Giovanni Battista Morgagni Biography (1682-1771)
Giovanni Battista Morgagni was born at Forli, Italy, on February 20, 1682; hedied at Padua on December 6, 1771. He was educated at the University of Bologna, receiving a degree in philosophy and medicine there in 1701. He studiedunder A. M. Valsalva (1666-1723), whom he venerated for the rest of his life;when Valsalva left Bologna for Parma, Morgagni succeeded him as demonstratorin anatomy. He was made President of the Accademia at the age of 24,and he gained a reputation for his dislike of speculation as opposed to accurate observation. In 1706 he began publication of a series of anatomical works, which led to his becoming known in Europe as an anatomist. In 1712, he leftBologna for Padua, where, except for a short unsuccessful attempt at practicing medicine in Forli, he was to spend the rest of his life as Professor of Anatomy. Shortly after settling in Padua, he married Paola Vergieri of Forli,with whom he had 15 children. His eight daughters all entered convents, whichis said to have caused him considerable sadness near the end of his life. After his wife died in 1770, the aged widower did not have much desire to continue living. Ironically, his life, which had contributed so much to the understanding of the pathological basis of stroke, came to an end on December 6, 1771, when he (like his teacher Valsalva before him) succumbed to the condition.
Morgagni taught at the renowned University of Padua for 56 years (1715 to 1771). His greatest professional achievement came in 1761 when, at the age of 79, he published his masterpiece, De Sedibus et Causis Morborum (translated into English as On the Sites and Causes of Disease). The book, consisting of five volumes of letters (for a total of 70 letters), described Morgagni's observations of some 700 autopsies, and it included his correlationsbetween clinical symptoms and postmortem findings (lesions) for each of the cases studied. (Morgagni expressed his debt in De Sedibus to previouslypublished work by Theophile Bonet, 1629-1689, although the latter's work, Sepulcretum, translated in English as Graves), is generally considered to be a poorly organized and inconclusive summary of autopsy findings up to 1679.) It was Morgagni's study that introduced the clinical principles and practices that are still used today. Morgagni also drew on the ideas of Hippocrates, whose methods of observation and reasoning formed the basisfor many of Morgagni's own ideas. For example, whereas Hippocrates made systematic differentiations of diseases based on observed external symptoms, Morgagni went farther and related the external expressions of the particular disease to the internal conditions within the body. Morgagni thus focused on theinternal damage within the body that gives rise to disease. In clinical practice, Morgagni carefully noted the symptoms during the course of a patient's illness, and then attempted to identify the organic or pathological causes ofthat disease during the postmortem examination.
Because Morgagni's studies were so extensive, it became possible for him to predict or visualize internal conditions based on symptomatic observations. Morgagni's work was also instrumental in debunking the ancient humoral theory of disease, according to which there is one cause for all diseases. Morgagni'sDe Sedibus clearly identifies the pathologies of a number of diseases, including hepatic cirrhosis (acute yellow atrophy), cerebral gummata, cardiac valvular lesions, renal tuberculosis, pneumonic solidification of the lungs, and syphilitic lesions (aneurysms) of the brain. Morgagni also proved, through many autopsies, that cerebral lesion in stroke occurs on the opposite side from the resulting paralysis. Morgagni has bequeathed his name to many anatomical part's and conditions of the human body, e.g., the Morgagnian cataract.
Morgagni was held in high esteem by his colleagues and students; he was the friend of many Venetian senators and several popes. His international reputation was attested to by his election to the Academia Naturae Curiosorum(1708); the Academy of Science, Paris (1731); the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg (1735); and the Berlin Academy (1754).
Morgagni was largely responsible during the more than 50 years he spent as aprofessor at the University of Padua for that university's foremost reputation in Europe during the 18th century. Besides being recognized today as one ofthe leading figures in 18th-century medicine, he is considered the father ofmorbid anatomy, and a founder of modern anatomy and pathology.