Background, Excerpts and Notes

William Harvey


Born: April 1, 1578 (Folkestone, England)
Education: King’s College (Canterbury);
Padua (Italy; studied under Fabricius);
Caius College (Cambridge)
Career: fellow of London College of Physicians
Physician to King James I and King Charles I of England
Died: 1657
William Harvey was born in 1578 in Folkestone, (Kent), England.  He studied at the University of Padua from 1600-1602 (Keynes Life 21-32). Padua was one of the most important centers of medical study at the time and was noteworthy in including anatomy and surgery, which most other universities, including Paris, considered inferior craft trades, like barbers and butchers. Harvey’s teachers included Fabricius ab Aquapendente, one of the most important figures in Renaissance anatomy himself.  In particular, Fabricius, who followed after Andreas Vesalius, an earlier professor at Padua and author of the anatomy work De Corporis Humani Fabrica, noted and studied the structure of the valves in veins, publishing De Venarum Ostioliss in 1603 (see Smutny 129-140). By 1604, Harvey returned to England and was eventually admitted to the London College of Physicians. He later became court physician to King James I and King Charles I of England. He continued his own observations and lecturing. Although his lecture notes from 1616 indicate his findings on the circulation of blood, he did not publish them until 1628. His work, Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, is significant for its content, expounding the circulation of blood from the heart through the arteries and back to the heart through the veins.  His methodology is also interesting. Besides direct observations and experimentation, Harvey also included quantitative calculations, showing that the amount of blood passing through the heart would quickly surpass the total volume of blood in a body and could not be continally produced and consumed, as generally believed. Kilgour (420) suggests the influence of Galileo, who was a teacher at Padua at the time that Harvey was there, though he minimized Harvey’s importance in the development of quantitative scientific methods. The 1628 edition of de Motu was published in Frankfurt by Fitzer, who had also published the works of Harvey’s friend from Padua students days and a fellow British physician, Robert Fludd.  Keynes suggests (Bibl 3) that Harvey may also have wanted to gain a wider audience for his work, with Frankfurt being a center of science and learning and the site of an annual book fair.  Unfortunately, Harvey’s hand writing was difficult to read (Keynes Bibl 46; see sample Life 92), and the distance probably prevented the exchange of proofs. A sheet of errata (listing 126 corrections) was appended to some copies, but even so, many more mistakes remained (Keynes Life 177, Bibl 4).


Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus  (1628)
Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium (1651)


Discovery of the circulation of blood
ground-breaking work in embryology (reproduction result of union of egg and sperm)

Current beliefs at the time of Harvey:

(some): Arteries contained only air (others believe: different kind of blood)
Food was converted into blood in the liver
Veins carried blood to parts of body where the blood was burned as fuel
Left and right ventricle were connected (hole in septum)

Outline History of Medicine:

Hippocrates of Cos (Greek) (5th century BC) (“Father of rational medicine”)
Hippocratic corpus
“Hippocratic oath” (later; attributed to him)

Praxagoras of Cos (4th century BC)
distinguished arteries (carry pneuma) and veins (originate in liver and                                     carry blood)
importance of pulse in diagnosis

Alexandrian School (Hellenistic period, c. 300 BC on)
advances in anatomy

Erasistratos of Cos (3rd century BC) (function of 4 valves of heart)

 (A.D. 129 – c. 200/210) (standard for medicine for centuries, including concept of the four humors (blood; phlegm; black bile; yellow bile)
Platonic tripartite soul (heart: emotional – arterial
brain: rational
liver: desiderative – veins)
(against Stoic central heart – soul – reason only)

Arab medicine (8th century); translations reach West 1230’s-1240’s

Schools at: Paris (exclude surgery – mere craft trade);
Padua (Italy: included surgery as a science)

1537: Servetus (pulmonary circulation)

Vesalius (Padua) (anatomy: 1543: De Humani Corporis Fabrica)

Geronimo Fabrizio (Fabricius) (Padua, Harveys’ teacher) (dissections; valves in veins


1661: Malpighi (discovery of capillaries with microscope)


Diagram of heart and circulation of blood adapted from: Life Sciences on File (page 05.009). Facts on File. 1986.

Keynes, Geoffrey.  A Bibliography of the Writings of Dr. William Harvey 1578-1657.  2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.      Press.  1953. (“Bibl”)

Keynse, Geoffrey.  The Life of William Harvey. Oxford: Clarendon.  1966. (“Life”)

Kilgour, F. G. “William Harvey’s Use of the Quantitative Method,” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 26 (1954) 410-420.

Matthew Megill, “Galen and the Circulation,” CANE Bulletin 95 (2000) 10-12.

Robert Smutny, Latin Readings in the History of Medicine.  Lanham, Md.:  University Press of America, 1995. (biography)  (biography)
(biography and information on De Motu Cordis)
(English translation)

The text is based on the 1660 (revised) edition. The section numbers are my own addition.

