Guy de Chauliac

Influential 14th-Century Physician

Guy de Chauliac
Adaptation of an engraving of Guy de Chauliac made in 1883, currently in the Archives iconographiques du Palais du Roure Avignon. Public Domain

This profile of Guy de Chauliac is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History


 

Guy de Chauliac​ was also known as:

Guido de Cauliaco or Guigo de Cauliaco (in Italian); also spelled Guy de Chaulhac

Guy de Chauliac was known for:

Being one of the most influential physicians of the Middle Ages. Guy de Chauliac wrote an important work on surgery that would serve as the standard text for more than 300 years. 

Occupations:

Physician
Cleric
Writer

Places of Residence and Influence:

France
Italy

Important Dates:

Born: c. 1300
Died: July 25, 1368

About Guy de Chauliac:

Born to a family of limited means in Auvergne, France, Guy was bright enough to be recognized for his intellect and was sponsored in his academic pursuits by the lords of Mercoeur. He began his studies at Toulouse, then moved on to the much-respected University of Montpellier, where he received his magister in medicina (master's degree in medicine) under the tutelage of Raymond de Moleriis in a program that required six years of study.

Some time later Guy moved on to the oldest university in Europe, the University of Bologna, which had already built a reputation for its medical school. At Bologna he appears to have perfected his understanding of anatomy, and he may have learned from some of the best surgeons of the day, though he never identified them in his writing as he did his medical professors.

Upon leaving Bologna, Guy spent some time in Paris before moving on to Lyons.

In addition to his medical studies, Guy took holy orders, and in Lyons he became a canon at St. Just. He spent about a decade at Lyons practicing medicine before moving to Avignon, where the popes were residing at that time.

Some time after May, 1342, Guy was appointed by Pope Clement VI as his private physician. He would attend the pontiff during the horrific Black Death that came to France in 1348, and though a third of the cardinals at Avignon would perish from the disease, Clement survived. Guy would later use his experience of surviving the plague and attending its victims in his writings.

Guy spent the rest of his days in Avignon. He stayed on as physician for Clement's successors, Innocent VI and Urban V, earning an appointment as a papal clerk. He also became acquainted with Petrarch. Guy's position in Avignon afforded him unparalleled access to an extensive library of medical texts that were available nowhere else. He also had access to the most current scholarship being conducted in Europe, which he would incorporate into his own work.

Guy de Chauliac died in Avignon on July 25, 1368.

The Chirurgia magna of Guy de Chauliac

The works of Guy de Chauliac are considered among the most influential medical texts of the Middle Ages. His most significant book is Inventarium seu collectorium in parte cyrurgicali medicine, called by later editors Chirurgia magna and sometimes referred to simply as Chirurgia.

Completed in 1363, this "inventory" of surgical medicine pulled together medical knowledge from about a hundred earlier scholars, including ancient and Arabic sources, and cites their works more than 3,500 times. 

In Chirurgia, Guy included a brief history of surgery and medicine and provided a discourse on what he thought every surgeon should know about diet, surgical implements, and how an operation should be conducted. He also discussed and evaluated his contemporaries, and related much of his theory to his own personal observations and history, which is how we know most of what we do about his life. 

The work itself is divided into seven treatises: anatomy, apostemes (swellings and abscesses), wounds, ulcers, fractures, other diseases and the complements to surgery (the use of drugs, bloodletting, therapeutic cauterization, etc.).

All in all, it covers nearly every condition a surgeon might be called upon to deal with. Guy emphasized the importance of medical treatment, including diet, drugs, and the application of substances, reserving surgery as a last resort. 

Chirurgia magna contains a description of a narcotic inhalation to use as a soporific for patients undergoing surgery. Guy's observations of the plague included an elucidation of two different manifestations of the disease, making him the first to distinguish between pneumonic and bubonic forms. Although he has sometimes been criticized for advocating too much interference with the natural progression of the healing of wounds, Guy de Chauliac's work was otherwise groundbreaking and extraordinarily progressive for its time.

The Influence of Guy de Chauliac on Surgery

Throughout the Middle Ages, the disciplines of medicine and surgery had evolved almost independently of one another. Physicians were regarded as serving the general health of the patient, tending to his diet and the illnesses of his internal systems. Surgeons were considered to deal with external matters, from amputating a limb to cutting hair. In the early 13th century, surgical literature began to emerge, as surgeons sought to emulate their medical colleagues and raise their profession to one of comparable esteem.

Guy de Chauliac's Chirurgia was the first book on surgery to bring to bear a substantial medical background. He vehemently advocated that surgery should be founded on an understanding of anatomy -- for, unfortunately, many surgeons of the past had known next to nothing of the particulars of the human body and had merely applied their skills to the ailment in question as they saw fit, a practice that had earned them a reputation as butchers.

For Guy, an extensive understanding of how the human body worked was far more important for the surgeon than manual skill or experience. As surgeons were beginning to come to this conclusion, as well, Chirurgia magna began to serve as a standard text on the subject. More and more, surgeons studied medicine before applying their arts, and the disciplines of medicine and surgery began to merge.

By 1500, Chirurgia magna had been translated from its original Latin into English, Dutch, French, Hebrew, Italian and Provençal. It was still regarded as an authoritative source on surgery as late as the seventeenth century. 

More Guy de Chauliac Resources:

Guy de Chauliac in Print

The links below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at booksellers across the web. More in-depth info about the book may be found by clicking on to the book's page at one of the online merchants. The "visit merchant" link will take you to an online bookstore, where you can find more information about the book to help you get it from your local library. This is provided as a convenience to you; neither Melissa Snell nor About is responsible for any purchases you make through these links.

The Major Surgery of Guy de Chauliac
translated by Leonard D. Rosenman

Inventarium Sive Chirurgia Magna: Text
(Studies in Ancient Medicine , No 14, Vol 1) (Latin Edition)
edited and with an introduction by Michael R. McVaugh
Visit merchant

Guy de Chauliac on the Web

Chauliac, Guy De
Extensive entry from the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography includes a useful bibliography. Made available at Encyclopedia.com.

Medieval Health & Medicine

 

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