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Severino, Marco Aurelio

1. Dates
Born: Tarsia (Calabria), early Nov. 1580
Died: Naples, 12 July 1656
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 76
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
Giovanni Jacopo Severino, a successful and prominent lawyer. He died when Marco Aurelio S. was seven years old. An uncle, who was appaarently also a lawyer, took over the direction of Severino's education.
The explicit emphasis on successful certainly implies affluence.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Naples; Salerno, M.D., Ph.D.
His early education was in Calabria and then at the Jesuit college in Naples.
Severino began to study law; at the University of Naples he switched to medicine.
In Naples he met Campanella who introduced Severino to the philosophy of Telesio, the basis of Severino's strong anti- Aristotelianism.
M.D. and Ph.D. at Salerno, 1606, apparently without extensive study there.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
Severino was once called before the Inquisition but acquitted.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Surgery, Anatomy, Medicine
Subordinate: Physiology, Natural Philosophy, Microscopy
Severino became famous throughout Europe as a surgeon; he published extensively on surgery and pathology, making himself famous across Europe.
Zootomia democritaea has been called the first work of comparative anatomy, but it is also the exposition of Severino's view of natural philosophy.
Severino had distinct ideas on the reform of physiology and published (posthumously) two works on it: Antiperipatias and Phoca illustratus. After initial opposition to Harvey he became an enthusiastic supporter.
Antiperipatias shows Severino's critical attitude toward Aristotle and his inclination toward the philosophy of Democritus, mixed eclectically with the influence of Campanella and Telesio. His works frequently broached broad issues of natural philosophy.
He was one of the early life scientists to use the microcope--in the dissection of plants, preparing the way for Malpighi.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Academia
Secondary: Schoolmastering
After completing his medical degree, Severino returned to Tarsia to practice.
1609: he returned to Naples again to study surgery.
1610-15: he taught anatomy and surgery privately in Naples.
1615: he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Naples and first surgeon at the Ospedale degli Incurabili.
It is clear that Severino carried on a private practice throughout his career.
8. Patronage
Type: Unknown
Someone had to stand behind that academic appointment. Note that his initial salary was half that of his predecessor, though one must add that this was a common pattern.
Severino made enemies who denounced him to the Inquisition and who attacked him in other ways to the extent that he was barred from his official positions and was forced to flee Naples. "Influential people," [primariae civitatis] who are otherwise not identified in what I have read, restored him to his positions.
Severino dedicated at least some of his books, interestingly, to distinguished contemporary physicians, including Harvey, Ent, and Highmore. I do not, of course, list this as patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Severino was well known north of the alps, apparently better known there than in Italy. He corresponded with Harvey, Thomas Bartholin, Worm, Vesling, Campanella, et al.
A partial inventory of his correspondence is found in V. Ducceschi, "L'epistolario de M.A. Severino," Revista di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali, 14 (1923), 213-23.
  1. N. Badaloni, Introduzione a G.B. Vico, (Milan, 1961), pp. 25-37.
  2. L. Belloni, "Severino als Vorläufer Malpighis," Nova acta Leopoldina, n.s., 27 (1963), 213-24.
  3. F.J. Cole, History of Camparative Anatomy, (London, 1949), 132- 49.
  4. OK P. Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1928), 2, pp. 75-8. In the copy I have, vol. 1 is from the second ed, and vol. 2 from the first. I gather that pagination in the two editions is not identical.
  5. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 153.
  6. Dezeimeris, J.E. Ollivier and Raige-Delorme, Dictionnaire historique de la medecine ancienne et moderne, 4 vols. (Paris, 1828-39), 4, 152-3. The names, without first names or initials except for Ollivier, appear this way on volume 1; Dezeimeris alone appears on the remaining volumes.
  7. Charles Schmitt and Charles Webster, "Harvey and M.A. Severino: a Neglected Relationship," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 45 (1971), 49-75.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. "Vita" prefaced to Antiperipatias (1659).
  2. L. Amabile, "Marco Aurelio Severino," Revista critica di cultura calabrese, 2 (1922).
  3. _____, Marco Aurelio Severino, ed D. Zangari, (Napoli, 1922). I gather this is just another publication of the item above.
  4. Charles Schmitt and Charles Webster, "Marco Aurelio Severino and his Relationship to William Harvey: Some Preliminary Considerations," in Allen Debus, ed. Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, (New York, 1972), 2, 63-72.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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