HoS Advent Calendar 2016

16th-century Surgical Instruments: Forcipes denticulatae

Some of the ornate forceps in Jean Tagault’s De chirurgica institutione (Venice, 1544). I particularly like the little dragon heads on the ends of the handles. This copy is from Haverford’s Special Collections, call #R128.6 .T3 1544.

Jean Tagault was a lecturer in surgery and anatomy at the University of Paris in the mid–16th century. His manual on surgery included not only descriptions of how to perform various procedures that ranged from the relatively trivial and non-invasive to the more cringe-worthy invasive operation. Here he displays a particularly ornate pair of toothed forceps with dragon heads at the end of the handles. As with the forceps on the preceding page, these could be used to remove spines, barbs, thorns, stingers, and other pointed objects.

As with many surgery manuals, this one also includes discussion of anatomy.[1] Here we see a standard illustration of the human skeleton, with the many bones and cartilage labeled.

Jean Tagault’s illustration of the human skeleton in his De chirurgica institutione (Venice, 1544), from Haverford’s Special Collections, call #R128.6 .T3 1544.

Jean Tagault’s De chirurgica institutione was a widely read surgery manual.[2] First printed in 1543 in Paris, it was reprinted five times before the end of the decade and continued to be printed in Latin until the end of the century. In the first few years it was translated into French and German, by 1559 had been translated into Dutch, and by 1585 had been translated into Italian. Portions were excerpted and translated into English. Another Italian edition appeared as late as the early 17th century.

  1. Allen Shotwell has a nice discussion of the ways that instruments and anatomical illustrations often appeared in the same texts, “Showing the Instruments.”  ↩

  2. Clearly, I’m inferring readership from the books printing history. It is possible that nobody actually read the book, though in that scenario the explanation for its many printings and translations becomes a bit perverse. So let’s all agree that there is some correlation between number of printings & translations and readership.  ↩