Observationum, in hominis affectibus plerisque, corpori & animo, functionum laesione, dolore, aliave molestia & vitio incommodantibus, libri tres.

Basel: Ludwig König for Conrad Waldkirch, 1614.

First edition, and a fine copy, of this important medical work by one of the foremost pathologists of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It contains “the first known case report of the death from hypertrophy of the thymus (in an infant) and an account of a meningioma” (Norman). “The work also contains the first mention of the thickening of the palmer fascia which results in retraction of the fingers and later called Dupuytren’s contracture” (Heirs of Hippocrates). “Platter proposed a classification of diseases based on symptoms, a system very different from that followed by contemporary practitioners. He performed over 300 dissections, making numerous significant pathological observations, including sublingual calculi, giantism, intestinal parasites, and cystic liver and kidneys associated with terminal anasarca. Platter also made the first attempt to classify mental diseases, grouping them under mental weakness (caused by heredity, trauma or physical illness), mental consternation listlessness, stupor, paralysis, agitation or catalepsy), deep sleep (comatose or torpid states) and mental alienation. He gave one of the earliest accurate clinical descriptions of cretinism, at that time commonly found in the Swiss mountains. Platter’s Observations contains concise but vivid descriptions of a wide variety of diseases, including all the then known psychiatric disorders together with accounts of their treatment. Platter was one of the first to study mental illness scientifically, seeking their origins in physiological rather than supernatural causes; his descriptions of mental illnesses frequently include enough information to recreate the physical and environmental factors involved” (Norman).

“Platter was the son of Thomas Platter, a well-known printer, who sent him to study medicine at Montpellier. At the age of twenty-one he returned to Basel to present his medical thesis, for which he was awarded the doctorate on 20 September 1557. A few years later he was teaching applied medicine at the University of Basel, and in 1571 the city council named him chief physician. His interest in natural history led him to assemble a remarkable herbarium, which was highly admired by scholars of the time” (DSB).

“Platter is credited with performing the first public dissection of a human body in a Germanic country and is said to have dissected over 300 bodies during his career. He was widely respected as a teacher and was a physician of great courage who remained in Basel to treat the sick on five occasions when the plague struck the city. As one of the early nosologists, he recognized three classes of diseases based on their natural history and postmortem findings, and distinguished four types of mental illness” (Heirs of Hippocrates).

One of the first to study certain mental disturbances scientifically, Platter refused to consider them the work of a demon—unlike most of his contemporaries —but sought their physiological causes. Insanity, he believed must be attributed to natural causes, whether they resulted from the influence of overrating or from dissolute living” (DSB).

Platter’s remarkable account of the observation of a meningioma is found in the section ‘In mentis consternatione’ of the present work. He writes (translation from Netsky & Lapresle, pp. 466-7):

‘Caspar Bonecurtius, a noble knight, began to lose his mind gradually over a two year period, to such an extent that finally he was completely stupefied and did nothing rationally … after matters had gone on thus for six months, he died … Following his death, after his skull had been opened and the brain separated, there was discovered on top of the hard body (corpus callosum) of the brain a remarkable round fleshy tumor like an acorn. It was hard and full of holes and was as large as a medium sized apple. It was covered with its own membrane and was entwined with veins. However, it was free of all connection with the matter of the brain, so much so that when it was removed by hand, it left behind a remarkable cavity. This was immediately filled with a watery fluid with which the ventricles had been completely extended, separated and filled. We perceived that this ball by compressing the brain and its ducts with its mass and by flooding them, had been the occasion of the lethargy and listlessness and finally of death.’

“This clear account leaves no doubt that Caspar Bonecurtius suffered from a parasaggital meningioma … It is remarkable that Plater was able to discard poisons and humors as causes of this mental syndrome and to attribute the signs so clearly and unequivocally to the mass which compressed the brain” (Netsky & Lapresle, p. 467).

Platter’ statistical studies of and memoirs on, the plague contain an abundance of useful data. As a practicing paediatrician he was ahead of his time, and his works were authoritative until the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Norman 1716; Heirs of Hippocrates 373; G&M 3789 (endocrinology), 4297.9 (the earliest book listed on orthopaedics), and 4511.1 (neurology). Netsky & Lapresle, ‘The first account of a meningioma,’ Bulletin of the History of Medicine 30 (1956), pp. 465-468.



8vo (174 x 108 mm), pp. [48], 1-845, [3, blank]. Contemporary vellum with yapped edges, manuscript lettering to spine. A very fine, clean, and large copy without restoration.

Item #3799

Price: $2,800.00

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