The gardens of Uppsala Castle (which were converted to the new botanical garden of Uppsala University at the end of the 18th century, following the donation by Gustav III of Sweden), depicted by Olof Rudbeck the elder in his work Atland eller Manheim dedan Japhetz afkomne, de förnemste keyserlige och kungelige slechter ut till hela werlden, henne att styra, utgångne äro, ..., also with the Latin title Atlantica sive Manheim vera Japheti posterorum sedes ac patria, ..., printed in Uppsala 1675.
An illustration from 1689 in Olof Rudbeck's book Atlantica where he shows himself surrounded by Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle, Apollodorus, Tacitus, Odysseus, Ptolemy, Plutarch, and Orpheus.
Olaus Rudbeck, by Martin Mijtens the Elder.
University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden
In 1648, Rudbeck entered the University of Uppsala to study medicine.
Olaus Rudbeck, 12 December 1630 – 17 September 1702
Rudbeck received his early schooling in Vasteras, then, in 1648, entered the University of Uppsala to study medicine. Although the Uppsala Faculty of Medicine was not a distinguished one, Rudbeck learned at least the fundamentals of anatomy and botany from one of his professors there, Johannes Franckenius.
After studying medicine at the University of Uppsala, Rudbeck then began to work on his own, particularly in animal anatomy. Since Harvey had published his discovery of the circulation of the blood twenty years earlier, the attention of anatomists had turned to the systems of vessels in animals. Rudbeck was accordingly drawn to this subject and in the fall of 1650, when he was not yet twenty years old, he reported on previously unknown vessels (lymphatic vessels) that carried a colorless fluid from the liver. At the same time, and independently of Pecquet, he discovered the thoracic duct, through which the lacteal vessels discharge chyle into the veins. Rudbeck performed a number of systematic dissections and vivisections of calves, sheep, cats, and dogs, and by the following year was able to elucidate the structure of this system and to demonstrate its connections with the lymph glands.
In 1652 Rudbeck demonstrated his anatomical discoveries, using a dog as his subject, before Queen Christina and her court at Uppsala. It might thus be considered that he had communicated them at this time, although he postponed publication. Instead, he brought out a preliminary dissertation on the circulation of the blood, De circulatione sanguinis (1652), in which he discussed Harvey’s still controversial doctrine in terms similar to those employed by Johannes de Wale and Thomas Bartholin, but in addition presented arguments based on his own experiments. Only then, in the summer of 1653, did he publish his short work on the lymphatic system, Nova exercitatio anatomica, exhibens ductus hepaticos aquosos et vasa glandularum serosa, a clear and convincing description of the newly discovered vessels (the vasa serosa) and of their course and valves, the lymph glands, and the nature of the lymphatic fluid.
Rudbeck’s delay in publishing his findings led to a bitter priority dispute. Thomas Bartholin and his assistant Michael Lyser had been conducting research in Copenhagen on the lymphatic system at about the same time that Rudbeck was doing his work, and in spring 1653, a few weeks before Rudbeck published his paper, Bartholin brought out one of his own, Vasa lymphatica. In 1654 Siboldus Hemsterhuis published both papers in his Messis aurea triennalis, and Rudbeck’s originality came into question. While Bartholin remained aloof from the controversy, his student Martin Bogdan attacked Rudbeck’s work. Rudbeck, who was in Holland at the time, began the dispute with some remarks directed against Bartholin, published in Hemsterhuis’ work, and Bogdan immediately issued a separate pamphlet accusing Rudbeck of plagiarism. Rudbeck defended himself with Insidiae structae (1654), and Bogdan promptly responded with Apologia pro vasis lymphaticis, published in the same year. Rudbeck offered his final statement of the matter in 1657 in Ad Thomam Bartholinum danum epistola, in which lie reiterated his account of his discoveries and passionately repudiated Bartholin’s claims to priority.
