- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Georg Bartisch

Born  1535
Died  1607

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German ophthalmologist, born 1535, Königsbrück; died 1607.

Biography of Georg Bartisch

Georg Bartisch's parents were poor. He had an early interest in medicine, but his meagre conditions prevented him from entering a scientific study. He therefore trained with vagrant wound healers and barber surgeons. "Because of my inability, due to financial circumstances, to attain higher education and reach the faculty, I had to confine myself to surgery. For this I have always had an inclination and love."

His reference to three teaching letters written by him indicates that he had three important teachers, of whom he mentions Abraham Meyscheider in particular. His time as an apprentice seem to have been less than pleasant to the young boy. He later wrote that he had to suffer to suffer pain and want to learn his art. The sufferings cannot have lasted long, however. In the foreword to his book printed in 1584, he writes that he has had 36 years of practice, which means that he must have begun practicing the medical profession at the age of thirteen years.

He practised as an itinerant surgeon and travelled extensively in Saxony, Silesia and Bohemia, before he became a court oculist to the duke August von Sachsen in 1588, living in Dresden as a citizen of some standing. Even after this he travelled in order to practice. He was not an academically educated physician, but it is evident from his compendium that ha had an extensive knowledge of ancient physicians, and that he was at least as familiar with the works of Galen as were his academically trained contemporaries.

Although a shrewd observer, he was a man of his times, with a tendency to fit his knowledge into the prevailing mysticism. In the diagnosis and medicinal therapy of disease he was firmly entrenched in scholastic thinking. Bartisch was convinced that magic played a prominent part in diseases of the eye and he even attempted to bring some system into mysticism in medicine. In the thirteenth part of his Augenheilkunde he describes all the evils caused by "magic, witchcraft, monsters and the work of the devil". Ha also describes which stellar constellations are favourable for the eye, and which are unfavourable. Bartisch, in short, was a firm believer in, and an ardent advocate of, most of the superstition of his time. That is quite a lot.

In ophthalmology, however, he was an audacious and innovative operator, far ahead of his contemporaries. In his time eye surgery in general was done by ignorant itinerant oculists. This sad condition was to a large degree a result of the distaste for surgery among educated physicians, who thereby laid open the field to quacks.


  • G. Bartisch:
    Ophthalmodouleia Das ist Augendienst.
    Dresden, Mathes Stöckel, 1583. Folio. Original in Greek letters.
    A second edition was printed the following year, the only change being on the title page: "Gedruckt zu Frankfurt a. M. in Verlegung Sigismundi Feyerabends, 1584.
    A new edition was published in Nürnberg in 1686 under the title of Georg Bartisch' Augendienst.
    This is in quarto format and has fewer illustrations.
    The first systematic work on ocular disease and ophthalmic surgery. Bartisch made the preliminary drawings for the ninety-one woodcuts, which were then executed by Hans Hewamaul. The work was printed at Bartisch's own expense. The illustrations form a comprehensive pictorial record of Renaissance eye-surgery; some of the woodcuts show the parts of the eye in various layers as they are viewed in dissection by means of movable anatomical flaps. This is one of the earliest uses of movable flaps to illustrate a medical book.
    Facsimile reprint, Folkstone, 1966, and Hannover, 1983.
    Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye. Oostende, Belgium, J.-P. Wayenborgh, 1996. c.612 Pages, index, hardcover. US$ 450,-

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