16th century medicine:During the 16th century, there were some improvements in medicine. However, it remained basically the same as in the Middle Ages. Medicine was still dominated by the theory of the four humors. In 1546 a man Girolamo Fracastoro published a book called On Contagion. He suggested that infectious diseases were caused by ‘disease seeds’, which were carried by the wind or transmitted by touch. Unfortunately, there was no way of testing his theory.
In 1478 a book by the Roman doctor Celsus was printed. (The printing press made all books including medical ones much cheaper). The book by Celsus quickly became a standard textbook.
However, in the early 16th century, a man named Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) called himself Paracelsus (meaning beyond or surpassing Celsus). He denounced all medical teaching not based on experiment and experience. However traditional ideas on medicine held sway for long afterward.
However surgery did become a little more advanced in the 16th century. Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) dissected some human bodies and made accurate drawings of what he saw. However, the greatest surgeon of the age was Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). He did many dissections and realized that many of Galen’s ideas were wrong. In 1543 he published a book called The Fabric of the Human Body. It contained accurate diagrams of the human body. Vesalius’s great contribution was to base anatomy on observation, not on the authority of writers like Galen.
Another great surgeon was Ambroise Pare. In the 16th century, surgeons put oil on wounds. However in 1536 during the siege of Turin Pare ran out of oil. He made a mixture of egg whites, rose oil, and turpentine and discovered it worked better than oil. Pare also designed artificial limbs.
In 1513 a man named Eucharius Roslin published a book about childbirth called Rosengarten. In 1540 an English translation called The Birth of Mankind was published. It became a standard text although midwives were women.
Syphilis was common in the 16th century. The standard treatment was mercury administered with a urethral syringe. In the 16th century, syringes were also used to irrigate wounds with wine.
MEDICINE IN THE 17TH CENTURY
In the 17th century medicine continued to advance. In the early 17th century an Italian called Santorio invented the medical thermometer. In 1628 William Harvey published his discovery of how blood circulates around the body. Harvey realized that the heart is a pump. Each time it contracts it pumps out blood. The blood circulates around the body. Harvey then estimated how much blood was being pumped each time.
Unfortunately in the 17th-century medicine was still handicapped by wrong ideas about the human body. Most doctors still thought that there were four fluids or ‘humors’ in the body, blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Illness resulted when you had too much of one humor. Nevertheless, during the 17th century, a more scientific approach to medicine emerged and some doctors began to question traditional ideas.
Apart from Harvey the most famous English doctor of the 17th century was Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689). He is sometimes called the English Hippocrates because he emphasized the importance of carefully observing patients and their symptoms.
In the 17th-century medicine was helped by the microscope (invented at the end of the 16th century). Then in 1665 Robert Hooke was the first person to describe cells in his book Micrographia. Finally, in 1683 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed microorganisms. However, he did not realize they caused disease.
Meanwhile, in 1661 Robert Boyle published the Skeptical Chemist, which laid the foundations of modern chemistry. In the early 17th century doctors also discovered how to treat malaria with bark from the cinchona tree (it contains quinine).
The Chinese invented the toothbrush. (It was first mentioned in 1498). Toothbrushes arrived in Europe in the 17th century. In the late 17th century they became popular with the wealthy in England.