Harvey and Literature


    THE June issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine contains a paper read by Dr. D. F. Fraser-Harris before the Section of the History of Medicine on William Harvey's knowledge of classical, medieval, renaissance and contemporary literature. Harvey's acquaintance with classical literature is shown by the fact that his works contain references to twenty-five Greek writers ranging from Thales in the seventh century B.C. to Suidas, who flourished about A.D. 975, and including among others Hippocrates, Plato, Euclid of Megara, Erasis-tratus, Aristotle and Menander, as well as allusions to fourteen Latin writers from Virgil to Pipinus and Migaldus, including Varro, Terence, Seneca, the elder Pliny, Celsus and Ulpian. Three medieval writers are mentioned by Harvey, namely, Avicenna, Averroes and Albertus Magnus. Of the thirty-two renaissance and contemporary authors whom he quotes, the best known are Jacobus Sylvius, Fracastor, J. C. Scaliger, Fernel, Vesalius, Eustachius, Descartes, De Thou, Sennert, Pecquet, Baillou and Riolan. The only English writer mentioned is Francis Bacon, whose phrase “to enter upon our second vintage” is quoted in De Generatione. In the manuscript notes to his lectures, Harvey also cites seven authors whom he mentions nowhere else, namely, Plautus, Horace, Caesar, Cicero, Vitruvius, Nicolas Massa and Arch-angelo Piccolhomini. Most, but by no means all, of the references are to subjects of biological importance, the exceptions being passages in the Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid of Virgil and Terence's Adelphi. The conspicuous absence of any mention of Caesal-pinus, whom many Italian physiologists even to-day regard as the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, and of Servetus, in Harvey's writings is attributed by Dr. Fraser-Harris to the fact that all but three copies of Servetus's book had been burned with him at the stake and that Harvey had found nothing of real value in Csesalpinus's work.

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    Harvey and Literature. Nature 134, 95 (1934). https://doi.org/10.1038/134095b0

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