Amid these disputes, Rudbeck moved from Holland, where he completed his medical education at the University of Leiden (under Johannes van Horne, among others), to Sweden, where lie was in 1655 appointed assistant professor in the Medical Faculty of Uppsala University. In 1660 lie was appointed a full professor. An enthusiast in all that lie did, Rudbeck set out to raise the Medical Faculty from the state of decay into which it had fallen. To this end, he used his own money to establish a botanical garden, which soon became one of the best in Europe. In 1662–1663 lie also built (partly with his own hands) a spacious anatomical theater, which he had designed after the Anatomicum in Padua. This theater (which is still extant) was erected on the roof of the university building called the Gustavianum.
Rudbeck extended his activities to encompass reform of the entire university. He designed a new building to house it, created an institute for the physical education of the sons of the nobility, and established a workshop with models of machines for technological instruction. He was also active as an architect, and built houses, bridges, and water conduits. He printed his own books and organized the musical life of the university (he himself composed music and, upon request, sang, in a great bass voice that is said to have drowned out the trumpets and the drums). He was also a warm defender of scientific liberty and an active supporter of Cartesian philosophy, a subject of heated controversy at Uppsala in the 1660s and 1680s.
Rudbeck’s interest in anatomy and the teaching of medicine gradually waned as he pursued these other projects. From the 1670s lie devoted most of his efforts to patriotic historical works; inspired by early Swedish historians, Rudbeck took up the notion that Sweden was the cradle of civilization, Plato’s lost Atlantis from which the Greeks, Phoenicians, and other early peoples had received their knowledge and gods. He developed this idea in his bizarre an overwhelming four-volume work, Atland eller Manhem (commonly called Atlantica), published in Swedish and Latin (1679–1702), which achieved considerable European notoriety.
At the same time, Rudbeck undertook his most important botanical work. About 1670 he began to plan, with a typical lack of moderation, an illustrated book that would describe all known plants. He was inspired in this enterprise by the herbarium of Joachim Burser, which had been donated to Uppsala in 1666, and lie made Gaspard Bauhin’s Pinax his model in nomenclature and species definition. He employed a large number of draftsmen and wood engravers, including his daughters and his son Olof, and set them to work; by 1690 some 2,000 blocks had been cut, and another 1,200 were added in the next ten years. Rudbeck and an even larger staff concurrently worked on an equally comprehensive series of hand-drawn and hand-colored illustrations, all of them, like the woodcuts, life-size wherever possible. The first two parts of the woodcuts appeared in 1701 and 1702; entitled Campus Elysius, they contained rough but clear and beautiful woodcuts of grasses, lilies, and orchids. It is estimated the entire work should have comprised about 7,000 species, but the great fire that swept Uppsala in 1702 destroyed almost all of the finished blocks, together with Rudbeck’s collections, books, and manuscripts.
Rudbeck was dedicated to the idea of historical-linguistics patriotism that can be proved by his writing which consists of a 3,000-page treatise in four volumes called Atlantica (Atland eller Manheim in Swedish) where he purported to prove that Sweden was Atlantis, the cradle of civilization, and Swedish the original language of Adam from which Latin and Hebrew had evolved.
In addition to his keen interest in science, Rudbeck was also a composer and a talented singer who often performed in the cathedral and contributed greatly to the study of music in Uppsala.
Rudbeck was the father of botanist Olof Rudbeck the Younger. Rudbeck’s son, Olof, was a more direct link, succeeding his father in 1691 as a professor of medicine at Uppsala. The younger Rudbeck was a competent botanist and zoologist, whose De fundamentali plantarum notitia rite acquirenda, published at Utrecht in 1690, may be considered a precursor of Linnaeus’ work in reforming the botanical system. He also wrote a work, with colored illustrations, on the birds of Sweden, which is still extant. About 1730 he became Linnaeus’ patron and teacher and was instrumental in inspiring the fruitful journey to Swedish Lapland that Linnaeus undertook in 1732.