The Dawn of Observation (The anatomist) - Federico Andahazi

Texto en español
"La primera mirada", de la novela "El anatomista".

Traducido al inglés.

"O my America, my new-found-land!" Mateo Renaldo Colombo (or Columbus, to give him his English name) might have written in his De re anatomica.1 Not a boastful cry like "Eureka!" but rather a mournful lament, a bitter parody of his own misadventures and misfortunes, compared to his Genoese namesake, Christopher. The same surmame and, perhaps, the same destiny. But they share no common blood and the death of one takes place barely ten years after the birth of the other. Mateo's America is less distant and infinitely smaller than Christopher's; in fact, it's not much larger than the head of a nail. And yet, it was to remain secreted away until the year of the death of its discoverer and, in spite of its insignificant size, its discovery was, equally momentous and disturbing.
It is the Age of the Renaissance. The verb is “To Discover”. It is the twilight of pure a priori speculation and the abuse of syllogisms, and the dawn of empiricism, of knowledge based on what can be seen. It is, quite precisely, the dawn of observation. Perhaps Francis Bacon in England and Campanella in the Kingdom of Naples chanced upon the fact that while scholastics were lost in syllogistic labyrinths, the illiterate Rodrigo de Triana was, at the same time, shouting "Land!" and, without knowing it, heralding in a new philosophy based on observation. Scholasticism (as the Church had finally understood) was not profitable enough or, at least seemed less useful than the sale of indulgences, ever since God had decided to soak money out of sinners.
The new science is good as long as it helps to bring in gold. It is good as long as it doesn't contradict the truth of Holy Writ or, what is even more important, a magistrate‘s writ of property. Just as the sun no longer spun its path around the Earth (something which obviously didn't stop happening from one moment to the next), geometry had begun to chafe against the confines of its own paper landscape and had set off to colonize the three-dimensional space of topology. Thi is the greatest achievement of Renaissance painting; if Nature is written in mathematical characters (as Galileo says), painting must be the source of a new vision of Nature. The Vatican frescoes are a mathematical epic: witness, the conceptual abyss that separates Lorenzo de Monaco's Nativity from The Triumph of the Cross over the apse of the Capella della Pieta. For similar reasons, not a single map is left unchanged. The cartography of Heaven changes as well as that of Earth and that of the body. Here now are the anatomical maps that have become the new navigational charts of surgery. And thus we return to our Mateo Colombo.
Encouraged perhaps by the fact of sharing a name with the Genoese admiral. Mateo Colombo decided that his destiny, too, was to discover. And so he set off to sea. Of course, his waters were not those of his namesake. He was the greatest anatomical explorer of his time; among his more modest discoveries is nothing less than the circulation of the blood, anticipating by half a century the Englishman Harvey's demonstration in De motus cordes et sanguinis. And yet, even this astonishing discovery is of little importance compared to his America.
The fact is that Mateo Colombo was never able to see his discovery in print, since his book was not allowed to appear until the very year of his death, in 1559. One had to be careful with the Doctors of the Church. The cautionary examples are almost too numerous. Three years earlier, Lucio Vanini "chose" to be burned by the Inquisition in spite of (or because of) his statement declaring that he
would not give his opinion on the immortality of the soul until he became "old, rich and German-.”2 And certainly Mateo Colombo's discovery was far more dangerous than Lucio Vanini's opinion—even without considering the aversion our anatomist felt toward fire and the stench of burnt flesh. above all if the flesh was his own.

Federico Andahazi
Publicado en la página del autor.

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