Leonardo da Vinci - the anatomist (1930) 3

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McMurrich JP. Leonardo da Vinci - the anatomist. (1930) Carnegie institution of Washington, Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore.

   Leonardo da Vinci (1930): 1 Introductory | 2 Anatomy from Galen to Leonardo | 3 Possible Literary Sources of Leonardo’s Anatomical Knowledge | 4 Anatomical Illustration before Leonardo | 5 Fortunes and Friends | 6 Leonardo’s Manuscripts, their Reproduction and his Projected Book | 7 Leonardo’s Anatomical Methods | 8 General Anatomy and Physiology | 9 Leonardo’s Canon of Proportions | 10 The Skeleton | 11 The Muscles | 12 The Heart | 13 The Blood-vessels | 14 The Organs of Digestion | 15 The Organs of Respiration | 16 The Excretory and Reproductive Organs | 17 The Nervous System | 18 The Sense Organs | 19 Embryology | 20 Comparative Anatomy | 21 Botany | 22 Conclusion | References | Glossary of Terms | List of Illustrations
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Leonardo da Vinci - The Anatomist

Chapter III Possible Literary Sources of Leonardo’s Anatomical Knowledge

In studying Leonardo’s manuscripts, one notes from time to time a drawing or sketch showing anatomical conditions that do not actually occur, but are representations of traditions handed down from earlier times and especially from Galen. These traditions had gained a strong foothold during the Middle Ages when observations were at a standstill, and even Leonardo, with all the keenness of observation and artistic accuracy shown in his anatomical studies, was yet strongly under the influence of Galen’s physiological theories, and occasionally endeavored to give them visual expression in a drawing. It is evident, then, that Leonardo was familiar with these traditions and it may be of interest to consider the possible sources from which he may have had knowledge of them. He was little affected by the literary Renaissance which w T as at its height in his day; the principles of the artistic Renaissance that he imbibed as an artist led him in his scientific studies past the methods of the humanists, past their reliance upon classical authority, to the modern methods of observation and deduction. He w T as, indeed, accused by the humanists of being unlettered, but replied that the things that interested him were revealed by experiment rather than by words, and he boasted experiment to have been his mistress in all things (CA, 119). Those who rely on authority in maintaining their opinions were, he claimed, exercising their memory rather than their judgment (CA, 76), and he held that all science that ends in words has death rather than life. He found much worthy of imitation in the works of antiquity, but, nevertheless, had nothing but condemnation for those who followed them servilely, when “the grandest of all books, I mean the Universe, stands open before our eyes.” “Those,” he said, “who study only the ancients and not the works of Nature are step-sons and not sons of Nature, the mother of all good authors” (CA, 141).

But while he thus condemned reliance upon authority, he did not disdain the works of his predecessors as guides or aids to observation and interpretation. As has been stated, Leonardo’s ideas as to the ultimate constitution of the body and his physiology were essentially those of the Galenic tradition, and one may assume that he did not start on his anatomical observations without some knowledge of the anatomy of the day. His distrust of the works of the ancients was not of the works themselves, but of an implicit reliance upon them which could serve only as a bar to progress. His desire was to prove by observation the teachings of his predecessors, but when he found observation and tradition at variance, he promptly accepted the results of observation.

There are two ways by which indications of these sources may be obtained; firstly, by noting the authors mentioned in the manuscripts and, secondly, by studying Leonardo’s anatomical nomenclature. The first of these methods suffers from the disadvantages that in Leonardo’s day accurate reference and quotation had not come to be regarded with the reverence bestowed on them today, and, furthermore, one has to deal with Leonardo’s note-books and not with a completed and explicit treatise. Consequently such references as occur are, as a rule, of the briefest, a mere mention of a name it may be; and citations, when made, are not always accurate and in some cases are difficult to verify.

The favorite treatise on anatomy in Leonardo’s time was the Anathomia of Mondino di Luzzi, which custom in Italy had prescribed as the guide in the performance of an Anatomy. Mondino was professor at Bologna and an Arabist, and although he refers to dissections that he himself had performed, his book is mainly founded on the anatomy of the Meliki of Albucasis and the Canon of Avicenna.

