Detail of printed heading reading De Ponderatione Insensibilis perspirationis.

Revealing Data: Ars de Statica Medicina, 1614

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger Caterina Agostini, who discusses a recent acquisition at the NLM History of Medicine Division’s collection: the Ars de statica medicina by Santorio Santorio, a text on dietetics dating back to 1614. Caterina Agostini is a Ph.D. candidate and digital humanities research specialist at Rutgers University. She is currently a Eugene Garfield fellow at the American Philosophical Society’s Library & Museum. Her research on Santorio will be presented at the Medical Heritage Library 2020 Conference.

Title page of Ars de Statica Medicina with woodcut illustration of a crown and handwritten annotations
Frontispiece to Ars de Statica Medicina, 1614 by Santorio Santorio (Sanctorius).  This edition shows a misprint—a spelling mistake in the word Ahporismorum [Aphorismorum].
National Library of Medicine
The National Library of Medicine has recently acquired a copy of the Ars de Statica Medicina (“Art of Static Medicine”) by physician Santorio Santorio. The book was published in Venice, Italy in 1614. It was very popular in the medical community and beyond, given the high number of reprints, new editions, and translations for more than a century after its publication. The author discussed diet, weight, and health in seven books, in particular he examined the so-called ‘imperceptible perspiration’ (Book I), air and waters (Book II), eating and drinking (Book III), sleeping and being awake (Book IV), exercise and rest (Book V), sexual intercourse (Book VI), and emotions (Book VII). Traditionally, Santorio wrote his medical book in Latin, the learned language for international scientific communication, signing his work as ‘Sanctorius.’

All of Santorio’s medical observations on diet, digestion, and weight are presented in a collection of concise statements that are clear and easy to memorize, for a total of five hundred and fifty-two sub-sections that he called ‘aphorisms.’ In the preface, Santorio argued that short, memorable sentences are better than analytical expositions, so that aphorisms seemed to be the best form to convey his medical considerations. Aphorisms were an authoritative genre in medical literature dating back to Hippocrates who was highly regarded as the father of medicine.

Santorio was born in 1561 in Capodistria, which was then part of the Republic of Venice. He was a medical graduate of the University of Padua (1582), one of the leading scientific schools in Europe where he taught theoretical medicine and practiced as a physician in between 1611 and 1624. Santorio innovated medical practice with instruments that he invented: the ‘pulsilogium’ for measuring pulse rate, an instrument to remove bladder stones, and a trocar to remove fluid from body cavities. He also devised several other scientific instruments including a thermoscope, a wind gauge, and a water current meter or hygrometer.

His most famous invention was a special scale on which a table and a chair were propped, the so-called “weighing chair” or “Sanctorian chair.” Santorio considered it so important to check diet and weight, that he himself used the weighing chair daily for thirty years: before and after meals, before and after going to the bathroom, and before and after rest, exercise, and sexual intercourse. He also collected ten thousand weight records of patients and friends, including Galileo Galilei. Galileo had taught mathematics at Padua from 1592 to 1610, advocating the use of mathematics and scientific instruments. At that time, in the Venetian area, scholars were devoting more and more attention to numbers and scientific instruments. On February 9, 1615, Santorio sent a letter and a copy of his newly published book to Galileo, whose opinion he valued:

This book is a collection of aphorisms deriving from two most certain principles. The first one is the definition of medicine as Hippocrates wrote in his book Of Flatus: “medicine means to add and to subtract, that means to add things that were missing before and to subtract things that were in excess.” The second principle of this art is experience which then becomes the proof for everything else. It is clear that this art, invented by me, is indeed very important because it can measure precisely the perspiration that we cannot see. Hippocrates and Galen considered perspiration, when altered or hindered, to be the cause of almost every illness… Imperceptible perspiration alone is greater than all the perceptible excretions of our body together, as I argued in the fourth aphorism in the first book of this work. —Translated from Italian by Caterina Agostini

Illustration showing a man sitting in a chair that is part of a large scale.
An illustration by unknown artist of the weighing chair in Medicina statica: being the Aphorisms of Sanctorious printed for W. Newton in London, 1718.
Courtesy Wellcome Collection

After tracking daily differences in weight (recorded in Book I, section 16), Santorio realized that imperceptible perspiration (‘perspiratio insensibilis’) corresponds to the losses that are not included in bodily waste or sweat. He asserted it was possible to measure that perspiration by comparing the patient’s weight to the weight of meals and bodily fluids and excretions. He studied digestion, a fundamental process in which food impacts both the digestive system and the brain, and he examined meals and lifestyles as well. He believed that there was a correspondence (‘sympathia’) between stomach and brain, and he concluded that the best time to eat is “when the body comes to some healthful standard, as it enjoyed the day before, when empty: but that Apollo himself [one of the gods traditionally associated with medicine] cannot find out, without the balance” (Book III, section 77, English translation by John Quincy). Santorio’s medical method included both measurements to give precise quantities of medical facts, and classical textual comments on medicine to justify new medical practices both captured in his text Ars de Statica Medicina.

The National Library of Medicine is the home of many manuscripts and books dating back to the early modern period (16th–18th century), including more recent copies of the book by Santorio (Sanctorius), also under his Italian name of Santorio, as well as one English translation.

For more information about this book and other collections, you can contact the History of Medicine Division at NLM Customer Support or (301) 402-8878.

An informal portrait of a young woman.Caterina Agostini is a Ph.D. candidate and digital humanities research specialist at Rutgers University. She is currently a Eugene Garfield fellow at the American Philosophical Society’s Library & Museum.

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