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Bartolomeo Eustachius

Distinguished anatomist of the Renaissance period b. early part of the sixteenth century; d. at Rome, August, 1574

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Eustachius, BARTOLOMEO, a distinguished anatomist of the Renaissance period—”one of the greatest anatomists that ever lived,” according to Hirsch’s authoritative “Biographical Dictionary of the Most Prominent Physicians of all Time“—b. at San Severino, in the March of Ancona, Italy, in the early part of the sixteenth century; d. at Rome, August, 1574. Of the details of his life very little is known. He received a good education, and knew Latin and Greek and Arabic very well. After receiving his degree in medicine he devoted himself to the study of anatomy so successfully that with Vesalius and Columbus he constitutes the trio who remade the science of anatomy for modern times. He early attracted attention for his skill and knowledge, and became physician to Cardinal Borromeo, since known as St. Charles Borromeo. He was also physician to Cardinal Giulio della Rovere whom he accompanied to Rome. After the death of Columbus he was chosen professor of anatomy at the Sapienza which had been reorganized as the Roman University by Pope Alexander VI and magnificently developed by Popes Leo X and Paul III. The reason for his selection as professor was that he was considered the greatest anatomist in Italy after Columbus’s death, and the policy of the popes of his time was to secure for the papal medical school the best available teachers. This position gave him time and opportunity for original work of a high order and Eustachius took advantage of it. He published a number of works on anatomy in which he added very markedly to the knowledge of the details of the structure of most of the organs of the body accepted up to this time. His first work was a commentary on Erotion’s “Lexicon”. Subsequently he wrote a treatise on the kidneys, another on the teeth, a third on blood vessels, a paper on the Azygos vein, and other special anatomical structures. Morgagni and Haller declared that there was not a part of the body on whose structure he had not shed light. In the midst of his work he became, in 1570, physician to Cardinal Peretti, afterwards Pope Sixtus V. At the beginning of his career as an anatomist Eustachius criticized Vesalius rather severely for having departed too far from Galen. After having continued his own original investigations for some time, however, he learned to appreciate Vesalius’s merits and did ample justice to his work.

Eustachius’s greatest contributions to anatomical science passed through many vicissitudes which kept his real merit from being recognized until long after his death. His anatomical investigations were recorded in a series of plates with text attached. Eustachius himself was not afforded the opportunity to arrange for the publication of his work, as he died rather suddenly. Some of his papers and plates went to his heirs, and others were deposited in the Vatican Library. They were unearthed by Lancisi, a distinguished papal physician at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and were published at the expense of Pope Clement XI. This work, “Bartholomtaei Eustachii Tabulae Anatomicae” (Rome, 1714), demonstrates how much Eustachius had accomplished in anatomy. His special contributions to the science were the descriptions of the stirrup bone in the ear and the canal connecting the ear and the mouth, since called by his name. His monograph on the teeth of the child is very complete and has been surpassed only in recent years. In myology he worked out the insertions and attachment of the sterno-eleido-mastoid muscle, of the coccygeus, the splenius of the neck, the levator of the eyelid, and some others. In neurology his descriptions of the cranial nerves is especially full. In abdominal anatomy he added much. His description of the fetal circulation was the most complete up to his time and it was he who recognized the valve on the left side of the opening of the inferior vena cava which serves to direct the blood from this vessel through the foramen ovale into the left auricle. This constitutes the most important distinctive structural difference between the circulatory apparatus of the adult and the child and is called the Eustachian valve.


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