Leonardo mentions Mondino in two passages and evidently refers to him in a third, and it is noteworthy that he mentions him only to criticize. In one passage (QI, 12) it is objected that if, as Mondino asserted, the testes secrete a saliva-like fluid and not sperm, then there is no reason why the spermatic vessels should have the same origins in the male and female. In a second passage (AnA, 18) he disputes a statement that he attributes to Mondino, to the effect that the muscles that raise the toes are located in the outer part of the thigh (coscia) and that there are no muscles on the dorsum of the foot. But, as Roth (1907) has suggested, he must either have quoted from memory or else from an inaccurate manuscript, for what Mondino taught was that the tendons that extend the digits of the foot arise from muscles that are in the outer part of the crus (in tibia in parte silvestri), not the thigh, since the dorsum of the foot ought to be destitute of flesh, lest its weight be increased. It was the latter part of Mondino’s statement, however, that interested Leonardo, for he proceeds to direct attention to the extensor digitorum brevis which was apparently unknown to Mondino, although it had been described long before by Galen. Leonardo states in connection with a drawing —

“Experience shows that the muscles a, b, c, d (the extensor digitorum brevis ) move the second pieces of the bone of the digits and the muscles r, s, t, ( extensor communis digitorum and ext. longus hallucis ) move the ends of the digits. There is need to enquire why all do not arise in the foot or all in the leg.”


In a third passage (AnA, 17) Leonardo evidently refers to the same statement, without, however, mentioning Mondino, and this time directs his criticism to the supposed origin of the extensors of the toes in the thigh.

“For” he says “if the thigh be squeezed a little above the knee and the toes be moved up and down you will feel no movement in the tendons or muscles of the thigh.”

Mondino’s Anathomia was written in 1316 and for a century and a half, until the invention of printing, numbers of manuscript copies of it must have been made and disseminated widely throughout Italy and possibly Germany. The first printed editions were published at Pavia and Bologna in 1478, and from that date onward until 1580 edition rapidly succeeded edition. What edition or editions may have served as Leonardo’s guide in beginning his anatomical studies, it is impossible to say with any certainty; he may have used a manuscript copy. But there is one piece of evidence that suggests a possibility that he may have been familiar with the edition that was published at Bologna in 1482, re-published in 1484 and later included in Ketham’s Fasciculus Medicinx, published in Venice in 1495. This edition was edited ab eximio artium et medicinx doctore magistro Petro Andrea Morsiano da Ymola in almo studio Bononix cyrurgiam legente, who also edited the Chirurgia of Avicenna in 1482 and, according to Roth (1907) is credited with having performed an anatomy at Bologna in 1499. On the verso of the cover of manuscript G, mention is made of one Andrea da Imola, not, however, in connection with matters anatomical, but with regard to his objection to Leonardo’s theory as to the cause of the light of the moon (i.e. the reflection of the light of the sun from the surface of a lunar sea). But the indications are that Leonardo knew him personally and, if so, it seems probable that he knew of his edition of the Anothomia. However, Solmi (1919) has pointed out that there was a second Andrea da Imola, Andrea Mainarmi da Imola, who was the author of a Discorso sidla milizia, published in Milan, and he, after all, may have been the Andrea mentioned.

But even while the Anothomia may have served as an introduction to Leonardo’s anatomical studies and may have given the foundation for his anatomical nomenclature, it can hardly have done more. It is a small book, forty octavo pages, and much of the space is given over to surgical and pathological data and much teleological physiology transmitted from Galen through Arabic interpreters. The organs of the body are briefly described as they are exposed in opening up the three ventres, abdomen, thorax and head, but their descriptions are exceedingly superficial and devoid of detail. The bones are merely enumerated, the muscles of the limbs, to which Leonardo devoted so much attention, are practically unnoticed, since, in Mondino’s opinion, they can not be demonstrated in an Anatomy. And the same is true of the nerves and of the blood-vessels, with the exception of the main trunks. One finds in the book nothing of that striving for a thorough knowledge of all the parts, nothing of that desire to understand the mechanical principles involved in their functionings, which are so characteristic of Leonardo. Mondino was a mediaeval anatomist; Leonardo was seized with the spirit of the Renaissance and betook himself to Nature to satisfy his longings, working out his problems by observation and experiment.

