Cotugno, Domenico Felice Antonio

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Cotugno, Domenico Felice Antonio

(b. Ruvo di Puglia, Italy, 29 January 1736; d. Naples, Italy, 6 October 1822), anatomy, physiology, medicine.

Of humble parentage, the son of Michele Cotugno and his second wife, Chiara Assalemme, Cotugno early displayed such intelligence that he was sent to nearby Molfetta for training in Latin; returning to Ruvo for work in logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences, he soon found his natural bent in medicine and continued his studies, often in straitened circumstances, at the University of Naples and the Ospedale degli Incurabili. To these two institutions Cotugno devoted the greater part of his life. In 1765 he made trips to Rome and northern Italy to visit libraries and men of science, including Giovanni Battista Morgagni; and in 1789 he traveled to Austria and Germany as physician to Ferdinand IV, king of Naples. In 1794 Cotugno married Ippolita Ruffo, duchess of Bagnara. In a period of political upheaval in the kingdom of Naples he did not swerve from medicine. An outstanding example of the physician-humanist, he was devoted to books and accumulated a large library; was well versed in art, architecture, numismatics, and antiquities; and had great facility in the Latin language.

Apart from medicine, in which his reputation was such that, the saying went, no one in Naples could die without a passport from him, Cotugno’s greatest contributions to science resulted from his fusing of anatomy and physiology to uncover the secrets of the human body. They were made early in his career, when at the Ospedale degli Incurabili he had almost constant opportunities for dissection. In 1761 he published for distribution to friends a plate that traced the course of the nasopalatine nerve, which is responsible for sneezing; Antonio Scarpa acknowledged his priority in knowledge of this nerve. In the same year his anatomical dissertation De aquaeductibus auris humanae internae, following the work of Guichard Joseph Duverney and Antonio Maria Valsalva and anticipating that of Hermann Ludwig von Helmholtz, described the vestibule, semicircular canals, and cochlea of the osseous labyrinth of the internal ear, demonstrated the existence of the labyrinthine fluid, and formulated a theory of resonance and hearing. In his commentary De ischiade nervosa (1764) Cotugno differentiated between arthritic and nervous sciatica, concluded that the sciatic nerve is responsible for the latter, and in discussing it described extensively for the first time the cerebrospinal fluid. He also described the coagulation of albumin that occurs when the urine of persons afflicted with dropsy is exposed to heat. In addition, Cotugno investigated smallpox, was deeply concerned with controlling pulmonary tuberculosis, and exemplified to many students the true investigative and selfless spirit in anatomy and medicine. Medals were struck in his honor in 1824; in 1931, for the thirty-seventh congress of the Società Italiana di Medicina Interna; and in 1961 (a replica of the 1824 medal), for the tenth International Congress of Rhematology.


I. Original Works. Cotugno’s writings are De aquae-ductibus auris humanae internae anatomica dissertatio (Naples, 1761; repr. Vienna, 1774; Naples-Bologna, 1775), trans. into Italian by Vincenzo Mangano in the series Collana del “Valsalva” (Rome, 1932) and by L. Ricciardi-Mitolo (Bari, 1951); De ischiade nervosa commentarius (Naples, 1764; repr. Carpi, 1768; Vienna, 1770, 1773; Naples-Bologna, 1775, 1789; Naples, 1779; Venice, 1782), trans. into English (London, 1775), into German (Leipzig, 1792), and by Francesco Morlicchio into Italian (Naples, 1860); “Iter italicum anni MDCCLXV,” Luigi Belloni, ed., in Memorie dell’Istituto lombardo di scienze e lettere, Classe di lettere, scienze morali e storiche, 4th ser., 27 (1960), 3–93, trans. into Italian by Felice Lombardi in the series Scientia Veterum, no. 76 (Naples, 1964); De sedibus variolarum σύυταγμα (Naples, 1769; repr. Vienna, 1771; Naples-Bologna, 1775, 1789; Louvain, 1786; “Dello spirito della medicina,” in Giovanni Luigi Targioni, Raccolta di opuscoli medico-pratici, II (Florence, 1775), also published separately (Naples, 1783; Florence, 1785); “Il viaggio da Napoli a Vienna nel 1790,” trans. from his “Iter Neapoli Viennam Austriae anno MDCCXC” by Gennaro de Gemmis in Fascicoli dell’Archivio provinciale de Gemmis, 1 (1961), 21–56; Opuscula medica, 2 vols. (Naples, 1826–1827); and Opera posthuma, Pietro Ruggiero, ed., 4 vols. (Naples, 1830–1833).

Cotugno also published an edition of Pietro Marchetti’s Observationum medico-chirurgicarum rariorum sylloge under the title Observationes et tractatus medico-chirurgici (Naples, 1772).

11. Secondary Literature. On Cotugno or his work see the following (listed chronologically): Angelo Scotti, Elogio storico del cavalier D. Domenico Cotugno (Naples, 1823); Benedetto Vulpes, Per la solenne inaugurazione del busto in marmo di Domenico Cotugno nell’Ospedale degl’Incurabili di Napoli avvenuta…10. Maggio dell’anno 1823 (Naples, 1824); Antonio Jatta, Onoranze cittadine rese a Domenico Cotugno nel giorno 6 ottobre 1891 apponendosi una lapide commemorativa alla casa ove nacque (Ruvo di Puglia, 1893); Luigi Messedaglia, “L” Iter italicum patavinum’ di Domenico Cotugno,” in Aiti del R. Istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, 73 , Pt. 2 (1913–1914), 1691–1803; Guglielmo Bilancioni, “Domenico Cotugno,” in Aldo Mieli, Gli scienziati italiani, I (Rome, 1923), 164–183 and, with some changes, as the “Proemio” to Vincenzo Mangano’s translation of the De aquaeductibus auris humanae internae anatomica dissertatio cited above; and “Per la storia dell’anatomia dell’orecchio, lettere inedite di Domenico Cotugno e di Leopoldo Marcantonio Caldani,” in Bilancioni’s Sulle rive del Lete (Rome, 1930), pp. 147–203; Henry R. Viets, “Domenico Cotugno: His Description of the Cerebrospinal Fluid,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 3 (1935), 701–738; Giuseppe Pezzi, “Ricordo di Cotugno in occasione del rinvenimento del suo sepolcro,” in Riforma medica, 67 (1953), 1354–1357; Michele Mitolo, “Domenico Cotugno, l’opera anatomo-fisiologica: La sua umanità,” in Puglia chirurgica, 4 (1961), 289–318; Dorothy M. Schullian, “The Libraries of Rome in the Iter italicum (1765) of Domenico Cotugno,” in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 17 (1962), 168–181; and “Domenico Cotugno as Humanist,” in Per la storia delta neurologia italiana, no. 6 in the series Studi e Testi issued by the Istituto di Storia della Medicina, Università degli Studi (Milan, 1963), pp. 67–74: and Francesco Aulizio, “Rapporti tra Cotugno e Morgagni…,” in Atti del XIX Congresso nazionale di storia delta medicina, Aquila, 26–29 settembre 1963 (Rome, 1965), pp. 557–573 and in Rivista di storia delta medicina, 9 (1965), 34–50.

Dorothy M. Schullian