This question could be argued both ways: it either was, or it was not. It is obvious that it was an important period because of the discoveries about anatomy. There are clear differentiations between discoveries in 1350 to those in at the end of the Medical Renaissance. Claudius Galen proved many ideas (some in his sixty books, ie: “On Anatomy”) like Herophilus’ theory of the brain controlling the body, and he also discovered veins. Not only this, but he thought that the body burnt up blood, and that there is an organ (namely the liver) to reproduce the blood used.
This was naturally wrong; and also, for example, he said that human jawbones are of two separate pieces – this was flawed, only because he worked on other animals instead of humans. This theory is true of the dog, however! His theories were indeed incorrect but one could not criticise him, or they would have to ‘answer to’ the church. (They ‘backed’ him because he had the theory of the creator). One man, Roger Bacon dared to commit such an act, and he ended up locked in prison. However, the Medical Renaissance was a time of rebirth of information, so classical ideas and theories were therefore allowed to be criticised with.
The most well known man for doing this was Andreas Vesalius (who wrote “The Fabric of the Human Body” which included much needed detailed diagrams – 1543). He was (and therefore did) allowed to dissect human bodies, and so worked mainly on them. He was a professor of anatomy at Padua University, Italy. He was quick in proving Galen wrong regarding the human jawbone being comprised of two separate pieces, and also went further and announced that the human heart did not have a perforated septum, separating the ventricles. This surprised people, as it meant that Galen could also be wrong about many of his other theories too.
Vesalius encouraged his students to dissect too; he thought people should not be afraid to prove any classical theories wrong. William Harvey, another person who worked and disproved Galen’s theories, is the most recognised person in explaining and producing theories about the body’s physiology (the workings of it). Harvey, (responsible in creating “An Anatomical Account of the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals” – 1628), was the leading man in investigating the circulation of the blood. Galen, and others with him in this period were of the opinion that blood was used up, and that an organ produces more for the body.
Harvey, however, said that blood was never burnt up, but that it was reused, and kept circulating. This was not all; he considered the water pump (new technology! ) and how it worked. He then compared this to the heart, and drew the conclusion that the heart was a pump, helping in moving blood around the body. Later, he proved by inserting iron rods inside that veins had valves (“gateways” allowing blood to flow only in one direction. This was needed because blood flow in the veins is quite slow. ) He was also on the verge of yet another breakthrough.
He predicted that as well as arteries and veins, there were smaller vessels (capillaries). Without the proper equipment (i. e: a microscope) it was unfortunately never proved until after his death. There was also a time when surgeons began to use some more successful methods, Ambroise Pari?? ‘s methods being a prime example. He was a war surgeon, out on the battlefield. When treatments were required, the usual scalding hot oil was placed on the wound, with help from cautery irons to seal it up. Pari?? , once, run out of the boiling hot oil, and was very panicky.
He devised his own substitute, comprising of turpentine (A Roman antiseptic), egg yolk and the oil of rose. Later, that night, he discovered that those treated with his own mixture were healing very nicely, but those treated with the old Jean de Vigo ‘trick’ were very ill, some even perished. This was an important breakthrough, and was published in his book, but ideas travelled slowly with this, as the hot oil method was used for years and years to come. Pari?? was also responsible for the ideas of ligatures: thin threads of silk to tie up arteries to stop mass bleeding.
This was, on the whole, successful, however sometimes caused infection. Had an appropriate antiseptic been available, it would have been the cause of very few problems. However, as a direct result of Pari?? ‘s work, ligatures were later used made out of cat’s intestine, which dissolved in the body, so as to cause no infections by threads ‘hanging out’ of the wound. Elsewhere, desperate and ‘negative’ surgery was starting to occur, such as amputations. This happened when it was thought that nothing else could be done, and this would be the only resolution and option open.
What I feel is an amazing is that hospitals in this era worked to the ethos, which is the complete opposite to today’s hospital’s ethos. Instead of keeping sick people in, they kept them out! Hospitals were for the wealthy, who could afford to stay in the hospital, to not get sick from the virii and illness going around outside the hospital. This is an example of negative progress in the Medical Renaissance. Very later on, towards the end of the period, inoculations were starting to be used, as brought back from Turkey by an ambassador’s wife, Lady Mary Wortley Montigue. Who inoculated her children! ) Clinics for inoculations were set up to help. (For smallpox, mainly). However, most treatments remained the same as they had done for centuries, or they caused situations to have worse and possibly dire consequences. This goes without saying that some treatments didn’t work at all and they were known as being “quack”. Treatments that are an example of strong continuity are those such as hot oil on wounds and turpentine to seal them, and of course, herbal remedies, like honey.
Some examples of continuous treatments are also an example of quack remedies, such as a Bezoar Stone, which was supposed to ‘soak up’ poisons (this was eventually disproved to be of any effect, whilst being experimented on a chef who had stolen silver from a noble house), or the wearing of charms and amulets to prevent the Plague, to no avail obviously. Purging, (clearing and balancing of the four humours) was also carried out and was important as it was the main factor in explaining what caused disease. This was a regular occurrence but had very little positive effect, especially the bleeding process.
What also stayed the same was the lack of effective public health (abandoned since the Roman era). Waste was dumped in streets or into freshwater supplies; contaminating it. Unknown at the time, it led to the build-up of germs and bacteria, causing illness. This was terrible. Despite the new and ongoing discoveries, doctors still did not understand what, in fact, caused disease. The germ theory (ie: Pasteur’s) had not been thought of yet, and so was not a factor in the ‘equation’. However, with the microscope invention, scientists could see micro-organisms, but no link was made between that of these on the causing of illness and disease.
This was not the only situation where a link had not been established. There was no connection between rats being a main causing the plague, and its subsidiary further outbreaks along the timeline. To them, the answers to “What caused disease? ” would have mainly been that of Works of God and the Devil, and unbalanced four humours. By 1700, people could not expect to live longer than they had with centuries gone by. Only about 20% of people lived beyond the age of 60, whereas the vast majority of today’s population do.
On the whole, life expectancy was the same, and especially those dying were the ‘at risk groups’ (ie: the under 20’s). This all links back to the original factor. People could not expect to live longer than previously, just because the real causes of disease had not yet been discovered. Once it had, time could be better spent in increasing life expectancy much more effectively than was already being done. Overall, the period of 400 years between 1350 and 1750 was not very important because the discoveries did not improve life expectancy much.
Granted, discoveries were being made, and that was a significant breakthrough; but if one considers logically the period before, that in which fewer breakthroughs were being made, the life expectancy stayed much the same. In my opinion, although breakthroughs were being made, notably regarding anatomy and physiology, they didn’t seem to travel very fast at all. I agree that it was an important period overall in what it produced, but the fact of the matter is, is that life expectancy didn’t change much, and I think that is the main thing to consider when identifying and classifying ‘important’ periods in time.