development of this basic science in England. About the beginning of 1548 he began the practice of medicine in London and was appointed physician, successively, to Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. His services also were frequently demanded outside London by the nobility and gentry, and it was on the occasion of such a visit to Shrewsbury in 1551 that he observed the ravages of the “sweating sickness,” possibly a form of influenza, in its fifth outbreak in England. The result was his Boke or counseill against the disease called the sweate (1552), a minor classic of medical literature and the first original description of a disease to be written in England and in English. Caius studied the history of “the sweat,” established a diagnosis and was able to prove the disease quite unlike that of any earlier epidemic, described its course, and provided primitive statistics on the mortality rates. Despite his dislike of the use of the vernacular, in this instance he believed that the seriousness of the pestilence required him to reach as wide a public as possible. Later he wrote in Latin on the same subject for the medical profession: De ephemera Britannica, published in his Opera aliquot et versiones (1556).

The remainder of Caius’s published works were either composed or printed toward the end of his life. De rariorum animalium atque stirpium historia (1570), a description of fauna and flora that came to his attention in and around London, was originally composed for inclusion in Conrad Gesner’s Historia animalium but omitted by reason of the latter’s death. It appeared with De canibus Britannicis, likewise originally intended for Gesner’s work, and De librissuis, Caius’s literary autobiography. The English rendering by Abraham Fleming of the second of these works. Of Englishe dogges (1576), is a far from exact translation of the original Latin text. Three further works, which have no immediate relation to Caius’s scientific activities, were De antiquitate Cantabrigiensis Academiae (1568), Historia Cantabrigiensis Academiae (1574), and De pronunciatione Graecae (1574). Caius also emendated or translated into Latin still other Greek medical texts that, however, remained unpublished and are now known only through his references to them in De libris suis. He also refers there to an unpublished work on the baths of England, De thermis Britannicis, the earliest treatise of its kind. His record of the College of Physicians of London from 1518 to 1572. Annalium Collegii medicorum Londini liber, was first published in 1912.

In 1557 Caius was empowered by letters patent to refound his old college at Cambridge as Gonville and Caius College. He accepted its mastership in 1559 and provided large benefactions for rebuilding. Nevertheless his position became untenable because he had remained faithful to Catholicism, and he resigned in June 1573. Upon his death the following month he was interred in the college chapel with the simple inscription Fui Caius.


John Venn, “John Caius,” in The Works of John Caius. M.D., E. S. Roberts, ed. (Cambridge, 1912), pp. 1–78, includes a bibliography of Caius’s writings and an appendix of documents. The Works contains all of Caius’s published writings, as well as the hitherto unpublished Annales of the College of Physicians of London, but not the emendated texts and translations of classical medicine. There is a modern facsimile edition of The Sweate, Archibald Malloch, ed. (New York. 1937).

C. D. O’Malley emphasizes the medical aspects of Caius’s life in English Medical Humanists (Lawrence. Kan., 1965), pp. 26–46: contributions to zoology are dealt with in Edward C. Ash, Dogs; Their History and Development (London, 1927), 1, 68–70. 74–84; II, 656–658; J. W. Barberlomax. “De canibus Britannicis,” in Journal of Small Animals, 1 (1960). 24–31. 109–114; and Charles E. Raven, English Naturalists From Neckam to Ray (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 138–147.

C. D. O’Malley

views updated

Caius, John (1510–73). Refounder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1557), where he built (1560s and 1570s) the three Gates of Honour, Humility, and Virtue, remarkable for the refinement and correctness of their early Classical detail, derived from Serlio, and designed with the assistance of the architect and sculptor Theodore de Have, or Haveus (fl. 1562–76), of Cleve (Clèves), in Germany.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
E. Roberts (ed.) (1912);
D. Watkin (1986)