Leonardo must have known Alessandro Benedetti’s Anatomice, since he mentioned it on the cover of Ms.F. Benedetti was born at Lagnano near Verona in 1460 and died in 1525, so that he was a contemporary of Leonardo, though somewhat younger. He was professor of medicine at Padua and published his treatise on anatomy at Venice in 1493. The book had somewhat the same scope as that of Mondino, but Benedetti was a humanist and placed his reliance on Aristotle and Galen rather than on the Arabians, although Averroes and Avicenna are cited. That he had some experience in dissection is indicated by the directions given as to the incisions necessary to expose various organs, but the book is superficial — rather a guide to the performance of an Anatomy than a treatise on anatomy. Benedetti’s reputation rests rather on his De re medica than on his Anatomice.

On QII, 14 there is a reference to “Pladina and other writers on the gullet ( gola )” or at least so it is translated. It is evidently a reference to Bartolommeo Sacchi, who took the name of Platina as a latinization of his native town Piadeno near Mantua. On coming to Rome he endeavored to revive the old pagan customs and so came into collision with the Church. He was twice imprisoned, but on his final release was appointed librarian to the Vatican Library by Sixtus IV and died while holding that post in 1481, at about the age of sixty. He was the author of a work In vitas summorum Pontificum and of a brief History of Mantua, but the work referred to is probably his De honesta voluplate et valitudine, first published at Venice in 1475, a collection of culinary recipes, with remarks upon their dietetic value. Perhaps the word gola should be translated ‘“gluttony” rather than “gullet.”

A work of the fourteenth century which almost equalled in repute the Anothomia of Mondino, especially among the adherents of the school of Montpellier, was the Collectorium artis chirurgicalis medicince, later known as the Cyrurgia magna, of Guy de Chauliac. The author was a native of the Auvergne and obtained his medical education partly at Montpellier and partly at Bologna, where he studied anatomy under Bertuccio, one of Mondino’s pupils. After receiving his doctor’s diploma from the University of Montpellier he practised for a time at Lyon, but later became physician to the papal court at Avignon, and, while there, wrote his Cyrurgia magna (1363). He was renowned as well for his learning as for his skill as a surgeon, and was fortunate in having access to the translations of Galen’s works made by Nicolaus of Reggio, which, he says, were of a loftier and more perfect style than those translated from the Arabic tongue. He was not, however, exempt from the prevailing Arabistic tendencies, but his chapter on anatomy is more detailed than the book of Mondino and free from the teleological explanations so dear to that author; indeed Guy sets little store by discussions as to the function of organs, regarding them as more properly pertaining to philosophy, “et hoc est pelagus, in quo non licet medicum navigare.”

The earliest printed edition of the Cyrurgia magna was published at Paris in 1478, as a French translation, but a Latin version was printed in Venice in 1490 and was followed by several later editions. Leonardo may therefore have known it either in manuscript or printed, and it is probable that the name “Guidone” which occurs in one of his manuscripts was a reference to it. But it, too, fell far short of Leonardo’s ideals of what an anatomical text-book should be and its negglect of physiology was not likely to attract to it one whose chief interest in anatomy was the promise it gave for the elucidation of function.

In the Codex Atlanticus there is a reference to “iEgidius Romanus de formatione corporis humani in ntero matris.” yEgidius Romanus, also known as yEgidius Columna, was a distinguished scholastic prelate, who was born at Rome about 1247 and died in 1316. He rose to be Cardinal- Archbishop of Bourges and General of the Augustinian Order and was the author of many philosophical treatises, the most famous of which was his De regimine principum libri III written for his pupil, Philippe le Bel. It was first printed in 1473 and subsequently republished a number of times both in the original Latin and in French, Italian and Spanish translations. Of a treatise by him De humani corporis formatione there is no record in Graesse, but Haller 1 mentions a work with that title by A5gidius Columna, printed at Venice in 1523, at Paris in 1615, and again at Venice in 1626. Haller characterizes iEgidius as “Barbarus scriptor ex Averrhoe fere sua habet,” but from the brief statement he makes as to the contents of the work it seems probable that iEgidius really drew his material from Aristotle’s De generatione. The facts that Averroes was an Arabic Aristotelian, that .Egidius was a pupil of Thomas Aquinas who removed the ban of the Church from the writings of Aristotle, and that he wrote commentaries on several other works of Aristotle, lend support to this suggestion. Roth (1907) in his discussion of the reference to yEgidius points out that, according to Lzielli, it is not in Leonardo’s handwriting, but suggests that it may have been written in his note-book by one of his medical friends as of interest to him in connection with his embryological studies. If so it must have been a reference to a manuscript copy of the work, but there is also a remote possibility that it may have been an interpolation by a later hand.


