Benivieni, Antonio

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Benivieni, Antonio

(b. Florence, Italy, 3 November 1443; d. Florence, 11 November 1502)

pathological anatomy.

A contemporary and friend of Angelo Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino, and Lorenzo the Magnificent, Benivieni was a famous physician, yet we have little information about him as a person. His father, Paolo, a nobleman, was a notary; he himself was the eldest of five brothers, of whom two others achieved distinction—Domenico as a theologian at the University of Pisa, and Girolamo as a philosopher and poet in Florence. Benivieni studied medicine at Pisa and practiced in Florence; his house stood where modern Ricasoli Street is, near the present-day Academy of Fine Arts. He had as patients the most important families of the city—the Bardi, Brunelleschi, Guicciardini, Pazzi, Strozzi, and the Medici themselves. He was on excellent terms with his medical colleagues Bernardo Torni (1452–1497) and Lorenzo Lorenzi (known as Laurentianus, who died in 1502), who were teachers in the University of Pisa, and he was well regarded by both Ficino and Savonarola. He was buried in the chapel of St. Michael in the Church of the SS. Annunziata, Florence. No reliable portrait of him exists.

Antonio Benivieni left a number of works in manuscript—De pestilentia ad Laurentium Medicem; Consilium contra pestem Magistri Antonii Benivieni; De virtutibus, an essay on Galenic physiology; notes on De opinionibus antiquorum; the title of a chapter of a Liber de cometa ad Julianum Medicem; separate notes on fossils and minerals; and a treatise, De chirurgia. A learned humanist, Benivieni occupies a place in the history of science for his De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis, an early essay on pathological anatomy published posthumously by Filippo Giunti at Florence in 1507. Originally conceived of by the author as a treatise of 300 selected observations or chapters, the book was put forth by his brother Girolamo with the aid of a physician (Giovanni Rosati) in an incomplete form containing only 111 chapter; a copy of this first edition is to be found in the Bibliotheca Marucelliana, Florence. Later issues of this incomplete version appeared at Paris (1528), Basel (1529), Cologne (1581), Leiden (1585), and Antwerp (1585). Alfonso Corradi in 1885 recorded an edition printed at Naples in 1519.

Although Benivieni’s book was noted by Morgagni and Haller, it was virtually forgotten until Carlo Burci (1813–1875), the first ordinary professor (Florence, 1840) of pathological anatomy in Italy, translated it into Italian; it has been translated into English by Charles Singer and Esmond Long under the title The Hidden Causes of Diseases (1954). Both translations are based on the edition of 1507, and a complete knowledge of the work requires study of the author’s manuscript, which was discovered by Francesco Puccinotti in 1855. Puccinotti noted in his researches that Benivieni had performed at least twenty autopsies and had observed gallstones, urinary calculi, scirrhous cancer of the stomach, fibrous tumor of the heart, peritonitis arising from intestinal perforation, and transmission of syphilis to the fetus. Benivieni was also a competent surgeon, as Burci pointed out.

The autograph manuscript of the De abditis was given by Puccinotti to Cesare Guasti, a paleographer, in order that a transcription of the unpublished parts might be made. This was most provident, for the original autograph again disappeared; fortunately, Guasti’s transcription survives in the National Library of Florence and is believed to represent the text of the previously unpublished parts, unmodified and unedited.

Benivieni possessed among his books a copy of De medicina libri octo of Celsus, and Antonio Costa and his pupil Weber clearly documented the Celsian humanism of the De abditis; indeed, the title of Benivieni’s work would appear to have been suggested by Celsus’ “abditae morborum causae” (cf. Celsus, De medicina, Bk. I, Proemium). The critical work on the De abditis published by Costa and Weber is without doubt the best study of Benivieni’s accomplishment and establishes his importance on a firm basis. As Ralph Major noted in 1935, “Benivieni’s De abditis marks the beginning of a new method of thinking in medical sicence.... He was unquestionably a pathfinder in medicine who blazed a new path which physicians waited for more than two centuries and a half to follow.”


Benivieni’s works are cited in the text.

Literature on Benivieni is Luigi Belloni, “Antonii Benivieni, De regimine sanitatis ad Laurentium Medicem,” in Atti del Congresso di Torino: 8–10 Giugno 1951, della Società italiana di patologia Milan, 1951); C. Burci, Di alcune ammirabili ed occulte cause di morbi loro guarigioni. Libro di Antonio Benivieni con un elogio storico intorno alla vita e alle opere dell’autore(Florence, 1843): A. Corradi, “Un libro raro di sifilografia, e un’edizione ignota del Benivieni,” in Annali universali di medicina e chirurgia271 (1885), 228–240; A. Costa and G. Weber, “L’inizio dell’anatomia patologica nel quattrocento fiorentino,” in Archivio De Vecchi,39 (1963), 429-878, 939-993, which includes a rich bibliography on the subject: B. De Vecchi, “La vita e l’opera di Maestro Antonio Benivieni,” in Atti della Società Colombaria di Firenze, 30 (1930-1931), 103–122; and “Les livres d’un médecin humaniste,” in Janus, 37 (1933), 97-108; L. Landucci, Diario fiorentino dal 1450 al 1516 (Florence, 1883); Ralph Major, “Antonio di Pagolo Benivieni,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 3 (1935), 739-755; M.G. Nardi, “Antonio Benivieni e un suo scritto inedito sulla peste,” in Atli e tnentorie dell’Accademia di storia dell’arte sanitaria4 (1938), 124–133; F. Puccinotti, Storia della medicina (Leghorn, 1855), II, pt. 1, 232–255; and Lynn Thorndike, “A physician of Florence: Antonio Benivieni,” in A History of magic and Experimental Science, IV, 586-592.

Pietro Franceschini

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