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review of Andrew Cunningham, The Anatomical Renaissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients

review of Andrew Cunningham, The Anatomical Renaissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients
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  The British Society for the History of Science The Anatomical Renaissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients byAndrew CunninghamReview by: David Harley The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1998), pp. 473-474Published by: Cambridge University Press  on behalf of The British Society for the History of Science Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/11/2013 18:01 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . Cambridge University Press  and The British Society for the History of Science  are collaborating with JSTOR todigitize, preserve and extend access to The British Journal for the History of Science. This content downloaded from on Sat, 16 Nov 2013 18:01:29 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Book reviews 473 causal way-paving and condition-forming re- lationship between literalism and the rise of modern science, the thrust of the thesis is that reformist hermeneutics was a necessary pre- condition for modern science. However, in the same way that Weber s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism purported to give a one- sided (that is, non-materialist) account of the development of modernity, so Harrison overly downplays the crucial impact of other elements implicated in the growing authority of natural philosophy. Although the situation is still un- clear, the allegorical understanding of nature was clearly undermined by new facts and by experimental evidence in both Protestant and Catholic countries. Across Europe elites began to criticize such an approach as outmoded and superstitious. Nevertheless, while Harrison does not really sustain the claim that scriptural literalism was a key factor in the development of modern science, it is likely that literalist and empiricist approaches to Nature and Scripture were the results of more basic social processes. Harrison s work is clearly written and it is a virtue of the book that he draws comprehensively from primary texts. However, the downside of this is that a number of relevant discussions in recent literature have been entirely ignored, and it is particularly unfortunate that in the second half of the book he too rarely engages with Charles Webster s treatment of similar issues in The Great Instauration. There is also a problem with the view that the aforementioned devel- opment paved the way for the split between science and literature , since contemporary natural philosophers were keenly aware of what they took to be the Divine source of the Book of Nature. Yet Harrison argues that science had earlier been part of biblical hermeneutics, and it was only when natural knowledge extricated itself from this mental field (facilitated by the propensity towards literalist exegesis) that it could be used to show that certain passages in Scripture were false. This unhelpful dichotomy leads to a peculiar ignorance thesis in which traces of the old mentality (such as Newton s commitment to the interpretation of prophecy) are seen as indicative of an unconscious reluctance to admit the failure of the old world picture , while seventeenth-century natural phil- osophers are said to have had an inchoate awareness of the full implications of their new readings of the world (p. 271). Although it shares many features of conventional histories of the topic, the Harrison thesis is provocative and the book makes a contribution to the science/religion question in the early modern period. As such, it nicely complements James Bono s recent The Word of God and the Language of Man (Wisconsin, 1995). ROBERT ILIFFE Imperial College University of London ANDREW CUNNINGHAM, The Anatomical Re- naissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997. Pp. xiv+283. ISBN 1-85928-338-1. ?45.00. Textbooks and courses on the srcins of modern science usually deal with few medical enquiries other than anatomy. Unfortunately, the sec- ondary sources are mostly rather elderly and connect poorly with current concerns in the history of science. Andrew Cunningham s study of anatomy from Mondino to Fabricius attempts a major revision of the field, which has impli- cations for the historiography of other scenes of enquiry. As Cunningham and others have argued, science in the modern sense is a nineteenth- century unifying rhetoric that replaced the role of natural philosophy as the master-discipline of natural enquiry. Anatomy is relocated by Cunningham as an enquiry subaltern to natural philosophy so that it can be seen as a funda- mentally religious activity, concerned with dis- playing God s creation and the workings of the soul. The first part of the book distinguishes sharply between the views and methods of Plato, Aristotle, the Alexandrians and Galen. Late medieval anatomy was dominated by the text- book of Mondino, influenced by the Platonic model of the tripartite soul. This dictated the dissection of the three cavities of the body in order. Cunningham explains the logic of pre- Vesalian anatomy not as a project of research This content downloaded from on Sat, 16 Nov 2013 18:01:29 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  474 Book reviews but as a ritual examination of the organs of the soul, to display the work of God. Cunningham argues persuasively that the anatomists of the early sixteenth century, despite possessing humanist literary skills or surgical expertise, remained locked into Mondino s pro- ject, so they saw the body as presented by him. In the 1530s, however, Vesalius s teachers in Paris produced new editions of the key works of Galen, revealing his view of the technique and purpose of anatomy. The innovation of Vesalius, in Cunningham s view, was to revive the practice of Galen instead of blindly following his doctrines. The human body became the auth- oritative text, albeit still modelled according to the Galenic three-venter scheme. Whereas Vesalius criticized Galen for relying on the dissection of animals, Realdus Columbus went further in returning to the Alexandrian tradition of vivisection. He therefore saw the body in terms of living action rather than inert structure. This new view, abandoning the three- venter model, enabled Columbus to observe the pulmonary transit. Finally, Hieronymus Fab- ricius ab Aquapendente revived the Aristotelian approach of studying the operations of the animal soul and explaining them in terms of action and use. Fabricius and his pupil William Harvey aimed at the production of general accounts of vision or generation or local motion, applicable to all animals. Thus they saw a new body, as different from that of Vesalius or Columbus as theirs had been from that of Mondino. Cunningham s account of these changes is schematic but broadly convincing. He focuses on important anatomists, and others related to the narrative, with the curious exception of Gabriele Falloppia. They can now be seen as engaged in the same sort of recovery of the prisca sapientia as were other humanists, rather than simply overthrowing Galen. Their theory and practice shaped what they saw, so that the body was created by their vision rather than being obvious to empirical inspection. The more problematic part of the book deals with the question of motive and intention. Cunningham denies the explanatory force of the Renaissance , because it does not explain the turn to the Ancients and because it has a nineteenth-century baggage of secularization. The history of science still embodies the same narrative of progress. Since the religion/science dichotomy is seriously misleading n the analysis of natural philosophy, Cunningham urns to the Reformation to provide causes. Cunningham postulates a link between the various projects of the anatomists and their religious beliefs. It is unfortunate that little is known about the beliefs of the three central figures. The analogies between Luther and Vesalius are only that. There is no reason to suppose that Vesalius was a crypto-Protestant. Columbus can be placed more precisely, by his association with such men as Cardinal Pole and Michelangelo, but Cunningham sees this as a quintessentially Counter-Reformation group, ignoring the accusations of Nicodemism that were credibly made against them. Fabricius, a friend of Paolo Sarpi, was presumably a free- thinking Catholic, like other Aristotelians at Padua. Unless we imagine that intellectual history leads an autonomous life, it is evident that social interests must play a significant role in theory choice, because of the problem of under- determination and the shaping of disciplines by social rhetoric. In this instance, however, the evidence remains suggestive rather than con- clusive. The central figures have been chosen for their anatomical significance rather than the wealth of data concerning their other beliefs and activities. Moreover, all the explanatory eggs have been placed in a single causal basket, so that religious belief is the only interest offered for consideration. Cunningham s surely right to identify religion as the main cause of diversity in medicine and natural philosophy, but his explanation will require further testing, with a larger sample of anatomists and opponents of anatomy, a wider range of possible interests and a more detailed analysis of both religious difference and the rhetoric employed. In the meantime, Cunning- ham s narrative of change, his reconfiguration of the subject, and the example of his close reading will be extremely important for the histori- ography of science and medicine. DAVID HARLEY Oxford This content downloaded from on Sat, 16 Nov 2013 18:01:29 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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