1 A. Haller, Bibliotheca anatomica, vol. 2, p. 737, 1777.


That Leonardo knew of the writings of the great Dominican, Albertus Magnus, is shown by two references (F, cover; I, 130) to the treatise De carlo et mundi. This, however, is astronomical, but if Leonardo knew it, he probably knew also of the De animalibus, in which Albert has set forth his knowledge of anatomy, zoology and comparative anatomy. Taking into account the century and a half that separated the two, one might say that Leonardo and Albertus were men of much the same type, keen to probe the secrets of all the sciences — Albertus, according to the spirit of his age, with the object of establishing a scientific basis for his theology, Leonardo from a pure love of science. The scholastic, however, was content to set forth the views of others, while Leonardo, inspired by the individualism of the Renaissance, must observe and judge for himself. There is no evidence that Albertus had any personal knowledge of anatomy, except that of the skeleton; he relied very extensively on Avicenna in his exposition of it, not infrequently using his very words. But the influence of Aristotle is also to be seen, and in the chapters on comparative anatomy and zoology the Historia animalium, in the translation by Michael Scot, is the main inspiration, although Albertus contributed to the zoology observations not elsewhere recorded. Since Leonardo intended to include comparative anatomy in the scope of his studies and did to some extent, one would have expected to find in his manuscripts some reference to the De animalibus. Nowhere else, not even in Aristotle’s Historia animalium, could he have found so useful an account of the facts of comparative anatomy, for Albertus, after completing his review of human anatomy, takes this as his standard with which to compare the organs of the lower animals. Leonardo’s studies in comparative anatomy were undertaken partly in the hope that the arrangements in the lower animals would explain those observed in man, and yet there is no evidence that he turned to Albertus for information that might help to realize that hope.

Of the anatomical treatises of the School of Salerno there is no mention in Leonardo’s manuscripts, but there are possible references to commentaries upon the more famous Regimen Sanitatis Salerni. Thus the memorandum “Della conservazione della Saniti” (CA) is accepted by Roth (1907) as a reference to a work, probably a commentary on the Regimen, by L go Benzi di Siena, who is on record as having performed an Anatomy at Padua in 1429. There is another possibility, however, namely, that the reference may be to the Liber de homine of Hieronymo Manfredi, of which the first and chief part bore the title De conservatione sanitatis, although the text, like Leonardo’s memorandum, is Italian. The book was published in 1474 at Bologna, where Manfredi was Professor of Medicine, and passed through several editions, 2 so that it may very well have been known to Leonardo.

Less evident is a reference to “Maghino speculus di M° Giovanni Francioso” (AnB, 2). Roth (1907) identifies “Maghino” with Magninus Mediolanensis, whose Regimen Sanitatis, published as early as 1482, is, according to Haller, 3 identical with Arnald de Villanova’s commentary on the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Arnald was also the author of Speculum introductionum medicinalium and this, Roth suggests, may be identical with the commentary on the Regimen, in which case Magninus’ Speculum would be merely an edition of Arnold’s commentary under another name. This suggestion is negatived by the probability that Arnald’s Speculum is a later work than his Regimen and, according to Steinschneider, is based on the Introductio in medicinam of Honein ben Ishaq (Johannitius), and this again on Galen’s Ars parva. The identity of “Maghino Speculus” thus remains unsolved.

The only Arabian authors whom Leonardo mentions by name are Avicenna and Al-Kindi, but indirectly a reference occurs to one other. In the passage in the Codex Atlanticus that may refer to the Regimen sanitatis there is mention of one Cibaldone, who, according to Choulant, 4 published in Italian two hygienic poems based on the third book of Rhazes’ Almansor.

