Mondino dei Liucci

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Mondino dei Liucci


Italian Anatomist

Mondino dei Liucci was the first documented person to dissect the human body in public. His Anothomia (Anatomia), written in 1316, became the most important textbook for dissection until Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) wrote De humani corporis fabrica. Since Anothomia was the only book of its kind for many years, it outlived its expected "shelf life." As late as 1580, after both Berengario da Carpi (1460?-1530) and Vesalius had published improved anatomical works, Mondino's book still remained in use.

Mondino received his degree at Bologna in 1290 (1300 according to some sources). He came from a family of medical people; his father was an apothecary and his uncle a professor of medicine. Also known as Mondino de Luzzi and Mundinus, Mondino was a contemporary of Henri de Mondeville, whose name his is sometimes confused with.

Mondino's Anothomia was actually a "how-to" guide to dissection rather than a text on anatomy. It was divided into six parts and different from previous works because anatomy had never been the sole subject of a study. Prior to Mondino, anatomy was incorporated in surgical texts.

He described how to prepare the body and in which order to remove and examine organs. To dissect the most perishable organs first was an important consideration during a time when there was no refrigeration. Dissections were done infrequently, sometimes only once a year, and out of doors.

The other problem with preparing a handbook on anatomy was that in order to know the difference between usual, normal variation, and abnormal anatomy, one needed a great many specimens. Since bodies were only obtained after executions and were usually male, few comparative opportunities were available. As female criminals were less often executed and female anatomy remained misunderstood, the paradigm for understanding the human reproductive system was expressed in terms of male organs. The uterus was believed to have seven cells, a theological teaching rather than anatomic construct.

According to Singer, Mondino's language was convoluted and not very good. During a time when medical knowledge was borrowed from both Greek and Arabic sources, Mondino's nomenclature was confusing and made reading difficult. For example, the sacrum was referred to by several names that appear to be of Arabic origin (alchatim, alhavius, and allannis), but other bones of the pelvis, the hips, acetabulum, and the corpora quadrigemina (a part of the midbrain with four rounded eminences) were all referred to by the same word "anchoe." It is believed that Mondino introduced the term "matrix" for uterus.

He also used illustrations, an anomaly during a time when images of any kind were believed to be amateurish and fraudulent. The reason for this was related to theological discourse. Since graven images of God were forbidden in the Bible, and the body was a creation of God, any representation of it was considered blasphemy.

Unlike other pre-Vesalian anatomists, Mondino did not have access to the works of Galen (130-200). Subsequent anatomists criticized him for not adhering to Galenic tradition. But this was an advantage because Galen's observations were derived from animals, not humans. Galen's errors compounded as succeeding writers copied rote tradition as opposed to making their own direct observations.

Unlike his contemporaries, Mondino practiced his own form of direct observation. At the time it was customary for the learned professor to read from Galen (far from the odoriferous cadaver) while an ostensore pointed to the part and a dissector (a barber-surgeon) performed the cutting. A student or a group of students took turns holding up organs for all to see. Although the supervisor spoke Galen's words, he did not actually see what the student below was displaying. For example, the doctor-professor would read aloud that the liver has five lobes, but the student would hold up a four lobed liver (human livers have four lobes).

During Mondino's lifetime, no one was brave enough to ask why timeworn authority superceded what could be plainly seen, and refuted, by one's own eyes. It was believed that observation, because it came through the senses, could not be trusted, as the senses were thought to be base and degenerate; only spiritual matters or matters of God, not "man," could be trusted. In this way, Mondino was an iconoclast because he challenged long-established notions and wrote about what he observed firsthand.