Benedetti, Alessandro

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Benedetti, Alessandro

(b. province of Verona, Italy, ca. 1450; d. Venice, Italy, 30 October 1512) anatomy, medicine.

Alessandro, the son of Lorenzo Benedetti, came from a medical family (a maternal uncle was also a physician), and his works attest to an excellent education in both letters and medicine. One of his teachers was the historian and humanist Giorgio Merula. He lived in a transitional period of Venetian and Italian history, and his career was very much influenced by the military and political events of the time. From his works, from the portion of his correspondence that has been published, and from documents we know that he transferred early to Padua, where he studied and taught. He practiced medicine in Venice and was a physician in the war against Charles VIII of France in 1495. For many years he also served Venice abroad–Greece, Crete, Melos, and the Dalmatian coast are mentioned. Among his friends were not only families high in the Venetian nobility and government but also the humanist and physician Giorgio Valla, the poet Quinzio Emiliano Cimbriaco, the historian Marino Sanudo, and the writer Jacopo Antiquari. In his will his wife, Lucia, is mentioned along with a daughter, Giulia.

Benedetti’s services to his patients, his thirty-book codification of diseases, his painstaking labors to improve the text of the thirty-seven books of Pliny’s Natural History, and his contributions to medical and general knowledge of the Caroline War in his diary of that event have assured him a position of importance in both medical history and historiography. His place in natural science rests upon his contributions to the study of anatomy. His importance consisted not in startling discoveries on the nature of the human body but in dissection before his students and in his treatise Historia corporis humani sive anatomice. He had been assembling material for this treatise at least since 1483, and parts of it were probably circulated in the closing years of the fifteenth century; it appeared complete in Venice (1502), with a letter of dedication dated 1 August 1497, and appeared in later editions at Paris (1514), Cologne (1527), Strasbourg (1528), and in the collected editions of his medical and anatomical works that were published at Basel (1539, 1549). The Historia was known to Leonardo da Vinci; Leonhart Fuchs called attention to a number of errors in it; and Giovanni Battista Morgagni accorded importance in anatomy to its author. It therefore had, we may believe, something of the authority of a textbook in a period when anatomists in Italy were becoming increasingly concerned with observation of the human rather than the animal body. The work comprises five books, which describe the body roughly a calce ad caput. It concludes with a paragraph praising dissection, in which the author urges all students, together with established physicians and surgeons, to seek truth in the anatomical theater and not rely solely upon the written word. This paragraph is a natural extension of the introductions to the several books in which Benedetti describes an anatomical theater inspired in form by the Colosseum at Rome and the Roman arena at Verona, and invites various political and literary figures to dissections. This encouragement of dissection was probably Benedetti’s greatest contribution to natural science.

Benedetti, while profiting from earlier writers, followed the same firsthand methods in practicing medicine and in his encyclopedic Omnium a vertice ad calcem morborum signa, causae, indicationes et remediorum compositiones utendique rationes, in which a number of his cases are cited. He was the author also of aphorisms, of a tract on the pest (1493), and of a work on Paul of Aegina, which was not published.


1. Original Works Benedetti’s works include Collectiones medicinae (Venice,ca. 1493); De observatione in pestilentia (Venice, 1493); Diaria de hello Carolino (Venice, after 26 August 1496), the modern edition and translation of which by Dorothy M. Schullian (New York, 1967)provides an extensive bibliography of original works of Benedetti as well as secondary works on him, and makes unnecessary any lengthy listing here; Histroia corporis humani sive anatomice (Venice, 1502); his edition of C. Plinius Secundus, Historia naturalis libri XXXVII (Venice, 1513); and Omnium a vertice ad calcem morborurn signa, causae, indicationes et remediorum compostitones utendique rations … (Basel, 1539). The correspondence of Giorgio Valla with Benedetti and others was edited by Johan Ludvig Heiberg in Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen, Beihefi XVI(Leipzig, 1896).

II. Secondary Literature. References to Benedetti are contained in Nicolaus Comnenus Papadopoli, Historia gymnasii Patavini (Venice, 1726); and in Marino Sanudo, La spedizione di Carlo VIII in Italia (Venice, 1873), and I diarii, XV (Venice, 1886), col. 283. Also see Roberto Massalongo, “Alessandro Benedetti e la medicina veneta nel quattrocento,” in Atti del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti, 76, pt. 2 (1916-1917), 197-259; Curt F. Bühler “Stop-press and Manuscript Corrections in the Aldine Edition of Benedetti’s Diaria de bello Carolino,” in papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 43 (1949), 365-373; Glauco De Bertolis, “Alessandro Benedetti; II primo teatro anatomica padovano,” in Acta medicae historiae patavina, 3 (1956-1957), 1-13; Hans Dieter Kictartz, Die Anatomie des Zahn-, Mund- und Kieferbereches in dem Werk “HISTORIA CORPORIS HUMANI SIVE ANATOMICE”von Alessandro Benedetti, doctoral disseration (Düsseldorf, 1964); Wolfgang Matschke, Die Zahnheilkunde in Alessandro Benedettis posthumen Werk “Omnium a vertice ad calcem morborum signa, causae, indicationes et remediorum compositiones utendique rations, generatim librirs XXX conscripta,” doctoral dissertation (Freiburg, 1965); and Mario Crespi, “Benedetti, Alessandro,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, VIII (Rome, 1966), 244-247.

For additinoal references see the 1967 edition of Benedetti’s Diaria cited above.

Dorothy M. Schullian