Bartolomeo Eustachio Biography (c. 1524-1574)


Eustachio was one of the Italian anatomists of the sixteenth century who laidthe foundation for modern studies of the human body. The Eustachian tube, which extends from the middle ear to the pharynx, was named after him.

Eustachio was born in San Severino in eastern Italy. Scholars have placed hisbirthdate as early as 1510 and as late as 1524. His father, Mariano, was a physician, and he gave his son an excellent classical education, studying Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. He studied to be a doctor at the Archiginnasio della Sapienza in Rome, and began his practice around 1540. He became the physicianto Cardinal Giulio della Rovere in 1547. In 1549, Eustachio went with Cardinal Rovere to Rome. There he became a professor of anatomy at the Archiginnasiodella Sapienza. Because of his position, he was able to obtain human cadavers for dissections.

Religious reverence for the body made human anatomical studies difficult, anddoctors could not legally dissect human corpses for many centuries. The problem began to ease during the first of the Black Death pandemics, which arrived in Europe in 1348. The popes wanted to know what caused the devastating disease, and they permitted postmortem examinations of plague victims. But it was almost 200 years later, in 1537, before Pope Clement VII allowed human dissections in anatomy classes.

Making use of his access to human cadavers, in 1552 he and an artist relative, Pier Matteo Pini, developed a series of 47 copper engraved plates, which illustrated the results of many of Eustachio's dissections. Unfortunately, onlyeight of these plates were published in his lifetime. In the early 1560s, Eustachio published works on the human kidney, the organs associated with hearing, and human teeth. His book on the kidney, De renum structura, was the first dedicated to that organ. The book presented several important discoveries, and introduced the idea of anatomical variation in organs. Many earlier published accounts of dissections had been performed on animals (dogs, forexample), and animal organs varied from human organs in significant ways. Hisbook on teeth, De dentibus, was the result of dissections of human fetuses, newborn babies, and older humans, and he described the number, arrangement, and types of teeth in babies and adults. He also described the soft inner parts of the teeth and their hard outer structure.

Eustachio's place in the history of anatomy would have been more prominent ifthe copperplate engravings that he developed with Pier Matteo Pini had not disappeared after his death. Eight of the plates were published in 1564 in Opuscula anatomica. Those plates illustrated, among other things, the kidneys, heart, and veins of the arm. But 39 plates of anatomical illustrationscould not be found after his death, even though people searched for years. Finally, the plates were discovered early in the eighteenth century. Eustachiohad willed them to Pier Matteo Pini upon his death, and one of Pini's descendants had them. Pope Clement XI purchased the lost plates and gave them to hisphysician, who published them in 1714. The illustrations were very modern looking, and they provided some of the best descriptions of the base of the brain, the sympathetic nervous system (the nerves that control the constriction of blood vessels, among other things), the vascular system, and the structure of the larynx. If those plates had been published in the 1550s, the study of human anatomy would have progressed much more rapidly, and Eustachiowould have been as famous as Vesalius.

The entire time Eustachio taught anatomy in Rome, he was the physician of Cardinal Rovere. Even after he retired from teaching because of gout, hecontinued to serve the Cardinal. When Cardinal Rovere summoned Eustachio fromRome to his home in Fossombrone in 1574, Eustachio set out north on the roadknown as the Via Flaminia towards the Adriatic Sea. Eustachio died on the road to the Cardinal on August 27, 1574.

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