Guy de Chauliac Biography (c. 1300-c. 1368)


Medieval Frenchman Guy de Chauliac is known as one of the most influential surgeons of the fourteenth century. Born into a peasant-class family in 1290, he was guided in his studies by the lords of Mercoeur. One of the most scholarly individuals of his time, Chauliac studied medicine first at Toulouse, thenat Montpellier, and concluded his education at Bologna. With direction fromhis master Nicolaus Bertrucius (Bertrucio) at Bologna, Chauliac's knowlege ofanatomy excelled his teacher's methods left such an impression on Chauliac that he often quoted him throughout his life. He left Bologna for Paris, thento Lyons where Chauliac was appointed canon (clergyman) of St. Just. Later appointments included canon of Rheims and of Mende. With Avignon being home ofthe popes at this time, Chauliac became private physician to several bishops,including: Clement VI (1342-1352); Innocent VI (1352-1362); and Urban V (1362-1370). As a valued part of the church, he was appointed a papal clerk of the Roman Catholic Church. Chauliac also became acquainted with the Italian lyric poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch while serving at Avignon.

Upon receiving his master's degree in medicine from Montpellier a title equalto the M.D. of Bologna Chauliac began to refer to himself in his works as "cyrurgicus magister in medicine." In 1363, he created what would be consideredthe medical standard on surgery until the seventeenth century with the Inventorium sive collectorium in parte chirurgiciali medicine, commonly known as Chirurgia. Even after undergoing several editions and translations from Latin into Provencal, French, English, Italian, Dutch, and Hebrew, the seven parts of Chirurgia spanned three centuries as the guiding force in surgical medicine. Key information is found in the prologue ("Capitulumsingulare") with topics ranging from liberal arts, diet, surgical instruments, and the process of performing an operation. Chauliac also describes a briefhistory of medicine and surgery as it evolved through earlier physicians andsurgeons, in addition to personal information.

While Chauliac's book was highly regarded, noone admired it more than the writer himself, and he thought Chirurgia to be the best medical ideas ofhis time. In the book, he quotes 3,300 acknowledged writers and authors to reinforce his ideas. These include Galen, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Razi (Rhazes), Abul Kasim (Albucasis), Ign Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroës), in addition to references to his own colleagues.

Great emphasis was placed on anatomy in the seven-volume text, and Chauliac indicates that a surgeon who was ignorant of anatomy carved the human body inthe same way a blind man carved wood. In the section on anatomy (Tractatus I), Chauliac shows little understanding of his topic. While experienced at actual surgical procedures, this part of Chirurgia shows the limited amount of medical knowledge available to Chauliac and his peers at this time.

The plague epidemics of 1348 and 1360 are both described by Chauliac in the textbook, and he is the first to distinguish the difference between bubonic (also known as black death) and pneumonic (a result of bubonic that affects thelungs) plague. In addition to recording the prevalence of plague in Asia and Europe, Chauliac falsely blames the disease on the Jewish population.The plague is also recognized as being contagious, and Chauliac recommends the air to be purified, venesection (opening of a vein to remove blood), and having the sick maintain a healthy diet to combat the disease.

Chauliac's ideas on infection have caused continued controversy. According tothe surgeon, wounds should not be permitted to heal as nature allows, but should be aggressively treated. His treatments included antidotal salves and plasters. Chauliac also believed that pus (laudable pus) from an infection wasrequired in the healing process.

Three other works were written by Chauliac: Practica astrolabii (De astronomia), an essay on astrology; De ruptura, which describes a hernia; and De subtilianti diaeta, explaining cataracts and treatments for the patient.

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