Casseri (or Casserio), Giulio

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Casseri (or Casserio), Giulio

(b Piacenza, Italy, ca. 1552; d. Padua, Italy, 8 March 1616),

anatomy, surgery.

Casseri was born into a humble and quite poor family. His father Luca, died at an early age; his mother, Margherita, survived her son. While still a youngster Casseri moved from Piacenza to Padua. It is likely that he married. He also was employed by several well-to-do students. In Padua he had the opportunity to serve the renowned Girolamo Fabrizio, public lecturer in anatomy and surgery at the University of Padua from 1565.

Fabrizio had the habit of performing preparatory dissections of corpses before presenting them at the public lectures. He was assisted in this procedure by young Casseri, who undoubtedly had revealed ability and readiness. Fabrizio therefore encouraged Casseri’s talents. He quickly proved himself, studying literature, especially the classics. He then enrolled in the Facoltà Artista and received his doctorate in medicine and philosophy at Padua around 1580. Besides Fabrizio, he also studied with Mercuriale. Around 1585 he was an established surgeon in full professional practice in Padua.

Shortly before 1590 Casseri’s financial situation improved, and he brought his mother and brother Teodoro to Padua. Their residence, in a palace in the Santa Sofia district, was rented from the counts Canale for 100 ducats per year, a considerable sum for those times.

Casseri continued to dedicate himself to anatomical research and teaching. Sometimes he was called upon to substitute for the ailing Fabrizio in the anatomy classes, and he also gave private lessons that were well attended and well received. This, however, did not please Fabrizio, who did not always look kindly upon his pupil’s successes. The situation regarding the official teaching of anatomy and surgery—both conducted by Fabrizio—became insupportable around 1608. Fabrizio was no longer able to meet his teaching obligations.

In decrees dated 25 August 1609, Fabrizio was given only the post of special lecturer in anatomy, and the title of public lecturer in surgery was conferred on Casseri. We find among the latter’s syllabi the subjects “De ulceribus” and “De vulneribus.” Casseri also continued to give private lessons in anatomy, a subject to which he felt especially drawn and in which he would certainly have succeeded Fabrizio, had he not died before him.

Shortly after Casseri’s appointment as lecturer in surgery, Caspar Bartholin, who maintained friendship and admiration for Casseri, came to Padua. He also had the esteem and the veneration of the German students, whom he had defended when an attempt was made to deny them, as Protestants, the privilege of receiving their medical degrees through private instruction.

On 3 January 1614, Fabrizio’s poor health caused him to be unable to deliver the anatomy lectures on corpses and Casseri took his place. He did not, however, want to hold the lectures in the famous anatomy theater, founded by Fabrizio in 1595, because he declared that there he would have taught only as an ordinary lecturer. Therefore, Casseri’s demonstrations were held in a theater, a good part of whose construction costs he had paid out of his own pocket, in the Palazzo del Capitanio.

In January 1616, at the insistence of the Riformatori dello Studio and of the Capitanio, Casseri consented to hold his lectures in the theater in the Palazzo Centrale of the university, which still exists. The course lasted three weeks and covered problems of angiology, neurology, myology, and osteology and related areas of pathology. The lectures were warmly received by the large audiences.

Suddenly, a serious feverish illness struck Casseri. Five days later he died, on the evening of 8 March 1616. He was buried in the Church of the Hermits, almost opposite the door of the Mantegna Chapel.

Casseri achieved such fame as an anatomist during his lifetime that the universities of Parma and Turin offered him the chairs of anatomy. He always refused because he was convinced he would succeed Fabrizio at Padua, in the chair that had been held by Vesalius, Colombo, and Falloppio. He was named Cavaliere of San Marco by the Republic of Venice.

Casseri’s scientific achievements are collected in three anatomical works: De vocis auditusque organis historia anatomica (Ferrara, 1600–1601; Venice, 1607), Pentaestheseion, hoc est De quinque sensibus liber (Venice, 1609; reprinted in Frankfurt and Venice), and Tabulae anatomicae LXXIIX, omnes novae nec antehac visae, published posthumously in Venice in 1627 under the editorship of Dr. Daniel Rindofleisch, better known by the pseudonym of Danieles Bucretius. Published with it was a treatise by Adriaan van den Spieghel, “De humani corporis fabrica,” with illustrations by Casseri. It was reprinted, without illustrations, in two Latin editions and two editions with German translation.