Avicenna is mentioned in several passages. In AnA, 18, one finds “Avic. Li muscoli che movano li diti del pie sono 60.” But one will look in vain for such a statement in Avicenna’s Canon ; he merely states that the muscles moving the toes are many, giving no definite number. 5 6 Mondino, however, gives the number of the muscles in question as sixty on the authority of Avicenna and it seems probable that Leonardo in his reference is quoting from Mondino rather than directly from any translation of the Canon. At the top of QI, 13v is the sentence “Fa tradurre avicena de govamenti.” The significance of this is obscure, since no work of Avicenna with that title is known. Chapters 6 to 13 of the anatomical portion of the Canon, those, that is to say, which deal with the structure and functions of the vertebral column, bear the special title de juvamento dorsi, but it does not seem likely that Leonardo had this in mind, and even if he had it is not clear why he should wish to have it translated, since the Latin translation of the Canon by Gerardus Cremonensis was published in Milan in 1473 and subsequently was issued in many editions during Leonardo’s lifetime from the presses of Venice, Padua and Pavia. It would seem much more probable that Leonardo desired a translation of Galen’s de usu partium and wrote the name of Avicenna in error. He mentions elsewhere (AnB, 2) “Galieno de utilita” and the existence of that work was therefore known to him, but Latin translations of Galen’s works were rare in Leonardo’s time, though that edited by Diomcdes Bonardus was published in Venice in 1490 and was printed again in 1502 and 1511 (?). A point worthy of note in this connection is that Mondino in his Anothomia states that he had also written a Lectura super primo, secundo, tertio et quarto de juvamentis — evidently Galen’s de usu partium, and from this statement Leonardo may have obtained knowledge of the work and of the title used on QI, 13v.


2 For an account of the work see C. Singer, A Study in Early Renaissance Anatomy with a New Text: The Anothomia of Hieronymo Manfredi (1490). Studies in the History and Method of Science, vol. 1, 1917.

3 A. Haller, Bibliotheca med. pract., vol. 1, 449, 1776.

4 L. Choulant, Handbuch der Bucherkunde fur die altere Medicin, Leipzig, 1841.

The work is also mentioned by Graesse. Choulant gives the title as follows: Opera de V excellentissimo physico magistro Cibaldone electa fuori de libri autentici di medicina utilissima a conservarsi sano. Neither place nor date is given.

6 So at least it is in the 1595 edition of the translation of the Canon by Gerard of Cremona, and in the French translation by de Koning.


A third reference to Avicenna occurs on QIII, 3v, and may be translated thus: “Here Avicenna wishes that the soul generates the soul and the body the body and each member per erata.” (The meaning of the last two words is not clear.) One will search in vain for this statement in the anatomical chapters of the Canon, but it may occur elsewhere in Avicenna’s writings. The Canon "was the most popular medical work of the time, used as a text-book in all the schools of medicine and published in many editions during Leonardo’s lifetime. Leonardo must surely have known it, even if his references to it are inexact.

A reference to Al-Kindi is of interest, because that author, one of the most encyclopaedic of the Arab writers, had written a highly esteemed treatise on geometrical and physiological optics, subjects to which Leonardo gave much attention. This work, De aspectibus, had been translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona, but Leonardo’s reference, “Le proporzioni d’Alchino con le considerazioni del Marliano” (CA, 222), is not, according to Solmi (1919), to an original work by Al-Kindi, but to a manuscript commentary on one of these by Giovanni Marliani, who, according to Tiraboschi, was Professor of Medicine in the shortlived University of Milan (1447-1450) and afterward at Pavia, where he died in 1483. He was described in a contemporary document as another Aristotle in philosophy, another Hippocrates in medicine and another Ptolemy in astronomy. It is of interest that Leonardo received the manuscript from Fazio Cardano, the father of the mathematician Gerolamo Cardano.

Of classical authors who might have been consulted, Galen, Pliny, C'elsus, Aristotle and Hippocrates are mentioned. The reference to Galen’s de usu partium has already been considered. Pliny is merely mentioned, as is also Celsus. The name “Cornelio Celso” occurs on Tr, 2v, and shows that Leonardo at least knew of the de re medica, which was published at Florence as early as 1478 and many times thereafter. Immediately following the name are the words “The greatest good is wisdom, the greatest evil is bodily pain,” a phrase that reads very like one of Leonardo’s own aphorisms. At all events it is not to be found in the de re medica.

