The Evolution of Modern Medicine: Chapter III - SOUTH ITALIAN SCHOOL by@williamosler

The Evolution of Modern Medicine: Chapter III - SOUTH ITALIAN SCHOOL

The Evolution of Modern Medicine, by William Osler is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series.
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William Osler

The Evolution of Modern Medicine

The Evolution of Modern Medicine, by William Osler is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here.


A WIDE stream is in Italy, where the "antique education never stopped, antique reminiscence and tradition never passed away, and the literary matter of the pagan past never faded from the consciousness of the more educated among the laity and clergy."(3) Greek was the language of South Italy and was spoken in some of its eastern towns until the thirteenth century. The cathedral and monastic schools served to keep alive the ancient learning. Monte Casino stands pre-eminent as a great hive of students, and to the famous Regula of St. Benedict(4) we are indebted for the preservation of many precious manuscripts.


The Norman Kingdom of South Italy and Sicily was a meeting ground of Saracens, Greeks and Lombards. Greek, Arabic and Latin were in constant use among the people of the capital, and Sicilian scholars of the twelfth century translated directly from the Greek.

The famous "Almagest" of Ptolemy, the most important work of ancient astronomy, was translated from a Greek manuscript, as early as 1160, by a medical student of Salerno.(5)


About thirty miles southeast of Naples lay Salernum, which for centuries kept alight the lamp of the old learning, and became the centre of medical studies in the Middle Ages; well deserving its name of "Civitas Hippocratica." The date of foundation is uncertain, but Salernitan physicians are mentioned as early as the middle of the ninth century, and from this date until the rise of the universities it was not only a great medical school, but a popular resort for the sick and wounded. As the scholar says in Longfellow's "Golden Legend":


There were medical and surgical clinics, foundling hospitals, Sisters of Charity, men and women professors—among the latter the famous Trotula—and apothecaries. Dissections were carried out, chiefly upon animals, and human subjects were occasionally used. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the school reached its height, and that remarkable genius, Frederick II, laid down regulations for a preliminary study extending over three years, and a course in medicine for five years, including surgery. Fee tables and strict regulations as to practice were made; and it is specifically stated that the masters were to teach in the schools, theoretically and practically, under the authority of Hippocrates and Galen. The literature from the school had a far-reaching influence. One book on the anatomy of the pig illustrates the popular subject for dissection at that time.(6) The writings, which are numerous, have been collected by De Renzi.(7)


The "Antidotarium" of Nicolaus Salernitanus, about 1100, became the popular pharmacopoeia of the Middle Ages, and many modern preparations may be traced to it.

The most prominent man of the school is Constantinus Africanus, a native of Carthage, who, after numerous journeys, reached Salernum about the middle of the eleventh century. He was familiar with the works both of the Greeks and of the Arabs, and it was largely through his translations that the works of Rhazes and Avicenna became known in the West.

One work above all others spread the fame of the school—the Regimen Sanitatis, or Flos Medicinae as it is sometimes called, a poem on popular medicine. It is dedicated to Robert of Normandy, who had been treated at Salernum, and the lines begin: "Anglorum regi scripsit schola tota Salerni . . . " It is a hand-book of diet and household medicine, with many shrewd and taking sayings which have passed into popular use, such as "Joy, temperance and repose Slam the door on the doctor's nose." A full account of the work and the various editions of it is given by Sir Alexander Croke,(8) and the Finlayson lecture (Glasgow Medical Journal, 1908) by Dr. Norman Moore gives an account of its introduction into the British Isles.


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Osler, William. 2006. The Evolution of Modern Medicine. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at, located at

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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