Cesalpino, Andrea (or Andreas Caesalpinus)

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(b. Arezzo, Italy, 6 June 1519; d, Rome, Italy, 23 February 1603)

medicine, botany, philosophy.

Cesalpino studied philosophy and medicine at Pisa, where he received the doctorate in 1551. Four years later he succeeded his teacher Luca Ghini as professor of medicine and director of the botanical garden at Pisa. In 1592 he was called to Rome as physician to Pope Clement VIII and, simultaneously, professor at the Sapienza, where he taught until his death.

In his philosophical views, which he set out in Quaestionum peripateticarum . . . (1571) and which formed the framework of his medical and botanical works, Cesalpino was a follower of Aristotle, although he partially reformulated the latter’s theories. He retained the favor of the church and of the pope and was acquitted of the accusation of heresy made against him.

Cesalpino’s most important medical studies concern the anatomy and physiology of the movement of the blood. He gave a good description of the cardiac valves and of the pulmonary vessels connected to the heart, as well as of the minor blood circulation; he also recognized that the heart is the center of the circulation of the blood and accepted the existence of the traditional synanastomoses of the arteries with the veins. He did not, however, discover the major blood circulation (first demonstrated in 1628 by William Harvey). Cesalpino also published several works on practical medicine, which contain his observations on diseases of the heart and chest, syphilis, and other ailments.

Cesalpino’s principal contribution to science lies in botany. Whereas such contemporary botanists as Brunfels, Bock, Leonhart Fuchs, Mattioli, and Tabernaemontanus merely described and illustrated a great number of plants in their Krättterbücher. Cesalpino wrote the first true textbook of botany. De plantis libri XVI (1583). The first book of this text is of outstanding historical importance. Here. in thirty pages of admirably clear Latin, Cesalpino presented the principles of botany, grouping a wealth of careful observations under broad categories, on the model of Aristotle and Theophrastus.

Cesalpino considered the portion of the plant between the roots and the shoots–which he called the” heart “(cor)–to be the seat of its” soul “(anima), although he added that the soul is present throughout the plant. The task of the roots is to draw nourishment from the ground, and that of the shoots is to bear seeds. The leaves protect the shoots and the fruit from sunlight; they fall off in autumn, when the fruit is ripe and the shoots are developed Cesalpino’s description of the tendrils on the shoots and leaves, the climbing petioles of the Clematis, the anchoring roots of the Hedera, the secretion of the nectar from the blossoms, and many other phenomena testify to extraordinary skill in observation.

The parts of the plant, Cesalpino asserted, exist either “for a purpose” (alicuius gratia) or “out of (inner) necessity” (ex necessitate); with this distinction he anticipated the concepts of adaptive characteristics and organizational characteristics. Cesalpino considered the fruit to be the most important part of the plant and, accordingly, made it the basis of his system of the plant kingdom. In this system the perianth and the stamens serve only to protect the young fruit; for in his opinion plants do not possess sexuality. He called the outer covering of the fruit the pericarpium. Among fruits he distinguished “racema” (Vitis), “juba” (Milium), “panicula” (Panicum), and “umbella” (Ferula).

Like Aristotle, Cesalpino divided plants into four “genera”: A rbo res (trees), Frutices (shrubs), Suffrutices (shrubby herbs), and tlerhae (herbs). Trees possess a single stem, whereas shrubs have many thin stems. Shrubby herbs live for many years and often bear fruit, but herbs die after formation of the seeds. The distinction among species should be made, he held, only according to similarity and dissimilarity of forms; “unessential features” (accidentia), such as medicinal use, practical application, and habitat, must not be considered.

The remaining fifteen books are devoted to the classification and description of plants. The trees and shrubs are divided according to whether their fruits are single, bipartite, tripartite, quadripartite, or multipartite; herbs and shrubby herbs are classified in the same manner. Books 2–15 deal with the flowering plants, and book 16 treats those plants that form no seeds: ferns, duckweed, mosses, lichens, fungi, and algae. The latter groups arise, Cesalpino believed, from “putrefaction” (ex putre-tudine). Among the ferns, however, the leaves form on their underside a “down” (lanugo) out of which the new plants emerge and which thus corresponds to the seeds.

Cesalpino was the first to elaborate a system of the plants based on a unified and coherent group of notions. Not content to confine himself to describing plants, he also set forth the basic elements of general botany. By paying scant attention to the medicinal uses of plants –which were of crucial importance to his contemporaries –he raised botany to the level of an independent science.

Cesalpino exerted little influence on contemporary botanists; but later botanists, especially Joachim Jungius and Linnaeus, valued his work highly. The latter called Cesalpino the “first true systematizer” (primus verus systematic us) and named a plant genus after him (Caesalpinia).


I. Original Works Cesalpino’s writings include Quaestionum peripateticarum libri V (Venice, 1571); Daemonum investigatio peripatetica, in qua explicatur locus Hippocratis si quid divinum in morbis habetur(Florence, 1580); De plantis libri XVI (Florence. 1583); Quaestionum medicorum libri II (Venice. 1593; 1604); De metallicis libri III (Rome, 1596); Katoptron. sive speculum artis medicae Hippocraticum(Rome, 1601); Appendix ad libros de plantis (Rome, 1603); and Praxis universae artis medicae (Tarvisio, 1606).

II. Secondary Literature U. Viviani, Vita ed opere di Andrea Cesalpino (Arezzo, 1923), contains a list of works on Cesalpino up to 1916 and eight portraits of him. On Cesalpino as a physician, see G. P. Arcier, The Circulation of the Blood and Andrea Cesalpino (New York. 1945); and A. Hirsch, ed., Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragendsten Änte alter Zeiten und Völker, 1 (1929), 866–868, and supp. (1935), 166. Cesalpino as a botanist is discussed in K. M⊂gdefrau. Geschichte der Botanik (Stuttgart. 1973), 37–38. 41–43; L. C. Miall. The Early Naturalists (London, 1912), 36–39; E. RádI, Geschichte der biologischen Theorien, 2nd ed., I (Leipzig, 1913), 122–126; J. Sachs. Geschichte der Botanik (Munich, 1875). 45–62, 487–490; and W. Zimmermann. Evolution (Freiburg-Munich, 1953). 125–130.

Karl MÄgdefrau

Cesalpino, Andrea

views updated

Cesalpino, Andrea

(b Arezzo. Italy, 6 June 1519; d. Rome, Italy, 23 February 1603),

botany, medicine, physiology.

For a detailed study of his life and work, see Supplement.