Doctor Copernicus in Padua

On October 15 I had the honor of delivering a lecture about Copernicus's day job -- his lifelong service as personal physician to the bishop of Varmia -- in Padua, at the very institution where Copernicus attended medical school early in the 16th century. I was happy to return to Padua, where another of my heroes, Galileo, spent the eighteen happiest years of his life, teaching medical students how to cast horoscopes at the city's famed university.

In his Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World, Galileo makes reference to the human dissections he attended in Padua's anatomical theater, which opened in 1594 as the world's first such facility.

My Copernicus talk formed part of a lecture series conceived by cardiac pathologist Gaetano Thiene to celebrate the "Morgagni Year 2012." Three centuries ago, Giovanni Battista Morgagni arrived in the Latin quarter of Padua as a demonstrator in anatomy. He stayed for six decades, working to the day he died of a stroke in December 1771. Morgagni's long career of research and teaching immortalized him as the founder of modern anatomical pathology.

A highlight of my visit was a tour through the cabinet of curiosities in the basement of Padua's Graduate School of Clinical and Experimental Medical Sciences. Some of the collection's specimens date from the 1850s, making the jars and preservation techniques almost as interesting as the anomalies themselves.