The Epic History of Biology

By Anthony Serafini | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Age of Vesalius

The most exalted biologist of the Renaissance was Vesalius. He was born in 1514 in Brussels to a family that had a long tradition of scholarly involvement and dedication to medicine. Not wishing to part with tradition, Vesalius too studied medicine. Early in his schooling he was interested principally in art, philosophy, mathematics, rhetoric, and so forth, rather than science per se. So it was on his own initiative that he began to probe the riddles of biology. He pored over classical texts when and wherever he could get hold of them. He also began dissecting every kind of animal he could seize, from moles and mice to cats, dogs, and even weasels. As a teenager, he was sent by his father to the University of Louvain, expected to carry on the long family heritage of practicing physicians.

Unfortunately, Fate threw him upon his own resources. The leading authority in Paris was Jacob Sylvius, and, realizing the dogmatism of Sylvius, only after going to Paris Vesalius concluded that he would have to attempt his biological studies alone. Thus thwarted by the intellectual atmosphere at Louvain, he moved to the University of

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