An A to Z of medical history: Part 1
The first instalment of Michael Jackson's and Amy Norrington's fascinating exploration of the history of medicine, showing just how far medicine has come from ancient times to the present day
- By: Michael Jackson, Amy Norrington
Equally elegant and grisly, the study of the structure of the human body has brought medicine public adulation as well as vilification. The Alexandrians Herophilus (290 bc) and Erasistratus (280 bc) began the first systematic human dissection, describing the brain, distinguishing arteries from veins, and setting a dubious ethical precedent by vivisecting Egyptian prisoners. Galen provided various red herrings, which were not corrected until Vesalius took anatomy back to the dissection room. The 19th century was the heyday of anatomy, spearheading surgery's attempts to gain respectability. Dissection became a major component of medical education, and the demand for corpses vastly exceeded the legal supply (see entry “Knox”). Today the subject forms a modest part of the curriculum, with several medical schools no longer dissecting.
The Greek school of empirics (c 280 bc) believed that there is no certainty of anything, no true knowledge of phenomena, and that experience alone can