Sapienza Università di Roma, Piazzale Aldo Moro, 5, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
Eustachi appears to have studied medicine at the Archiginnasio della Sapienza (now Sapienza Università di Roma) in Rome, but it is not known precisely when.
Eustachi had a good humanistic education, in the course of which he acquired such an excellent knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic that he was able to edit an edition of the Hippocratic glossary of Erotian (1566) and is said to have made his own translations of Avicenna from Arabic. He appears to have studied medicine at the Archiginnasio della Sapienza (now Sapienza Università di Roma) in Rome, but it is not known precisely when.
Eustachi began to practice medicine in his native land about 1540. He was thence invited to be physician first to the duke of Urbino, and then, in 1547, to the duke’s brother, Cardinal Giulio della Rovere, whom Eustachi followed to Rome in 1549. There he was invited to join the medical faculty of the Sapienza as the equivalent of professor of anatomy, and to this end he was permitted to obtain cadavers for dissection from the hospitals of Santo Spirito and Consolazione. With advancing years Eustachi was so severely afflicted by gout that he was compelled to resign his chair. He continued, however, to serve Cardinal della Rovere, and it was in response to the cardinal’s summons to Fossombrone in 1574 that he set forth, only to die on the way.
Eustachi’s first works were Ossium examen and De motu capitis, both written in 1561 and directed against the anti-Galenism of Vesalius, for whom he had developed a unilateral hostility. Otherwise his researches had a more unbiased scientific purpose and displayed his notable ability as an anatomist.
In 1562 and 1563 Eustachi produced a remarkable series of treatises on the kidney, De renum structural the auditory organ, De auditus organis; the venous system, De vena quae azygos graecis dicitur; and the teeth, De denlibus. These were published, together with the two earlier defenses of Galen, in Opuscula anatomica (1564), although the De dentibus has a separate title page bearing the date 1563.
The treatise on the kidney was the first work specifically dedicated to that organ - it displays a detailed knowledge of the kidney superior to that of any earlier work and contains the first account of the suprarenal gland and a correct determination of the relative levels of the kidneys. It was also in this treatise that Eustachi for the first time emphasized the problem of anatomical variation, which had been previously touched upon briefly by Vesalius.
The second treatise on the auditory organ provides a correct account of the tube (tuba auditiva) that is still referred to eponymously by Eustachi’s name and contains a description of the tensor tympani and stapedius muscles. Eustachi’s claim to discovery of the stapes is inadmissible, however, since it was mentioned orally by Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia in 1546 and in print by Pedro Jimeno (1549), Luis Collado (1555), and Falloppio (1561).
Eustachi, basing his work on the dissection of fetuses and newborn children, was also the first to make a study of the teeth in any considerable detail. He provided an important description of the first and second dentitions and, in some respects preceded by the account of Falloppio, described the hard outer tissue and soft inner structure of the teeth. He further attempted an explanation of the problem, not yet completely solved, of the sensitivity of the tooth’s hard structure. In his work on the azygos vein and its ramifications Eustachi described the thoracic duct and indicated a careful and relatively advanced knowledge of the heart’s structure.
In 1552 Eustachi, with the help of Pier Matteo Pini, a relative and an artist, prepared a series of forty-seven anatomical illustrations; these were engraved, two on the obverse and reverse of a single copper plate, by Giulio de’ Musi of Rome. The illustrations were prepared for a book entitled De dissensionibus ac controversiis anatomicis but were never published. The first eight large octavo plates, labeled Tabula Prima-Octava, were used in the Opuscula anatomica to portray aspects of the kidneys, the azygos vein and its ramifications, the veins of the arm, the heart, and the Eustachian valve (valvula venae cavae in the right auricle) which is illustrated in Tabula Octava. Somewhat curiously the stapes is illustrated on Tabula Septima with the kidney, perhaps a last-minute addition since this ossicle is also portrayed and more correctly located on one of the plates (XXXXI) discussed below.
Since Eustachi mentioned forty-seven plates (that is, forty-seven copperplate engravings) in the Opuscula anatomica but actually made use of only eight of them in that work, the remainder seemed to have been lost after his death and were sought for long and unsuccessfully - by Marcello Malpighi, among others. Ultimately the missing thirty-nine engravings (in folio size and differently labeled Tabula IX-XXXXVII) were discovered in the early eighteenth century in the possession of a descendant of Pier Matteo Pini, to whom Eustachi had, as it was learned, bequeathed them. They were purchased by Pope Clement XI for 600 scudi and presented to Giovanni Maria Lancisi, his physician and a successor to Eustachi in the chair of anatomy at the Sapienza. Lancisi published the plates, together with the eight smaller ones that had already appeared in 1564, under the title Tabulae anatomicae Bartholomaei Eustachi quas a tenebris tandem vindicatas (1714).
Although devoid of Eustachi’s planned text, the plates alone assure him a distinguished position in the history of anatomy. They are not the first copper-engraved anatomical illustrations to be produced, as has sometimes been declared, however, but rather the third, following those of Giambattista Canano (1541) and those of Thomas Geminus, Compendiosa totius anatomie delineado aere exarata (1545). Nevertheless, they are strikingly modern in appearance, clearly produced without decorative accompaniment. Sometimes, as in the instance of the “musclemen,” they display both sides of the body in juxtaposition, with a numbered rule on three sides of the figures to which numbered references are made in the text for identification of detail.
Despite such modern effects the plates are, oddly enough, arranged in a way that suggests the pattern of dissection that had been followed from medieval times up to that of Vesalius, that is, beginning with the most corruptible parts and continuing thence to the least corruptible. Thus the Eustachian plates begin with the abdominal structures, then those of the thorax, followed by the nervous system, vascular system, muscles, and finally the bones. Despite the apparent detail and precision of representation within the illustrations, their arrangement suggests some sparsity of dissection material - unlike the relative wealth of it available to Vesalius which permitted him to discard the traditional organization of anatomical treatises.
A possible paucity of cadavers is also suggested by a kind of economy of detail in some of the Eustachian figures of the whole body, such as the “musclemen,” except in those areas meant expressly for the representation of a specific structure. Lack of information on Eustachi’s activities prevents more than such surmise of limited dissection material. Whatever the case, examination of the individual plates reveals him to have had remarkable powers of observation. As an example, Tabula XVIII, displaying the base of the brain and in particular the sympathetic nervous system, surpasses in accuracy any similar delineation produced during the sixteenth century. In fact, the illustration of the sympathetic system is generally considered to be one of the best ever produced. The other illustrations of the nervous system are, however, of lesser quality, perhaps inferior to those of Vesalius.
Similarly, Tabula XXVI, illustrating the vascular system and the relationships of vessels to muscles, is also of notably superior quality, and this may likewise be said of Tabula XXXXII, which represents the dissection of the laryngeal structures. Had the Eustachian anatomical illustrations not been lost to the medical world for over a century, it seems likely that anatomical studies would have reached maturity in the seventeenth rather than the eighteenth century.
It is not known whether Eustachi was married or not.