Aristotle is mentioned several times (I, 82v; M, 62), but the citations furnish no evidence that Leonardo had consulted either of the works in which Aristotle treats of anatomy — the Historia animalium and the De partibus animalium. The reference to Hippocrates (S.K., III) reads —

“Hippocrates says that our semen has its origin from the brain ( celabro ), the lung and the testicles of our parents, where it makes the last decoction ; and all the other members contribute of their substance by sudation to this semen, since no path is evident by which they might be able to reach the semen.”

This is a fair statement of the opinions expressed in the Hippocratic treatises De semine and De morbo sacro ; but it is nevertheless doubtful whether Leonardo had a first-hand knowledge of the writings. Their first Latin translation, incomplete at that, was not published until 1525, and the first printed Greek edition, that edited by Asulano, came from the Aldine press in the following year, both publications, therefore, occurring after Leonardo’s death. He may, of course, have had access to a manuscript, for although he was accused of being unlettered {omo samu lettere, CA, 119v), he seems to have had some knowledge of the Greek language (Solmi, 1910).

With Hippocrates the list of authors who might have rendered Leonardo inspiration in his anatomical studies and who are mentioned by him is completed, and one is forced to the conclusion that his indebtedness to his predecessors in anatomy was practically limited to what he might have obtained from Mondino and Avicenna. These were the preeminent authorities in his day, and to them he would naturally turn at first for guidance, though once he had acquired the rudiments of his subject he relied apparently on his own observations, so far at least as they were strictly anatomical. In his physiological concepts an indebtedness to Galen is strongly indicated, but the indebtedness may have been rather to the Galenic tradition as set forth by Avicennna than to Galen directly. It is to be noted, however, that his single reference to Galen’s De usu partium occurs in a folio which must be assigned to an early period of his studies (ca. 1489), and it is further to be noted that his association with Marc Antonio della Torre, a pronounced Galenist, might well have awakened a desire for the study of that author.

Holl (1905) in his review of Leonardo’s anatomical manuscripts takes essentially the position indicated above, concluding that he could have obtained little assistance from any of the earlier authors available to him, but mentioning of these only Mondino and Avicenna and Galen in Arabistic translations. “Unbefriedigt und vielleicht auch unmuthig wird er die gelesene Werke aus dem Hand gelegt haben.” Roth (1907), however, takes a very different view of the question, claiming that “Leonardo’s anatomy shows many relations to the literature, more abundant and more intimate relations than Leonardo’s scanty citations of authors would indicate.” He endeavors to substantiate this by references to a number of special items, the sources for which he traces for the most part to Galen, though many might as well be assigned to Galenic tradition set forth by Mondino and Avicenna. In selecting items for comment Roth, however, does not distinguish between Leonardo’s earlier and later efforts, making much, for instance, of the errors shown on the Q III, 3v, which unquestionably belongs to an early period, before Leonardo had begun to rely to any great extent on his own observations. The fact, indeed, that the majority of these errors were corrected in later drawings is evidence of Leonardo’s emancipation from the Galenic anatomical tradition and of his reliance on what he saw for himself. But Roth denies that Leonardo made any dissections for himself and in so doing he virtually denies to Leonardo any originality in his anatomical studies; he is forced therefore to find the source of his inspiration in the literature and as evidence in support of this adduces discrepancies in certain of Leonardo’s drawings, which, however, are evidently due to the fact that these drawings are largely schematic. Thus in AnB, 27v, in which Roth calls attention to variations in the number of ribs and vertebrae shown, the structures in which Leonardo is interested are the muscles, and the ribs and vertebrae are represented merely schematically; errors in their number must be ascribed to carelessness, since elsewhere the correct number is stated, and carelessness as to details which for the moment seem unessential may be found in drawings of much later date than Leonardo’s and may be pardoned in his, made at a time when strict accuracy, even in essentials, had not become the standard in anatomical illustration.

