Galileo and the Health Sciences

Galileo's World overview | Gallery at the Exhibit Website
Location: Robert M. Bird Library, University of Oklahoma, Health Sciences Campus, Oklahoma City.
How might friends of Galileo have practiced health care?
“I have been in my bed for five weeks, oppressed with weakness and other infirmities from which my age, seventy four years, permits me not to hope release. Added to this (O misery!) the sight of my right eye — that eye whose labors (dare I say it) have had such glorious results — is for ever lost. That of the left, which was and is imperfect, is rendered null by continual weeping.”
Galileo, Letter to Élie Diodati (4 July 1637), trans. Mary Allan-Olney, The Private Life of Galileo, p. 278.

Galileo studied medicine and was once called as an expert medical witness in a trial. A friend of Galileo’s who was a physician in Venice invented a device to measure the pulse. Galileo inscribed an OU copy of a first edition to another physician in Venice. One of the leading physicians of the Renaissance recommended Galileo for a university position. Publication of Galileo’s Dialogo was held up for years due to an outbreak of plague. Galileo’s daughter served the health care needs of many, including Galileo. A physician-engineer follower of Galileo applied the physics of the lever and other simple machines to the working of the musculoskeletal system. The use of artistic illustrations in the service of anatomy remains one of the most striking developments of medicine in Galileo’s world. Explore this gallery to discover connections between Galileo’s world and the world of the Health Sciences at OU today.

Galileo and Anatomy (Fall 2015)

Galileo’s intellectual circle included artists, engineers and physicians. Leonardo da Vinci was not the only artist who engaged in dissections and constructed machines. Renaissance artists studied anatomy with medical students, engineers studied drawing with artists, and physicians applied mechanical concepts to open up new ways of understanding the human body. The common conversation among artists, engineers and physicians is manifest in the artistic and mechanical aspects of these anatomical works.

1. Mondino dei Luzzi, Anothomia (Venice, 1507), "Anatomy."
2. Mondino dei Luzzi, Anatomia (Marburg, 1541), "Anatomy," ed. Johann Dryander.
3. Charles Estienne, De dissectione partium corporis humani (Paris, 1545), "On the Dissection of the Parts of the Human Body."
4. Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543), "On the Fabric of the Human Body."
5. Andreas Vesalius, Epistola (Basel, 1546), "Correspondence."
6. Matteo Realdo Colombo, De re anatomica (Venice, 1559), "On Anatomy."
7. Bartolomeo Eustachi, Tabulae anatomicae (Geneva, 1716), "Anatomical Illustrations."
8. Galileo, Difesa contro alle calunnie & imposture di Baldessar Capra (Venice, 1607), "Defense against the Calumnies and Imposture of Baldasar Capra!", title page photograph.
9. Santorio Santorio, Commentaria in canonis Avicennae (Venice, 1646), "Commentary on the Canon of Ibn Sina (Avicenna)." 10. Galileo Thermoscope replica (Museo Galileo).
11. Giovanni Borelli, De motu animalium (Rome, 1680-1681), "On the Motion of Animals."
12. Nicolaus Steno, Observationes anatomicae (Leiden, 1662), "Anatomical Observations."
13. William Harvey, The Anatomical Exercises of Dr. William Harvey (London, 1653).
14. René Descartes, De homine (Leiden, 1662), "On the Body."
15. René Descartes, L'Homme (Paris, 1677), "On the Body."
16. Christoph von Hellwig, Anatomicum vivum (Frankfurt, 1720), "Living Anatomy."

Galileo and Health Care (Spring 2016)

Vignettes from Galileo’s world and the history of medicine illustrate a variety of health care resources and practitioners:

Life cycle care; women’s health; pre-natal care, birthing and midwifery; children’s diseases; sports medicine and exercise science; epidemiology, contagious disease and the black plague; preventive medicine; health and wellness; surgery and chemotherapy; data visualization; psychology; nutrition; pharmaceutical preparation; medical commerce and horticulture; government regulations and management; hygiene and health; dentistry; medical education and professional formation.

Which of these vignettes offer perspective on the spectrum of health care in Oklahoma today?

1. Hippocrates, Opera (Venice, 1588), "Works of Hippocrates," ed. Girolamo Mercuriale.
2. Ibn Sina, Avicennae Arabum medicorum principis (Venice, 1608), "Avicenna's Canon of Medicine."
3. Hildegard of Bingen, Physica (Strassburg, 1533), "Physic, or Medical Remedies."
4. Hortus sanitatis (Mainz, 1491), "Garden of Health."
5. Paracelsus, Opera Bücher (Strassburg, 1603), "Collected Works."
6. Georg Bartisch, Opthalmoduleia (Dresden, 1583), "Ophthalmology."
7. Gregor Reisch, Margarita Filosofia (Vinegia, 1599), "The Pearl of Knowledge."
8. Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron (1925), "100 Tales," trans. John Payne, intro. Sir Walter Raleigh.
9. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (Oxford, 1628).
10. John Gerard, The Herball (London, 1636), 3d ed.
11. John Parkinson, Theater of Plantes (London, 1640).
12. Huszty von Rabynya, Kritischer Kommentar über die Östreichische Provinzialpharmakopee (Bratislava, 1785), "Critical Commentary on the Official Austrian Pharmacopoeia."
13. Aristotle's Masterpiece (Edinburgh, 1788).
14. John Hunter, The Natural History of Human Teeth (London, 1803).
15. Edward Jenner, The Cow Pox (London, 1798).
16. Florence Nightingale, Army Sanitary Administration and its Reform under the Late Lord Herbert (London, 1862).

Further reading:
  • Stillman Drake, Galileo: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001; originally printed 1983 in the Past Masters series), discussion guide.
  • Dava Sobel, Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love (Walker, 1999)
  • David Freedberg, The Eye of the Lynx (Chicago, 2002)
Curators: Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple. Links are to the exhibit website, For more information, download the comprehensive, free Exhibit Guide from the iBook Store. Open Educational Resources are available at and ShareOK.