- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Magnus Gustav Retzius

Born  1842
Died  1919

Related eponyms

Swedish anatomist and anthropologist, born October 17, 1842, Stockholm; died July 21, 1919, Stockholm.

Biography of Magnus Gustav Retzius

Magnus Gustaf Retzius was the son of the famous anatomist Anders Adolf Retzius (1796-1860) and the grandson of the naturalist and chemist Anders Johan Retzius (1742-1821).

Retzius enrolled at the Uppsala University in 1860 and received his medicine kandidat degree there in 1866. He transferred to the Karolinska Institutet where he became medicine licentiat in 1869 and completed his doctorate in medicine in 1871 at the University of Lund.

In 1877 he received an extraordinary professorship in histology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and in 1889 he was appointed to the chair of anatomy. However, he resigned his position already in 1890 after conflicts with other members of the institute. From then on he concentrated his efforts in scientific work – his wealthy marriage actually allowed him to pursue his research and writing without employment.

Retzius anatomical and histological work concern in particular the sense organs of vertebrates and invertebrates.

In humans he studied the anatomy of the brain and the nervous system. His book Das Menschenhirn (The Human Brain) was perhaps the most important work on the anatomy of the brain written in the nineteenth century. He also gave important contributions to the anatomical description of the muscles of the eardrum, the bones orf the middle ear and the eustachian tube, and he conducted research on the human reproductive cells and the development of the foetus.

Retzius travelled much, both in Europe and America, in order to conduct anatomical and anthropological studies. He received severe prizes for his outstanding contributions, among them the Monthyon prize fom the Institute de France, shared with Ernst Axel henrik Key.

Retzius conducted a comprehensive study of old Swedish and Finnish skulle. He also translated the poems of Robert Burns into Swedish.

Gustaf Retzius published more than 300 scientific works in anatomy, embryology, eugenics, craniometry, zoology and botany.

He was also a journalist and the editor of the newspaper Aftonbladet (1884-87). Retzius was married to Anna Hierta, daughter of Aftonbladet's founder Lars Johan Hierta.

Gustaf Retzius was politically liberal and socially active. Together with his wife he founded the Hierta-Retzius foundation, which is now administered by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The foundation has two funds, one for the promotion of biological research and the other for supporting projects of an important scientific or social nature. In 1901 Gustaf Retzius became a member of the Swedish Academy.

He is particularly remembered for his studies of the histology of the sense organs and nervous system.


