Treasures from the Rare Book Room: The Work That Laid the Foundation for Modern Anatomical Pathology

MorgagniGiovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) was an Italian anatomist and professor of practical medicine at University of Padua. His reputation as an accurate anatomist was established early. He published his first book on anatomy when he was only 19 years old. His seminal work, De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis (Seats and Causes of Disease Investigated by Means of Anatomy), was published in Venice in 1761, when he was almost 80 years old. The work included his lifelong experience and discoveries, and earned him the title “father of anatomical pathology.”

The publication of De sedibus ended the theory of humors developed by Hippocrates and Galen, which in Morgagni’s time identified the causes of disease as the disequilibrium between the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow, and black bile). It was the author who introduced the concept that diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease must be based on an exact understanding of the pathologic changes in the anatomic structures. Morgagni was the first to link the postmortem discoveries with the clinical findings. His work is a systematic collection of pathological cases. It includes those reported in existing literature and those gathered and described from the autopsies he witnessed or performed. All are presented as a logical correlation between the symptoms and anatomical findings.

Falk Library has the second edition of this monumental work (Padua 1765), as well as the first English translation published in London in 1769. The Latin edition was acquired for the collection in 1970. It is a beautifully preserved folio pictured above. The book has fine woodcut head and tailpieces in each volume and includes an engraved portrait of Morgagni by Jean Renard. It can be viewed in the Rare Book Room by appointment.

~ Gosia Fort