Saturday, September 18, 2004

Uwe came from Berlin for the seminar, which was to be held in the Padua lecture theatre, at M____ University. Of course, I thought of Merchant of Venice as soon as I heard the location announced. At dinner the night before, Uwe told me about this professor in Milan who had an apartment in Padua and let him stay with his girfriend for the weekend. When we got to the workshop, there was a framed photo on the wall, so I went over to take a look. It was of an elaborate old lecture theatre with multiple circular levels rising around a central table. The caption read: "The Anatomy Theatre at Padua University. Built at his own expense by Fabricius of Acquapendente 1537-1619, a teacher of William Harvey who studied at Padua between 1599-1603". William Harvey was the English physician who discovered the circulation of the blood. After Padua he moved to London, where he became a friend of Francis Bacon. We have this description from Bacon on observing an anatomical demonstration by Harvey:

"I have oft seene Dr. William Harvey, the new doctor from Padua, at Bartholomew Hospital, in the presence of the learned doctors, force a purple, distilling liquor through the veines of a dead body, and, after it had descended to the heart, liver, and lungs, the blood-coloured liquor returneth againe to the face which blacke and full of blood, or pale, meagre, and bloodless before, doth blush and beautifie, as if with life; you would think the body breathed; the very lippe is warme to look upon; but we are mock’d with art as there is no pulse gainst the finger and though the arteries seem full, yet no life is present. The legs, waist, arms, hands, brow, and limbs seem alive, but we can never ransome nature. The doctor was enrolled at Caius College."

The idea of the circulation of the blood turns up in many Shakespeare plays, but Harvey did not make his discovery until 1617, after William of Stratford was dead. More here.