ISSN 2409-5834

Herophilus and vivisection: a re-appraisal

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J. Ganz


There were cultural taboos against dissecting dead bodies in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. Yet in Alexandria under the reigns of Ptolemy I (Soter) and Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) such dissection was carried out by Herophilus and outstanding new knowledge of human anatomy was gained. The original writings of Herophilus no longer exist but they were known to Galen and presumably also to Celsus who lived a century before Galen. Celsus has written a passage in the introduction to his ‘De Medicina’ in which he describes vivisection undertaken in Alexandria by Herophilus and his own opposition to it. Whether Celsus was relating the facts or just the information available to him has been debated for nearly two millennia. In this paper, certain every day experiences from the operating theatre are presented and it is argued that these experiences make it unlikely that vivisection would be used to demonstrate anatomy.

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