De vocis contains two treatises—one on the anatomy of the larynx and the other on the anatomy of the ear—and thirty-four plates. The first treatise, based on comparative anatomy, consists of 192 pages and is divided into three books. The first book, containing twenty chapters, concerns the anatomy of the larynx. Human vocal organs are studied in relation to those of other mammals, birds, amphibians, and even insects. The research is extended to the superficial and deep muscles. For the first time a precise description of the two cricoid-thyroid muscles is given. The description of the superior and inferior laryngeal nerves is accurate, as are his assumption that they originate from cranial nerves and his statement of the function of the laryngeal nerves. In chapter 20 laryngotomy is illustrated, and its importance is specified in acute forms of glottal occlusion.

The second book deals with phonation: the nature of sound, the history of concepts regarding the nature of the voice, and a comparative examination of the mechanisms of phonation.

The third book concerns the importance of the larynx in general and the reasons for its shape, position, and structure. Casseri mistakenly holds that the function of the thyroid is to moisten the larynx.

The second treatise, which concerns the anatomy of the ear, is also divided into three books. The first presents the comparative and descriptive anatomy of the ear. The description of the tympanic membrane is thorough. The illustration of the semicircular canals is brief, and their number is correctly determined. The treatise also deals with vascularization and the innervation of the middle and inner ear.

The second book deals with the auditory function and problems of acoustics.

The third book concerns the physiology of hearing. It generally reflects the knowledge of the times and is often well-founded. In chapter 12 the relation between the shape of the earlobe and the tendency to criminal behavior, a correlation accepted by many criminal anthropologists, is also indicated.

The Pentaestheseion, a 346-page treatise on esthesiology, includes thirty-three plates. It is divided into five books on the organs of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision. For over half of the seventeenth century the work was considered the best that science could offer on the unquestionably fascinating subject of the sense organs, both because of the easy-flowing style of the text and because of the liveliness of the plates.

The Tabulae anatomicae was to have formed a complete atlas of human anatomy, and Casseri undoubtedly had thought of its publication since 1593. His illustrations in general, but especially in the Tabulae, made a vigorous and concrete contribution to the development of anatomical illustration. They include plates that reproduce with unusual accuracy the muscles of the back, the overall view of the abdominal viscera, the distribution of the portal vein in the liver, and the formation of the superior hepatic veins. In one plate, besides the urachus and the lateral umbilical ligaments, the inguinal fossae and the peritoneum, with the lower peritoneal tissue detached from the abdominal wall, are illustrated for the first time. Casseri’s illustrations represent the last word, solemn and authoritative, uttered by the Paduan anatomical school at the twilight of the golden century of its existence.

In Haller’s words, Casseri was Felix chirurgus, insignis anatomicus.


On Casseri or his work, see D. Bertelli, “Giulio Casseri da servo a professore universitario,” in Settimo centenariodella universityàdi Padova (Padua, 1922), pp. 9–10; P. Capparoni, “Giulio Casserio,” in Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani del secolo XV al secoloXVIII, II (Rome, 1928),49–52; G. Ghilini, Teatro d’huominiletterati, I (Venice, 1647), 130; A. von Haller, Bibliotecaanatomica, I (Leiden, 1774), 289–290; N. C. Papadopoli. Historia gymnasii Patavini, I (Venice, 1726), bk. 3, p. 346;A. Portal, Histoire de l’ anatomie et de la chirurgie, II (Paris,1770), 229; L Premuda, Storia dell’iconografia anatomica (Milan, 1957), pp. 161–163; Charles Singer, A Short History of Anatomy and Physiology From the Greeks to Harvey (New York, 1957), pp. 161–163, passim; I. P. Tomasini. Gymna-sium Patavinum (Udine, 1654), p. 336; and R. von Töply. “Geschichte der Anatomic,” in Th. Puschmann, Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin, II (Jena, 1903), 236.

Loris Premuda

CASSINI I —Gian Domenico Cassini, 1625–1712
CASSINI II —Jacques Cassini, 1677–1756
CASSINI III —César-François Cassini de Thury, 1714–1784
CASSINI IV —Jean-Dominique Cassini. 1748–1845

The Cassinis