Ruini, Carlo

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(b. Bologna, Italy, ca. 1530: d. Bologna, 1598)

anatomy, veterinary surgery.

A Bolognese aristocrat, senator, and high-ranking lawyer, Ruini is—somewhat surprisingly— remembered chiefly for the two-volume Anatomia del cavallo, infermità et suoi rimedii. The first edition appeared after Ruini’s death (Bologna, 1598) and was followed throughout the seventeenth century by other editions and translations; and in 1706–1707 the first edition was reissued.

In the introduction to book 1 of the first volume Ruini stresses the importance of “artful instruction” concerning the body of the horse, which leads to knowledge of its constitution and of the means of prolonging its life. It was from riding the horse, Ruini points out, that man derived the title cavaliere (knight) to denote his own valor and nobility. After recounting the horse’s role in both work and recreation, Ruini concludes the introduction by explaining that his aims are to describe each part of the horse’s body, the nature of the ailments that afflict them, and the means of curing this worthy and noble animal.

In the first volume, which deals mainly with anatomy, Ruini includes notes on physiology that reflect his teleological Galenic approach. In the first book the morphology of the head is described in detail. The second book deals with the neck and its organs, the lungs, the heart, and the thoracic muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. The third book covers the liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, intestines, peritoneum, and bladder. The structures of these organs and their positions are described, as are the lumbosacral region and its muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. The fourth book describes the genital system, and the fifth deals with the extremities.

Volume II deals specifically with equine diseases and their cures. Explaining that he has followed the methods used by Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen to describe the human body, Ruini considers equine pathology, beginning with conditions of a general nature, such as fever, before progressing to descriptions of specific diseases. He considered it necessary to place pathology on a constitutional foundation because he believed that from knowledge of the horse’s physical disposition one could more easily understand the nature of disease; also, from knowing the age of the horse, one could determine the appropriate treatment at any phase of an illness. At the beginning of the first book, Ruini discusses at length the four Galenic humors (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic) and ways of telling a horse’s age. He then offers a detailed analysis of fever, distinguishing three types, giving general causes and a general cure, and discussing fevers of various origins.

The second book considers various types of horse in regard to humoral pathology, using criteria based essentially on the concept of the four qualities (hot, cold, moist, dry). Ruini then examines a series of “affections” of the brain: frenzy, rage or fury, and insanity, leading to convulsions and paralysis. The book concludes with the diseases of the neck. In the third book Ruini describes the diseases of the heart and the lungs; in the fourth, the afflictions of the digestive tract, from diarrhea to jaundice; and in the fifth, hernia, diseases of the testicles and penis, and problems of obstetrics. The sixth book deals with the diseases of the legs.

On the whole, Ruini’s treatise was still closely bound to the Scholastic tradition. It does, however, show the effort made by its author, who must certainly have known the work of Vesalius, to produce a work that would manifest the new direction being taken by sixteenth-century anatomy. Because it was so traditional, his treatment of pathology, although minutely detailed, is less valuable than his study of anatomy. A pioneer in the latter field, Ruini deserves to be ranked among the founders of comparative anatomy, along with Vesalius, Belon, Rondelet, and Coiter.

Some scholars believe that Ruini was active in the discovery of the lesser and greater circulatory systems, and would therefore place him in the group that included Colombo and Cesalpino. A full discussion of this hypothesis would be out of place here, but it is probable that Ruini was one of many who had an inkling of the circulation of the blood.


I. Original Works. Ruini’s work was Anatomia del cavallo, infermità et suoi rimedii. Opera nuova degna di qualsivoglia prencipe, et cavaliere, et molto necessaria a filosofi, medici, cavallerizzi et marescalchi, 2 vols. (Bologna, 1598; Venice, 1599), reprinted in Venice (1706–1707).

II. Secondary Literature. On Ruini and his work, see Dizionario enciclopedico italiano, X (Rome, 1959), 622; G. B. Ercolani, Carlo Ruini-Curiosità storiche e bibliografiche intorno alle scoperte della circolazione del sangue (Bologna, 1873); Pagel, “Ruini,” in Biographisches Lexicon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, 2nd ed., IV (Berlin-Vienna, 1932), 921; and C. Singer,A Short History of Anatomy From the Greeks to Harvey (New York, 1957), 153.

Loris Premuda