Platter, Félix

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(b. Basel, Switzerland, October 1536; d. Basel, 28 July 1614)

botany, medicine, psychiatry.

Platter was the son of Thomas Platter a well-known printer, who sent him to study medicine at Montpellier. At the age of twenty-one he returned to Basel to present his medical thesis, for which he was awarded the doctorate on 20 September 1557. A few years later he was teaching applied medicine at the University of Basel, and in 1571 the city council named him chief physician. His interest in natural history led him to assemble a remarkable herbarium, which was highly admired by scholars of the time.

Platter is known today for his medical activity and his works on human pathology, especially De corporis human structura, which made him famous. He was a faithful disciple of Eustachi, Falloppio, and above all, of Vesalius, from whose De humani corporis fabrica much of his own writing on anatomy was derived. From his books and especially from public autopsies, which he performed in Basel, he soon acquired a reputation as an important anatomist.

In Praxcos sue de cognoscendis . . . (1602), an outstanding work on pathology, Platter proposed a classification of diseases, which differed greatly from that followed by practitioners of illnesses and analysis of their symptoms. Observation Um in hominids affectibus (1614) contains rigorous descriptions of human ailments and the search for their causes, as well as accounts of gynecological diseases and investigations of the infectious nature of illnesses.

One of the first to study certain mental disturbances scientifically, Platter refused to consider them the work of a demon—unlike most of his contemporaries —but sought their physiological causes. Insanity, he believed must be attributed to natural causes, whether they resulted from the influence of overrating or from dissolute living.

Platter’ statistical studies of and memoirs on, the plague contain an abundance of useful data. As a practicing pediatrician he was ahead of his time, and his works were authoritative until the beginning of the eiegthteenth centry.


I. Original Works. Platter’ cheif works are De corporis hunmani structura et usu libri III (Basel, 1583); Praxeos seu de cognoscendis, praedicendis, praecavendis curandisque affectibus homini incommondantibus tractatus tres (Basel, 1602); Praxis nmedia (Basel, 1603); and Observationum in hominis affectibus (Basel, 1614).

II. Secondary Litrature. On Platter and his work, see D. A. Fechter, Thomas Platter und Félix Platter, zwei Autobiographien (Basel, 1840); A. Bruckner, Briefe an F. Platter von seine Mutter (Basel, 1932); H. Buess, “Gynäkologie und Geburtshilfe bei Félix Platter” in Journal suisse de médecine22 (1941), 1244; F. Ernst, Die beiden Platter (Zurich, 1927), J. A. Häfilger, “F. Platter sogenannte Hausapothke” in Pharmaceutica acta Helvetiace11 (1936), 351–360; R. Hunziker, “Platter als Arzt und Stadtarzt in Basel” (theis, Univ. of Basel, 1939); and H. karcher, “Félix Platter,” in Journal suisse de médecine24 (1943), 1232–1238.

P. E. Pilet