The study of Leonardo’s anatomical nomenclature does not throw any great amount of light on the sources of his anatomical information. That which he uses is, like his physiological concepts, essentially that of the Arabistic writers of his time, and shows, for example, a remarkable similarity with that of the Anothomia of Hieronymo Manfredi published by Singer* from a Bodleian manuscript. Manfredi was a Bolognese, born about 1430 and therefore some twenty years older than Leonardo. He was educated at the University of his native town and became its Professor of Medicine in 1463, holding that chair until his death thirty years later. He was, however, more renowned for his devotion to astrology than for his skill and knowledge in medicine, although one of his books, Liber de homine, principally concerned with diet but also treating of physiognomy, was very popular.


J For reference see foot-note on p. 27.


The Anothomia was written at the request of the then ruler of Bologna, Giovanni Bentivoglio, who had attended one of Manfredi’s Anatomies, and may be described as an enlarged and rearranged Mondino. The similarity of Leonardo’s nomenclature to that of the Anothomia extends also to many of the ideas expressed, and one is tempted to believe that Leonardo may have made use of Manfredi’s treatise, especially if the suggestion (p. 27) that he knew of that author’s Liber de homine is well made. The Anothomia , however, was never printed until Singer made it public, and the researches of that writer indicate that the Bodleian manuscript of it is unique, perhaps the sole copy that was prepared for presentation to Bentivoglio, and the similarities that are so striking may be due to the fact that the Anothomia, as Singer expresses it “may be taken to represent, with but little modification, the tradition of Mondino as developed at his own University of Bologna at the end of the fifteenth century.”

The Arabic terms found in Leonardo’s manuscripts — such as meri for oesophagus, mirach for abdomen, sifac for peritoneum, raseta for wrist — are all terms used in the Latin versions of Avicenna and in the Anothomia of Mondino, additional evidence of Leonardo’s indebtedness to these works and especially to Mondino’s, for when there is a difference between the terms used by Avicenna and Mondino, Leonardo and also Manfredi follow Mondino. Thus the Latin Avicenna, that by Gerard of Cremona, uses venoe soporarice for the jugular veins, while Mondino uses venoe apopleticce and so do Leonardo and Manfredi; the word alchatim in Avicenna denotes the lumbar vertebrae, while in Mondino, Manfredi and Leonardo ( alcatin , catino) it stands for pelvis. Indeed it may be said in brief that the evidence furnished by the nomenclature points clearly to Mondino as the primary source for both Leonardo and Manfredi, the Latin Avicenna being Mondino’s source.

It may be said that in general, Arabian influence is shown in mediaeval anatomical nomenclature in three ways, the most evident of which is the use of Arabic words. A second way is by the literal translation into Latin of Arabic words used in a more or less metaphorical manner. To this group belong the words sylvestris and domestica commonly used by the Arabists to denote respectively outer and inner, especially in connection with the surfaces of the limbs, and the terms focile ovfucile, used for the bones of the forearm and crus, and monoculo used for caecum have probably the same origin. Thirdly and less numerous are Greek words, which take on most un-Greek forms because they are transcriptions into Latin equivalents of Arabic transcriptions of the Greek words. An example of this group may be seen in ahorti or adorti which are more or less accurate transcriptions of awurti, the Arabic transcription of aorta. Examples of all three groups are to be found in Leonardo’s manuscripts.

However, three of the terms used by Leonardo seem worthy of further consideration, two of them because they possibly suggest some Salernitan influence on Leonardo’s nomenclature, while the third may serve to round off, in the light of further information, certain items discussed in Hyrtl’s works on anatomical nomenclature — works invaluable to a student of mediaeval anatomy. 7 On QV, 1 is represented a full-length figure of a man showing the visceral and vascular anatomy and on the right ureter there is the label “ vena cilis” written from above downward and not in the characteristic looking-glass manner. Vena chylis is the term usually applied by mediaeval authors to the vena cava inferior, the word chylis, as Hyrtl has shown, having nothing to do with chyle, but being a corruption, through the Arabic, of the Greek word koile — cava. Leonardo himself uses it for the vena cava ( vena del chilo, QI, 4) and so do Mondino ( chillim ) and Manfredi. On the other hand the usual term for the ureters is the Galenic pori ureterides, and Leonardo uses for them a slight modification of that term ( pori ureterici, AnB, 14). How comes it then that on QV, 1, he labels the ureter vena cilis ? No satisfying answer can be given to this question, but a passage in the Salernitan Anatomia pored, attributed to Copho 3 seems to offer a suggestion. The great vein (vena cava) is described as descending to the level of the kidneys and there bifurcating, and then the passage continues —

“et ibi fit vena chilis in qua infiguntur capillares ven$, quse praeter nimia parvitate sua videri non possunt, per quas urina cum quattuor humoribus mittitur ad renes.”

