Andreas Vesalius was a Brussels
of the early-to-mid 1500s. He revolutionized medicine
by being among the first of his profession to put to the test the then-1500 year-old anatomical accounts produced by Galen
. At the time, Galen was considered an unquestionable authority, so much so that Vesalius faced much mockery
for daring to point out some basic errors in Galen's account. Galen, for his part, had eschewed the dissection of human subjects, figuring that a Barbary ape
was close enough to stand in. From this, Galen errantly presumed that mans' sternum
, ribs, ventricles, and other structures were the same in number and arrangement as those of the ape. Physicians for generations after this were equally content to study animal corpses, and presume Galen's projections from animal to man to be correct.
In Vesalius' day, religious prohibitions made it difficult, nearly impossible, to dissect a human corpse, and so there was (quite surprisingly) no effective and systemic way to discern how bone
came together, and how organs did what they did (or, even, what it was that they did). Perhaps it was because Vesalius was raised in a famous family
s that he had the confidence
to upend this key prohibition
, acquiring corpses
of condemned criminals
to cut apart in the presence of painters
who would capture each step of the dissection. And so it was that this Flemish doctor of medicine put to rest the errors of Galen -- and made one other very important find. For, you see, it was not until 1543 that Vesalius put to rest as well the myth
that Biblical Creation had left man with one missing rib
. Vesalius did what none before had dared (or at least had dared to publish). He simply counted
the ribs, and found that in every instance their number was even, and was the same for man as for woman.
Some protesters against Vesalius' discoveries called for him to be subject to inquisitorial investigation; others went so far as to insist that Galen had been correct for his day, but that human anatomy itself had been altered since Galen's time to come, then, to Vesalius' findings. Vesalius himself was occupied, after teaching for a time in Padua, as Imperial Physician to Emperor Charles V
, a post in which he was well-liked, and which protected Vesalius from persecution for his discoveries. But, perhaps desiring to put the lie to charges against his faithfulness, and perhaps needing time to consider an offer for a new teaching appointment in Italy
, Vesalius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land
; on his return voyage, the brilliant physician was shipwrecked
and died, in 1564, at age 50.