  • Anatomische Untersuchungen. Erste Lieferung, Inhalt: Studien über den Bau des Gehörlabyrinthes, erste Abtheilung: Das Gehörlabyrinth der Knochenfische.
    Stockholm, Klemmings Antiqvariat, 1872. (All published.)
    [On the auditory organ in bony fishes]
    Retzius recalls the event that finally promted him to turn a long-standing interest into experimental studies:
    "For a long time, I had wanted to work with the organ of hearing, primarily from the comparative anatomical point of view. I had known of the work of the Danish anatomist Jakob Ibsen in that area, which was broken off while still in its initial stage and was never published during his lifetime, except in the form of figures and their description. Now I was seeing one paper after another published by Carl Hasse, who was still a prosector in Würzburg. However, I was bound by my agreement with Key about our joint studies of the nervous system and other topics. But in the late summer of 1871 he gave me a paper to referee from Edv. Clason in Uppsala, who at that time was working with Hasse on the labyrinth of the lizard. With that I could no longer resist my steadily growing urge to have a look into the wonderful world of the auditory organ, and even in my first attemptat the readily accessible labyrinth of the teleost fishes I found structural arrangements that were beyond imagination. I discovered, first in the cod and then in a series of other bony fishes, an unknown endorgan I named the macula acustica neglecta, in which a specialbranch of the auditory nerve has its ending. From Breschet's timeuntil then, the labyrinth in the fishes had not been the object of athorough investigation of its structure and composition, and when I came into the field I found much that was worth studying" Joseph E. Hawkins: Sketches of Otohistory. .
    Audiology & Neurotology, Basel, 2005, 10: 65-68.
    From the catalogue of Olof Edlund, Antiquarian Bookseller, Stockholm. Persons referred to:
    Jakob Ibsen, 1801-1862.
    Carl Hasse, 1841-1922.
    Edvard Claës Herman Clason, 1829-1912
    Gilbert Breschet, French anatomist, 1784-1845.
  • Das Gehörorgan der Knochenfische.
    In his: Anatomische Untersuchungen, Stockholm, 1872.
  • Finska kranier. Stockholm, Central-Tryckeriet, 1878.
  • Das Menschenhirn. Studien in der makroskopischen Morphologie.
    2 volumes. Stockholm, P. A. Norstedt, 1896.
    Retzius studied a large serie of subprimate, simian and human brains, and clarified some of the more difficult problems of cerebral morphology. By many considered the most important book on the human brain written in the 19th century.
  • Studien in der Anatomie des Nervensystems und des Bindegewebes.
    Von Axel Key und Gust. Retzius. 2 volumes. Stockholm, Samson & Wallin. 1875-1876.
    One of the most strikingly beautiful neuroanatomies ever published, with exquisite reproductions of the colour dye experiments.
    In this truly monumental work, Key and Retzius describe a number of very important discoveries and verifications concerning the structure of the nervous system, not the least of which is the confirmation of the existence of the foramen of Magendie. As a work of art and scientific accuracy, the two volumes of beautifully executed colored lithographs rank with the best atlases of any age. The authors accomplished their task while at the Karolinska Institut in Sweden. Retzius was a man of great industry and versatility, the author of some 333 scientific articles as well as several volumes of poetry.
    The authors were awarded a Monthyon-prize from the French Academy of Sciences (Institut de France) and became world famous. This work was an important fundament for the heroic era of neurologuy and neurosurgery that was soon to emerge.
  • Biologische Untersuchungen.
    Stockholm : Samson & Wallin & Leipzig : Vogel. 1.1882–2.1882.
    Also containing works by his students.
  • Das Gehörorgan der Wirbeltiere; morphologisch-histologische Studien.
    2 volumes. Stockholm, Samson & Wallin, 1881-1884.
    The most magnificent of all comparative anatomical studies of the ear, and the most beautiful studies of the ear after those of Casseri. Retzius described the Retzius bodies on the labyrinth.
  • Biologische Untersuchungen. Neue Folge.
    Stockholm : Samson & Wallin & Leipzig : Vogel.
    Retzius presented the results of his research in more than 300 papers devoted to descriptive anatomy, embryology, anthropology, zoology, botany, and pathological anatomy. Retzius was very concerned with the presentation of his publications –large and very costly folio volumes– allowed him to furnish a synoptic view of his scarefully executed drawings by means of unfolded plates. Most of his papers were in the new series of 'Biologische Untersuchungen, 1890 -1914. These investigations constituted a kind of personal journal in which the editor was alone responsible for the costs, was the sole contributor, and usually the draftsman as well. Within this field this publication was unique.... As soon as Retzius had brought out one volume he began work on a new one. He wrote in German, because at present the science of anatomy is studied most intensively in Germany, and a result the terminology is most developed in this language". A complete set in 21 volumes is seldom found in antuquarian bookshops – only 500 copies were printed. In 2008 a complete set was offered by Antiquariaat Theo de Boer for US $ 8,857.
  • Bilder från Nilens land.
    Stockholm, Adolf Bonnier, 1891. 376 pages. Illustrated.
    An account of the author's journey to Egypt in 1890, first published as a series of letters in Aftonbladet, a daily newspaper in Stockholm.
  • Die Neuroglia des Gehirns beim Menschen und bei Säugethieren.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri & Jena, Gustav Fischer, 1894.
  • Ueber den Bau des Glaskörpers und der Zonula zinnii in dem Auge des Menschen und einiger Thiere.
    Stockholm, Central-Tryckeriet & Jena, Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1894.
    Offprint from: Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1894 6 (9): 67-88
  • Weitere Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Cajal'schen Zellen der Grosshirnrinde des Menschen. / Ganglion ciliare.
    Offprint from: Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1894, 6: 2-3: 29-36.
