Imprimir Republish


Secrets from the heart

A book from 1628 that explained blood circulation is published in a trilingual edition

Memoria_fig3-4 Editora UnifespIn just 17 years England saw the appearance of three of the most important works in its culture, because of the significance they held for religion, literature and medicine: the authorized translation of the bible by King James I (1611), the first edition of the plays of William Shakespeare (1623) and the medical treatise, Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus (1628). The latter, written by William Harvey (1578-1657), is considered to be the founding model and prototype of scientific method in current medical research. Known as De motu cordis, the treatise was launched in March by Unifesp Press, under the title Estudo anatômico do movimento do coração e do sangue nos animais [Anatomical study of the movement of the heart and blood in animals], in a trilingual edition (Latin, French and Portuguese).

Harvey’s study was published in Frankfurt, in Germany, as a matter of caution. At the time the teachings of Greek doctor Galen from Pergamum (132-200 A.D.) still reigned supreme. He was an academic and Hippocratic medical practitioner in imperial Rome who correctly described the anatomy of the heart and perceived that it worked like a pump. But he believed that blood was made in the liver from where it was distributed to other organs and different tissues. He also thought that there was a “vital spirit” that was created in the heart and that flowed through the arteries and veins along with the blood.

Memoria_livro Editora UnifespThese impressions by Galen lasted for 1400 years until the beginning of the 17th century. In this period they were slightly modified by other doctors, like Italians Realdo Colombo (1516-1559) and Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) and questioned once and for all in De motu cordis. In his first chapter Harvey refers to the opposition that he expected to receive from anatomists who made every effort “to demolish the new doctrine, to malign it”. He knew that it might be dangerous to contradict the centuries-old doctrines of Galen; that is why he chose Frankfurt as a place to publish his treatise.

Because he was a doctor in the court of Charles I of England, a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London and had a solid reputation, little by little Harvey convinced his English colleagues of the veracity of his discoveries, although they were only accepted in other countries in Europe at the end of the 19th century.

De motu cordis is 72 pages long and has 17 chapters in which Harvey unveils the secrets of the circulation of the blood in animals and in man and finally and conclusively overthrows the erroneous concepts of his predecessors in a careful and elegant way. He described the circulation of the blood from painstaking observation of the anatomy and functioning of the heart and the circulatory system of an enormous number of animals of all the species he was able to dissect, from star-fish to man. Whenever possible he used a live specimen to improve the investigation. Even his parrot when it died didn’t escape.

Memoria_folha_de_rosto Editora Unifesp“The way in which Harvey described his research is exemplary and resembles in every way how a university thesis today is built up”, says translator, Pedro Carlos Piantino Lemos, a professor of surgery at the Medical School of the University of São Paulo and a surgeon at the Heart Institute (InCor). “First, he presents the opinions of the Greek and Latin philosophers and physicians relating to anatomical and physiological aspects of the heart and the blood vessels, compares them with his own observations and contests them.” Then he analyses his own observations by using factual evidence and logical demonstrations. Finally, he concludes that the blood, pumped by the heart, flows through the veins and arteries of the body of animals and man, in a continuous and circular movement; in other words, he expounds the secrets of the heart, once and for all.

In addition to being a professor and surgeon, Piantino Lemos is a researcher and translator of historical texts on medicine. The De motu cordis is not his only interest. He has already worked with De humani corporis fabrica, by Andrea Vesalius (Ateliê Publishing House, Unicamp and the State Press, 2003) and De re anatomica, by Colombo.