Medieval Europeans knew more about the body than we think

Medieval Europe is generally known for its animosity toward actually testing things out, favoring tradition over experimentation and earning a reputation as being soundly anti-science. In particular, it's easy to get the impression that nobody was doing human dissections at all, prior to the Renaissance. But it turns out that isn't true. In fact, some dissections were even prompted (not just condoned) by the Catholic Church. The knowledge medieval dissectors learned from their experiments didn't get widely disseminated at the time, but their work offers some interesting insight into the development of science. The quest for knowledge in Europe didn't just appear out of nowhere in the 1400s and 1500s.


  1. Were these post-mortem dissections or “original uncut version of Braveheart” dissections?

  2. There’s some serious lack of science history here; Galen was doing disection and even vivisection in the second century AD. He figured out the circulatory system (kinda), did experiments on the nervous system, and much more.

    1.  Is 2nd century AD considered “Medieval?”  The point of the article is that the “Dark Ages” weren’t all dark, not that there was no medicine before the middle ages.

    2. That doesn’t conflict with the prevailing science history narrative being challenged here. Everybody seems to agree that the ancients were at least trying to get their shit together before the medieval period. Then everybody said “fuck learning, the next thousand years are going to be about praying, harvesting grain and trial by combat.” Or at least, that’s what Enlightenment-era fops wanted us to believe.

  3. The curious thing is, that many customs, principles, ideas on how to structure cities, and on and on and on of the Western world – and by proxy the world in general – have sold foundations in the Middle Ages, yet society at large still falls for the propaganda of later ages, down to the “world is flat nonsense”. Same with the constant dissing of Northern Europeans in antiquity.

    1.  I have that book, and it’s better than you would think given the author’s stated belief that western culture (as personified by the US) is on the skids, technology-wise.

  4. Not more than “we” think, no. Historians and medievalists understand the vast intellectual achievements of the middle ages, even if the period is widely regarded with ignorance and contempt.

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