Aristoteles and the anatomy of the nervous system


  • Eliasz Engelhardt





Aristoteles was probably the first anatomist in the modern sense of this term. He wrote on human anatomy relying on the external aspects, and the lacking data on internal structures were generalized through the study of lower animals. The different body regions were described according to a precise topography, and his contribution to the development of anatomy was extensive, as he correctly described many organs and introduced new terms to indicate anatomical structures. Regarding the nervous system, he identified the brain and the two hemispheres, the cerebellum, and the spinal cord. The brain coverings, the meninges, were identified, a tougher external, and a delicate internal, and the related blood vessels. He described the bony casing, the skull and part of its bones and sutures, as well as the vertebral column formed by distinct holed vertebrae. The sensory organs were also defined, but he overlooked the presence of nerves, confusing such structures with vessels, tendons, ducts, among other similar structures. Additionally, he explained the functions of the brain, to which he attributed an important role, despite his cardiocentric standpoint. More than twenty and three centuries have elapsed since Aristoteles began his biological investigation, and his work was and continues to be admired, despite the inaccuracies that were pointed out by later authors. Evidently, knowledge on anatomy of the nervous system before Aristoteles was very scant, thus, it must be recognized that the pioneer anatomical studies he performed may be seen as fundamental, leaving a solid ground for future research on anatomy.






Nota Histórica