Borgognoni of Lucca, Theodoric

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Borgognoni of Lucca, Theodoric

(b. Parma or Lucca, Italy, ca. 1205; d. Bologna, Italy, 1298)

medicine, surgery.

It is quite certain that Theodoric’s father was Hugh of Lucca, a pioneer of Italian surgery, although this is contested by some. When Theodoric was nine, the family moved to Bologna, the medical capital of medieval Europe, where he became a Dominican friar in 1226. Under his father’s tutelage he learned medicine and surgery, and taught these subjects at the University of Bologna for thirty-three years. As a Dominican he first was appointed a papal penitentiary of Pope Innocent IV, then was named bishop of Bitonto (1262), and finally bishop of Cervia (1266). He never took possession of the see of Bitonto, however, and resided but little in Cervia, his usual home being Bologna. His practice of surgery there, unusual for a friar and a bishop, was necessary for his teaching; it provides an apt illustration of the varied occupations of churchmen in the Middle Ages.

Theodoric wrote treatises on mineral salts and on the sublimation of arsenic, both of which have been lost. He wrote also on falconry and on the veterinary science of horses (Practica equorum). His most famous work, however, is his Surgery (Chirurgia, sometimes entitled Filia principis), begun while he was a papal penitentiary. He seems to have prepared three redactions before arriving at a definitive version, which he released in 1266 at the urging of a fellow Dominican, Andrew of Abalat, bishop of Valencia, whom he had met in Rome and to whom he dedicated the work. The first printed edition was produced at Venice in 1498, and other editions followed in 1499, 1513, 1519, and 1546. During the medieval period the work was translated into several vernaculars, and in 1955 an English translation was published by two doctors, E. Campbell and J. Colton, whose war service led them to new developments in surgery that they found adumbrated in the work of Theodoric.

The four books of the Surgery cover the subject in both its general and its specific aspects, Theodoric recorded, in the main, the surgical knowledge and practices of Hugh of Lucca, appealing over fifty times to the latter’s authority. He verified Hugh’s work by his own experience, however, and supplemented it where it was incomplete or defective. In his quite modern discussion of fractures and dislocations, for example, he states: “In this book I have not been willing to include anything which I have not tested; nor did I wish my book to seem to contain more of another than of me” (Campbell and Colton, I, 218). He also claimed to be well acquainted with “the accounts of the ancients, especially of Galen…” (ibid., I, 4).

Theodoric’s methods were progressive, particularly his advocacy of antiseptic surgery at a time when everyone held the theory of “laudable pus.” He condemned the use of unguents and poultices to generate pus in a wound, holding that this, far from being necessary for healing, actually impedes nature, prolongs sickness, prevents the uniting and consolidating of the wound, deforms the part, and impedes cicatrization. He described his own revolutionary methods in detail, outlining procedures for cleaning the wound, eliminating dead tissue and foreign matter, accurately reapproximating the wound walls, using stitches where necessary, and adequately protecting the area.

Theodoric also improved techniques for preparing and using soporific sponges to induce sleep before surgery. The sponges were impregnated with a mixture of narcotics, dried out, and stored for use. When needed, they were immersed in hot water, wrung out, and held to the nose of the patient, who was instructed to breathe deeply. Other of his practices include the use of mercurial ointments in the treatment of some skin diseases and the sparing application of cautery.

Unfortunately for the history of medicine, aseptic surgery died with Theodoric’s pupil, Henri of Mondeville, the father of French surgery. Despite persecution by his contemporaries, Mondeville applied his master’s methods in France and found them most successful. His principal adversary, however, was Guy de Chauliac, whose Chirugia magna (1363) became a standard textbook for centuries. Guy unjustly accused Theodoric of plagiarism and otherwise denigrated him; he particularly rejected Theodoric’s aseptic treatment of wounds and thereby perpetuated the older methods. The result was that, with few exceptions (e.g., Mondeville, Ambrose Paré, and Richard Wiseman), one studying the history of surgery encounters “a gulf of “laudable pus’ centuries wide” (ibid., I, xxix).


I. Original Works. Theodoric’s major work, the Chirurgia (Venice, 1498, 1499, 1513, 1519, 1546), was translated by E. Campbell and J. Colton as The Surgery of Theodoric (New York: Vol. 1, 1955; Vol. II, 1960). The translators’ use of modern technical terms occasionaly gives a distorted and anachronistic view of Theodoric’s contributions. The Practica equorum appeared as El libro de los caballos: Tratado de albeiteria del siglo XIII, G. Sachs, ed. (Madrid, 1936).

II. Secondary Literature. Theodoric or his work is discussed in H.F. Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine, 4th ed. (Philadelphia, 1929), pp. 153–155; Adalberto Pazzini, “Borgognoni, Teodorico,” in Enciclopedia cattolica (Rome, 1949–1954), II, cols, 1923–1924, with additional bibliography; Jacques Quétif and Jacques Échard, Scriptores ordinis praedicatorum, 2 vols. (Paris, 1719–1721; repr. New York, 1959), I, 354–355, in which the authors confuse Theodoric with Theodoricus Catalanus; and George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, II, pt. 2 (Baltimore, 1931), 654–656.

William A. Wallace, O.P.


views updated May 29 2018

Theodoric (c.454–526), king of the Ostrogoths 471–526; known as Theodoric the Great. At its greatest extent his empire included Italy, which he invaded in 488 and conquered by 493, Sicily, Dalmatia, and parts of Germany. He established his capital at Ravenna.

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