March 31, 2013
Margin Notes Shed New Light on Renaissance Anatomy Masterpiece
by Megan Gannon, News Editor
When the Renaissance physician and expert dissector Andreas Vesalius first published "De humani corporis fabrica" in 1543, he provided the most detailed look inside the human body of his time.
A previously unknown copy of the impressive anatomy textbook resurfaced a few years ago, and it apparently contains more than a thousand hand-written notes and corrections by the author himself. The annotations reveal that Vesalius was meticulously planning a third edition of the book that never made it to print, researchers say.
... Vesalius also intended to add new information to the text as he learned more about the human body, including what may be one of the oldest references to the practice of female genital mutilation.
In his discussion of circumcision, Vesalius scrawled at the bottom of the page that Ethiopians "cut off the fleshy processes from new born girls in accordance with their religion in the same way as they remove the foreskins of boys, 'although in their religious ceremonies they are otherwise generally similar to those of us Christians,'" Nutton writes. "This is arguably the first reference in a medical text to female genital mutilation for non-medical purposes."
The book will be featured as part of an exhibition next year in Toronto to mark the 500th anniversary of Vesalius's birth.