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Johannes Winter von Andernach

Born 1505
Died 1574-10-04

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German physician, born ca. 1505, Andernach; died October 4, 1574, Strassburg, France.

Biography of Johannes Winter von Andernach

Johannes Winter von Andernach
There is a lot of confusion both about the year of birth and the correct name of this physician. His name is most often given as Johann Guenther von Andernach. Other spellings being Guintherus Andernacus, Gonthier d’Andernach, Jean Guinter d’Andernach, Ioannes Guinterius Andernacus, and Johann Winther von Andernach. The middle name is also frequently spelled Günther, Guinterus, Guintherius. However, the correct name is Johannes Winter von Andernach. The erronous spellings have originated with the Italian translation of his middle name, with Winter being translated into Guenter. In former times "Gue..." was used for translating "W" in Italy. This has then become Guenther because that is a common name in Germany. His books published in Italy appeared under the name of Johannes Guinterius Andernacus. His year of birth is frequently erroneously given as 1487.

Winter's native town was the ancient Roman city of Antunnacum, situated on the west bank of the Rhine, between present cities of Bonn and Koblenz in Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate).

Little is known of Winter's family, except that it was obscure and impoverished, or of his earliest education. The diligent and sharp-witted boy received his first education at the city school in Andernach, and is said to have left his native city at the age of twelve, in quest of learning. He first studied the arts and Greek at Utrecht, where he became befriended with the Dutch philologist Lambert Hortensius. Then, supported by his benefactor, Duke Anton von der Mark, he went to Deventer, and Marburg, where he completed his humanistic and philosophical studies.

Winter soon earned a reputation for learning, and thus was called to Goslar, Saxony, as headmaster - rector - of a preparatory school. Here he recouped his funds and was able to proceed to Louvain (Löwen) for further study - particularly perfecting his Greek under Rutger Rescius at the Kollegium Buslidanum (founded 1517), and also teaching of Greek, and then to Liège (Lüttich). At some undetermined earlier time Winter seems to have begun the study of medicine at Leipzig, and about 1527 he proceeded from Liège to Paris to continue that study. This may have been due to his dire financial condition.

Winter received the baccalaureate in medicine on April 18, 1528 after two witnesses had sworn to the fact of his previous studies at Leipzig. On June 4, 1530 he was promoted licentiate - Magister - and on October 29, 1532 received the M.D. degree. The Paris Faculty of Medicine accepted him as a regent doctor on February 6, 1533, and on November 7, 1534 he was named one of the two professors of medicine at a salary of twenty-five livres.

As a part of his academic duties Winter was responsible for the annual winter course in human anatomy, and it was inevitable during the pre-vesalian period that his approach would be Galenic. The procedure followed was in the medieval pattern, with Winter lecturing to the class while a barber or surgeon performed the actual dissection in order merely to illustrate and confirm Galen’s anatomy. However, Winter himself appears occasionally to have dissected, although his technique left much to be desired.

One of his pupils during the period 1533-1536, the later distinguished anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), referred to Winter's anatomical instruction in strongly condemnatory terms, even declaring: «I do not consider him an anatomist, and I should willingly suffer him to inflict as many cuts upon me as I have seen him attempt on man or any other animal - except at the dinner table.» Nevertheless, it is to Winter’s credit that he did attempt to teach his students some comparative anatomy and was willing to allow them to gain some experience by participating in the actual dissection.

After Vesalius had left Paris, one of Winter's pupils was Miguel Serveto (1511-1553), famous for his discovery of the small circulation, and burned on the stake in Geneva by Calvin as a heretic for his antitrinitarian teaching.

In Paris luck smiled to Winter, King François I appointed him one of his physicians, he was highly esteemed by his colleagues and numerous patients sought his help. Due to his reputation he was invited by King Christian III of Denmark to become physician at the Danish court, but turned the offer down.

It was in conjunction with his anatomical course that he published a dissection manual, Institutiones anatomicae (Paris, 1536), in four books, dealing first with the more corruptible internal organs and then with those less susceptible to putrefaction. Thus the work followed the form first made popular by Mondino da Luzzi (ca. 1275-1326) in a work published in 1316, that is, the medieval method of dissection. Guinter acknowledged the assistance of his student Vesalius in preparation of the work, probably the dissection and preparation of anatomical specimens. Although Winter's manual, preceded only by those of Mondino and Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (ca. 1460-1530), contained no genuine anatomical contributions, it did advocate that anatomy, hitherto considered as chiefly fit for study by surgeons, was fundamental to the education of the physician.

Winter was one of the major Greek scholars of his day, a fact first disclosed by the publication of his Syntaxis Graeca (Paris, 1527). In particular he devoted his scholarship to translations of the classical writers on medicine, and in the Commentaries of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris, he was recognized as having translated the larger part of Galen’s writings and all those of Paul of Aegina. The considerable bulk of Guinter’s translations is explained by his method, according to which, as he declared, he translated each day as much as his secretary could write out from dictation, after which Winter edited the version for publication.

Because of the growing pressure of religious orthodoxy in France, Winter, a Lutheran, left Paris in 1538 for Metz and after about two years went to Strassburg, where he was accepted to the Citizen’s guild under the name of Dr. Andernach and was provided with a chair of Greek studies at the Gymnasium, which had been established in 1538 by the scholar and educator Johannes Sturm (1507-1589). He was a friend of the Strassburg reformists, particularly Matthias Zell (1477-1548) and his wife Katharina, and with Martin Butzer (1491-1551). The latter obtained for him a position as personal physician to the Pfalsgrafen Wolfgang von Zweibrücken.

At the same time he developed a medical practice. However, intrigues and conflicts of various kinds, and criticism of his double occupation compelled him to relinquish his academic position in 1556. During his time in Strassburg he undertook several journeys to Germany and Italy. Ferdinand I raised him to the nobility.

Although he continued his studies of the classical Greek physicians, producing a translation of the writings of Alexander of Tralles in 1549, and a revised edition in 1556, most of his later publications reflected his interest as a practicing physician.

Winter's book of advice on how to avoid the plague, De victus ed medicinae ratione cum alio tum pestilentiae tempore observanda commentarius (Strassburg, 1542), was written on the request of the city council of Strassburg. It was translated into French by Antoine Pierre in 1544 and by Winter in 1547 as Instruction très utile par laquelle un chacun se pourra maintenir en santé, tant au temps de peste, comme autre temps. Further works on this subject were Bericht, regiment, und Ordnung wie die Pestilenz und die pestilenzialische Fieber zu erkennen und zu kurieren (Strassburg, 1564) and De pestilentia commentarius in quatuor dialogos distinctus (Strassburg, 1565).

He wrote a general study of medicine containing some autobiographical material, De medicina veteri et nova (Basel, 1571), in which he attempted to unite Galenic medicine with that of Paracelsus. This work was devoted to emperor Maximillian II.

Winter was an accomplished osteologist and mycologist, although leaning too much on Galen. Very good are also his descriptions of the female pelvis and uterus, as well as the vagina. He was definitely one of the foremost humanistic physicians of his time.

His tomb is outside the church of St. Gallus in Strassburg.

We thank Heinz-Peter Mielke for information submitted.

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