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SEVERINO, Marco Aurelio (1580-1656)

De recondita abscessuu[m] natura, libri VIII. Edito secundo, multo auctior & correctior ab ipso autore reddita.
Francofurti, Impensis Ioannnis Beyeri, Typis Casparis Rotelii, 1643.

Second revised and enlarged edition with eight more plates than the first edition (Naples 1632), which had one plate and 11 full-page engravings only. Severino was born at Tarsia and studied medicine at Naples, where he met Tommaso Campanella and learned the elements of Telesio’s philosophy and anti-Aristotelianism. In 1610 he became professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Naples. He was well known as a surgeon throughout Europe and corresponded with William Harvey, Thomas Bartholin and others. He soon became an excellent teacher and practitioner and the success of his book, “The Obscure Nature of Tumours”, firmly established him as a leading authority of his day. It is one of the first illustrated textbooks on surgical pathology. It deals with all kinds of swelling under the term “abcessus” and describes neoplasma of the genital organs and sarcomata of bones. One of the most important sections in the book is the one on breast neoplasms classified into four groups where Severino differentiates quite clearly between the concepts of benign and malignant tumours. The book, and especially this second edition with its twenty engravings, is one of the earliest to depict pathological lesions and to include diseased organs as well as complete views of the patient with the tumour. This second edition contains an account together with a full-page engraving of a supposed serpent found in the heart of a young man in 1637 – the famous case called "Dr. May’s Monster”. Edward May, a physician extraordinary to Queen Henrietta Maria, described his sensational discovery in a pamphlet, A Most Certaine and True Relation of a Strange Monster or Serpent found in the left Ventricle of the Heart of John Pennant, Gentleman, of the Age of 21 Yeares (London 1639). In it he described the details of the autopsy resulting in the discovery. This pamphlet contains one of the earliest attacks on Harvey to be printed, for the presence of the Monster in the heart seemed to May to constitute unanswerable evidence against Harvey’s doctrine of the circulation of the blood, and was naturally seized upon by Riolan to support his own violent attack on Harvey. Riolan had not seen May’s pamphlet, but depended on the description given by Severino in his De recondita, which also contains a letter dated March 1st 1640 in which Severino asks his friend, Dr John Houghton, to consult Harvey about the mysterious ’cardiac serpent’. Harvey found it to be nothing more than a post-mortem clot of blood, which had slipped into the heart from the pulmonary trunk. Harvey had previously paid Severino the unusual compliment of giving him an inscribed copy of De motu cordis (now in the Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Collation: Pp (28) incl. the extra engraved title-leaf, 454, 456, 458-468 (mispaginated 168), (46) index. With 18 full-page and 2 half-page engravings in the text. Printed on poor paper.

Binding: Contemporary full vellum, gilt spine label.

Provenance: Garrison-Morton 2273 (1632 ed.); Long, History of Pathology (1928), 79-81, with 2 plates; Heirs of Hippocrates (3rd ed.), 449; Keynes, The Life of William Harvey (1966), 328-329; Hunter & Macalpine, ‘Dr May’s Monster’ in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Journal (1957), LXI, 184-193; Hagelin, Rare and Important Medical Books, KIB, 86-87.

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