    Stockholm, printed in Central-Tryckeriet; Jena : Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1894.
  • Das Menschenhirn. Studien in der makroskopischen Morphologie.
    2 volumes. Stockholm, Norstedt, 1896.
    As with other works of Retzius, this massive set is an example of scholarship, accuracy, and fine printing. The ninety-six plates include both drawings and photographs depicting the minute anatomy of the brain from every possible angle.
  • Das Gehirn des Astronomen Hugo Gyldéns.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladet's Tryckeri, 1898.
    Offprint on the human and mammalian rhinencephalon, from Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1898, 8 (1): 1-22.
    Retzius made several bizarre attempts to identify the structural basis for subtle mental abilities by examining the brains of distinguished friends and colleagues.
  • Zur äusseren Morphologie des Riechhirns der Säugethiere und des Menschen.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladet's Tryckeri, 1898.
    Offprint on the human and mammalian rhinencephalon from Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1898, 8 (2): 23-48.
  • Crania suecica antiqua. Stockholm, 1899.
    Retzius' work in anthropology included detailed studies of the human skull. This large work contains data collected over four decades and includes illustrations of skull from the stone, bronze, and iron ages with 100 superb photographic plates.
  • Crania suecica antiqua. Eine Darstellung der schwedischen Menschen-schädel aus dem Steinzeitalter, dem Bronzezeitalter und dem Eisenzeitalter sowie ein Blick aud die Forschungen über die Rassencharaktere der europäischen Völker.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri, 1900.
    First German edition, translated from the Swedish edition (1899) by the author and Paul Berndt.
  • Das Gehirn von Ovibus Moschatus. Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri, 1900.
    Offprint on the anatomy of the brain of the Muskox, from Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1900, 9 (8): 97-108.
  • Ein neuer Fund von Schädeln aus dem Eisenzeitalter in Östergötland. Trepanirte Schädel. Nachtrag zu den Crania suecica antiqua.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri, 1900.
    First separate edition, reprinted from Crania Suecica Antiqua (Stockholm 1900).
  • Vier Mikrocephalen-gehirne. Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri, 1900.
    Contained in Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1900, 9 (2): 17-44.
  • Weiteres zur Frage von den freien Nervenendigungen und anderen Structurverhältnissen in den Spinalganglien. / Zur kenntniss der Gehörschnecke.
    Stockholm, Aftonbladets Tryckeri & Jena : Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1900.
    Offprint from: Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1900, 9 (5-6): 69-76.
  • Weiteres zur Kenntniss der Sinneszellen der Evertebraten. / Zur Kenntniss des Gehörorgans von Pterotrachea.
    Stockholm : Aftonbladets Tryckeri & Jena : Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1902.
    Offprint from: Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1902, 10 (4-5): 10 pp. + 4 pp. + 5 plates.
  • Das Gehirn des Histologen und Pysiologen Cristian Lovén.
    Stockholm : Aftonbladets Tryckeri & Jena : Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1905.
    Offprint from: Biologische Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, 1905, 12 (3): 33-48.
  • Das Affenhirn in bildlicher Darstellung. Stockholm 1906.
    This large atlas with its excellent plates depicting the brain of the monkey is typical of the basic contributions to neurology which this Swedish comparative anatomist made at the time of the founding of the "neurone doctrine." In: Biologiska Föreningens Förhandlingar / Verhandlungen des biologischen Vereins in Stockholm. Stockholm, Samson & Wallin, 1888-1892:
  • Zur Kenntniss der enchondralen Verknöcherung, volume 1: 5-8.
  • Ueber Drüsennerven, volume 1: 14-16.
  • Ueber die Entwickelung der Myxine glutinosa, volume 1: 22-28.
  • Ueber myelinhaltige Nervenfasern bei Evertebraten, volume 1: 58-62.
  • Der Bau des Axencylinders der Nervenfasern, volume 1: 83-93.
  • Om metoderna att konservera hjernor, volume 1: 118-130.
  • Zur Kenntniss der Ganglienzellen des Sympathicus, volume 2: 16-25.
  • Ueber Zellentheilung bei Myxine glutinosa, volume 2: 80-91.
  • Das Caudalskelet der Myxine glutinosa, volume 3: 79-84.
  • Ueber Nervenendigungenan den Parapodienborsten und über die Muskelzellen der Gefässwände bei den polychäten Annulaten, volume 3: 85-89.
  • Ueber den Bau der Oberflächenschicht der Grosshirnrinde beim Menschen und bei den Säugethieren, volume 3: 90-102.
  • Zur Kenntniss der Ependymzellen der Centralorgane, volume 3: 103-118.
  • Das hintere Ende des Rückenmarks und sein Verhalten zur Chorda dorsalis bei Amphioxus lanceolatus, volume 4: 10-15.
  • Das hintere Ende des Rückenmarks und der Chorda dorsalis bei Petromyzon fluviatilis, volume 4: 36-41. Biographical etc:
  • August Hirsch (1817-1894), publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker.
    2nd edition. Berlin, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1929.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • Jeremy M. Norman, editor:
    Morton’s Medical Bibliography. An annotated Check-list of Texts Illustrating the History of Medicine (Garrison and Morton).
    Fifth edition. Scolar Press, 1991.
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

What is an eponym?

An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person, whether real or fictional. A medical eponym is thus any word related to medicine, whose name is derived from a person.

What is Whonamedit?

Whonamedit.com is a biographical dictionary of medical eponyms. It is our ambition to present a complete survey of all medical phenomena named for a person, with a biography of that person.


Whonamedit? does not give medical advice.
This survey of medical eponyms and the persons behind them is meant as a general interest site only. No information found here must under any circumstances be used for medical purposes, diagnostically, therapeutically or otherwise. If you, or anybody close to you, is affected, or believe to be affected, by any condition mentioned here: see a doctor.