Lusitanus, Amatus (Rodrigues, Joāo)

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Lusitanus, Amatus (Rodrigues, Joāo)

(b. Castelo Branco, Portugal, 1511; d. Salonika, Greece (then Turkish), 21[?] January 1568)

medicine, botany.

No more is known of the parents of João Rodrigues than that they were Marranos, probably of Spanish origin, for they sent him to study medicine at Salamanca University, where he graduated in 1529 or 1530. He seems to have studied surgery longer than was common for medical students of the time, possibly after completing his main course, for he stayed in Spain until 1532, He practiced only briefly in his native country, for in 1533 he migrated to Antwerp, then under Spanish rule, which had a large Portuguese colony. He later mysteriously explained his exile as due to an expectation that something would happen which subsequently did. (It was possibly the intensified harassment of the Marranos.) While in Flanders he made the acquaintance of leading humanists and published in 1536 his first book, Index Dioscoridis, a commentary on the first book of the De materia medka, intended to be eruditely philological as well as useful to apothecaries. In 1540 he was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Ferrara, where he collaborated with Canano in his dissections. In the course of research they discovered (probably in 1547) the valve in the azygos vein. Amatus points out that “if you blow air into the lower part of the azygos vein, the vena cava will not be inflated because of a valve at the orifice where the two join.” His is the first report of this observation, but argument continues as to who was the active partner. Neither appreciated the real significance of their discovery.

In the summer of 1547 Amatus moved to Ancona, where he established an extensive practice, traveling to Florence, Rome, and Venice to treat highly placed patients. While in Ancona he began to write up his case histories; a hundred of these, starting from his brief practice in Portugal, were published in 1551 as Curationum medicinalium centuria. Six similar collections appeared over the next decade, the last in 1561. In further commentaries on Dioscorides he concerned himself more with descriptions of plants and included his own opinions on their identification and supposed medicinal properties, claiming his own successful experience; he also added new Asian plants, such as the coconut palm. Unfortunately for him, he criticized Mattioli and made a bitter and dangerous enemy. When, in 1555, the new pope, Paul IV (the previous pope, Julius II, had been his patient), began persecuting the Marranos, Amatus was forced to flee the papal dominion. His papers, including the fifth centuria, were retrieved for him by friends. He escaped first to Pesaro and then in 1556 to Ragusa, perhaps as municipal physician there— he had long had hopes of securing this post. But in 1559 he left Christian territory altogether and went to Salonika, where he returned openly to Judaism. He died there during an outbreak of the plague in 1568, having, it is said, contracted the disease from his patients.

Although his work on Dioscorides includes some interesting observations and information on contemporary economic botany, his lifework is to be found mainly in his Curationum medicinalium. For each case history he gives the patient’s name or social position, age, physiognomy, and build; outlines the symptoms and course of the disease; and records his diagnosis, prescription, and the result. There is little order, and he ranges over most branches of medicine. Local climate is held responsible for at least the specific characters of epidemics. Amatus is at his best when discussing the social origin of stress diseases and mental disorders, for which he recommended empirically well-founded diets. Although usually concerned, as a good humanist, to show that his treatment was founded on Hippocratic or Galenic principles, he was ready to innovate, especially in surgery. In operating for empyema, for example, he proposed the third intercostal space, rather than higher up, for the puncture site, in order not to damage the diaphragm. He was also a pioneer in the use of such devices as the obturator in cases of cleft palate and the breast reliever.


I. Original Works. Amatus’ botanical works are Index Dioscoridis, en, candide lector, historiales Diosocoridis campi exegemataque simplicum … (Antwerp, 1536), the only work to appear under his own name rather than the humanistic nom de plume Amatus Lusitanus; and In Dioscoridis de materia medica libros quinque enarrationes (Venice, 1553; illustrated ed., Lyons, 1558). Curationwn medicinalium centuria (Florence, 1551), was followed by Curationum medicinalium centuria secunda (Paris, 1552). Publication history of the remaining five centuriae is quite complicated as they usually appeared with reissues of earlier ones. The first complete ed. of all seven was published at Venice from 1565 to 1570. There were also several posthumous eds. (Lyons, 1580; Bordeaux, 1620).

II. Secondary Literature. See (listed chronologically) M. Salomon, “Amatus Lusitanus in seine Zeit,” in Zeitschrift für klinische Medizin 41-2 (1901); M. de Lemos, Amato Lusitano, a sua vida e a sua obra (Porto, 1907); H. Friedenwald, “Amatus Lusitanus,“in Bulletin of the Institute of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University4 (1937); J. Lopes-Dias, “Dr. João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco. Amato Lusitano. Ensaio Bio-bibliográfico,” in Congresso do Mundo portaguês. Publicaeões,13 (1940). A commemorative volume is IV Centenario de João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco-Amato Lusitano (Estudios Casteto Branca 1968).

On the Curationum, see J, O. Leibovitz, “A Probable Case of Peptic Ulcer as Described by Amatus Lusitanus,” in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences,27 (1953), 212-216; “Amatus Lusitanus and the Obturator in Cleft Palates,’ in Bulletin of the History of Medicine,13 (1958), 492-503; and F. Segret, “Amatus Lusitanus, Temoin de son temps,” in Sefarrad, 23 (1968), 285-309.

A. G. Keller