This, evidently, is the expression of Galen’s views as to the formation of the urine, but it might be interpreted to mean that since the capillary veins open into the vena chilis, this was the duct leading the urine to the bladder. To aid in such an interpretation is the fact that in the Salernitan treatise the term pori uritides indicates merely the openings of the ureters into the bladder.

On QI, 13 is the curious word astalis which is correctly translated as rectum by the editors of the volume. Without the aid of Hyrtl it would have been difficult to determine the origin of this word. It is evidently the same as astale used by Leonardo’s unfortunate contemporary Gabriele Zerbi in his Liber anathomia corporis humani (1502), and this is a corruption of extalis which the dictionaries give as a comprehensive term for the principal viscera, those upon whose appearance the haruspices based their prognostications. According to Hyrtl extale in the sense of rectum is found in the De arte veterinaria srive mulomedicina of Publius Vegetius Renatus (circa A.D. 420) and it is interesting to note that extalis is used in the same sense in the Salernitan Demonstratio anatomica. Since the Demonstratio is concerned with the anatomy of the pig, its author may have consulted the veterinary treatise of Vegetius; and Zerbi, mis-spelling the word, may have taken it from the Demonstratio . Since Leonardo similarly mis-spelled it, it is probable that he borrowed it from Zerbi, whose Anathomia may, perhaps, be added to the list of Leonardo’s sources. It is possible, of course, that Leonardo and Zerbi may have taken the word from a common source, in which it had already acquired its incorrect spelling, and, further, it is possible that Zerbi may have borrowed it from a Latin version of Avincenna in which, according to Hyrtl, extale is given as a synonym of rectum.

7 J. Hyrtl, Das arabische und hcbr&ische in der Anatomie, Wien, 1879; Onomatologia anatomica, Wien, 1880.

See foot-note p. 11.


The third term is at first sight most puzzling; it is porno granato, denoting the xiphoid process of the sternum. According to Hyrtl the word pomum was frequently used by the Arabists for any rounded prominence of the body, and therefore for the prominence of the larynx, and since the pomegranate was the variety of pomum most familiar to the peoples of Southern Europe granatum came to be added to it. The thyroid prominence being more marked in men than in women the name pomum viri was also applied to it and the Hebrew equivalent of vir being adam, opportunity was afforded in translation to transform pomum viri into pomum Adamid If this be the correct order of events it would seem that the legend — that the prominence is a reminder of the piece of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that stuck in Adam’s throat — followed the name and not the name the legend. But that is another story.

In the Latin Avicenna the larynx is termed epiglottis, the structure now known by that name being called galsamach, which later Arabists supplant by coopertorium (Mondino and Manfredi) or linguella (Leonardo). Pomum granatum and epiglottis were therefore equivalent terms. But the Latin Avicenna terms the xiphoid cartilage the epiglottalis and so pomum granatum becomes also applied to that structure. But why the shift of cartilago epiglottalis from the larynx to the xiphoid process? Hyrtl endeavors to explain it by supposing that the xiphoid cartilage may sometimes bend forward so as to produce a pomum and to this pomum granatum was transferred, epiglottalis following. In reality, as De Koning has clearly shown , 10 the transfer of epiglottalis was the first step. The Arabic word used by Avicenna for the xiphoid cartilage was khanjara which means sword-like and is therefore the exact equivalent of the Greek word xiphoeides. The first letter, kh, of the Arabic word is distinguished from the symbol for h only by having over it a diacritic dot. Either this dot may have been omitted in the Arabic text used by Gerard of Cremona or he overlooked it and so read hanjara for khanjara. And the former means larynx.

0 Dr. Sarton, however, points out that adam is the equivalent of homo and not of vir.

10 P. de Koning, Trois traites d' anatomic arabes, Leyden, 1903.