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The late 4th and early 3rd century BCE Greek physician and first known anatomist of the human body, Herophilus (335-280 BCE),[1], or 330/320-260/50 BCE, lived during a brief period in the history of ancient Greece when the authorities of the city of Alexandria (founded by Alexander the Great in ~332 BCE) permitted dissection (and possibly vivisection) of the human body, a practice banned since the time Hippocrates of Cos earlier had introduced the principles of natural causes of disease as opposed to his forebears’ supernaturally based medicine.[2] [3]  Herophilus exploited the opportunity to dissect human corpses in public and private dissections, making numerous original discoveries of human anatomy.

In part because of Herophilus’s pioneering work in studying human anatomy through dissection, and in part because of the extent and significance of his discoveries, many scholars have accorded him the accolade, “Father of Anatomy”. Renaissance scholars call him the "Vesalius of antiquity", after the "The Father of Modern Anatomy, Andreas Vesalius.[2]  Galen referred to Herophilus and his contemporary Erasistratus as the "ancient authorities".[4] Von Staden considered Herophilus the "….first and greatest Alexandrian representative of scientific medicine.".[2]

References and notes cited in text as superscripts

  1. Bay NS-Y, Bay B-H. (2010) Greek anatomist herophilus: the father of anatomy. Anat Cell Biol 43:280-283.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 von Staden H. (1989) Herophilus: The Art of Medicine in Early Alexandria. Edition, Translation, and Essays by Heinrich Von Staden, Herophilus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521236460 (hbk), ISBN 9780521236461(hbk), ISBN 9780521041782 (pbk).
    • Publisher's description: Herophilus, a contemporary of Euclid, practiced medicine in Alexandria in the third century B.C., and seems to have been the first Western scientist to dissect the human body. He made especially impressive contributions to many branches of anatomy and also developed influential views on many other aspects of medicine. Von Staden assembles the fragmentary evidence concerning one of the more important scientists of ancient Greece. Part 1 of the book presents the Greek and Latin texts accompanied by English translation and interpretative commentary. Significant background information is given in the introductory essay preceding each chapter. Part 2 briefly sketches the major developments within the Herophilean school after Herophilus, and discusses the individual members within it. Anyone interested in the history of science, the history of medicine, or intellectual history will find this book a rich source of information about an unusual and important aspect of Greek culture. (See Table of Contents and Excerpt here, and extensive preview here.)
  3. Note: Not long after its founding, under the successors of Alexander in Alexandria, the Ptolemies, the center of Greek learning had shifted from Athens to Alexandria, and the focus of learning had shifted from ‘the philosophy of man’ to the ‘science of human beings’. The Ptolemies decidedly encouraged scientific progress. See Preface and pages 37-38 of von Staden’s study of Herophilus cited above.
  4. *Lassek AM. (1958). Human dissection: its drama and struggle. Springfield, Charles C. Thomas. | View PDF of book | Download PDF of book.