Characteristics of Harvey’s Latin:

Passive infinitive (especially 3rd conjugation: -ī)

Comparative adverbs (-ius)

Connecting relative (translate as demonstrative adjective)

Indefinite Pronouns (and adverbs):
  *quis-piam someone; anyone
*qui-cum-quewhoever; any
*unus-quis-queeach single; each and every; each
*ali-quis (someone; anyone), ali-quid something; anything (pronoun)
 ali-quī, aliquae, aliquodany (adjective)
*qui-vīs (whoever [you wish]) quaevīs, quod-vīs (whatever
*ali-quando sometimes
*quis-quam (anyone), quid-quam (anything) [after negatives]

Word Formation:
nouns in -tio, -tionis
-tas, -tatis
-mentum, -i
adjectives in -osus, -a, -um
adverbs: -e

prefixes: per-

Note: Apothecary weights:
semis = one half  
3 scruples (scrupulus, -i) = 1 dram (drachma)  

8 drams = 1 ounce (uncia: one twelfth [of a pound])  

12 oz. = 1 apothecary pound (libra, cf. lb.) 

Harvey:  Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus

Cap. I Causa, qua ad Scribendum auctor permotus fuerit

Cap. II Ex vivorum dissectione qualis sit cordis motus

Cap. III Arteriarum motus qualis ex vivorum dissectione

Cap. IV Motus cordis & auricularum qualis ex vivorum dissectione

Cap. V Cordis motus, actio & functio

Cap. VI Quibus viis sanguis, e vena cava in arterias, vel e dextro ventriculo cordis in sinistrum deferatur

Cap. VII Sanguinem de dextro ventriculo cordis, per pulmonum parenchyma, permeare in arteriam venosam & sinistrum ventriculum

Cap. VIII De copia sanguinis transeuntis, per cor e venis in arterias, & de circulari motu sanguinis

Cap[ut] IX Esse sanguinis circuitum, ex primo supposito confirmato 

[Introduction to proofs of the three underlying principles relating to the circulation of blood]
[1] Sed ne verba dare nos dicat quispiam,
         & assertiones speciosas tantum facere sine fundamento,
         & non justa de causa innovare,
tria confirmanda veniunt;
     quibus positis,
         necessario hanc sequi veritatem
         & rem palam esse, arbitror.

[2] Primo: continue continenter sanguinem e vena cava in arterias
in tanta copia transmitti pulsu cordis,
ut ab assumptis suppeditari non possit,
 tota massa brevi tempore illinc pertranseat.
[3] Secundo: continue, aequabiliter, & continenter
sanguinem in quodcunque membrum & partem
pulsu arteriarum impelli et ingredi,
majori copia multo nutritioni necessarium sit,
vel tota massa suppeditari possit.
[4] Et similiter tertio:
ab unoquoque membro
ipsas venas hunc sanguinem perpetuo retroducere
ad cordis locum.
[5] His positis,
sanguinem circumire,
propelli et remeare,
a corde in extremitates,
et inde in cor rursus,
et sic quasi circularem motum peragere,
manifestum puto fore.

[1st Argument based on the volume of blood]

[6] Supponamus (vel cogitatione vel experimento)
quantum sanguinis sinister ventriculus in dilatatione
(quum repletus sit) contineat,
sive uncias ij,
sive uncias iij,
sive sescunciam;
ego in mortuo reperi ultra uncias ij.  

[7] Supponamus similiter quanto minus in ipsa contractione,
vel quando sese contrahat cor sit;
et quanto minorem ventriculus capacitatem habeat in ipsa contractione,
tanto minus continere
atque inde quantum sanguinis in arteriam magnam protrudatur
(protruditur in systole enim aliquid semper,
quod ante demonstratum est cap[ite3.
et omnes fatentur,
ex fabrica valvularum persuasi);
verisimili conjectura ponere liceat,
in arteriam immitti partem vel quartam,
vel quintam,
vel sextam,
et ad minimum octavam.

[8] Ita in homine,
protrudi singulis cordis pulsibus supponamus unciam semis,
vel drachmas iij,
vel drachmam j sanguinis;
qui propter impedimentum valvularum in cor remeare non potest.
[9] Cor una semihora plus quam mille pulsus facit;
imo in aliquibus, et aliquando, bis, ter, vel quater mille.
Iam multiplicatis drachmis,
videbis una semihora aut millies drachmas tres,
vel drachmas duas,
aut uncias quinquies centum,
aut talem aliquam proportionatam quantitatem sanguinis
per cor in arterias transfusam [esse];
quae major est copia quam in universo corpore contingat reperiri.
Similiter in ove aut cane,
si pertransit (estoscrupulus unus in una cordis contractione;
tum una semihora mille scrupuli,
vel circiter librae tres et semi sanguinis transeunt;
in quorum corpore plerumque non continetur plus quatuor libris sanguinis.
quod in ove expertus sum.

[10] Ita pene,
supputatione facta
secundum quam nimirum conjectare possimus transmissi sanguinis copiam,
enumeratis pulsationibus,
videtur omnis quantitas sanquineae massae pertransire
de venis in arterias per cor,
similiter per pulmones.
[11] Sed esto,
quod non una semihora,
sed integra,
vel una die, utcumque velis, fiat;
manifestum est plus sanguinis per cor, ejus pulsu transmitti continue,
quam vel ingestum alimentum suppeditare,
vel in venis simul contineri possit.

[The continuous and consistent pumping of blood]

[12] Nec est dicendum,
quod cor in sua contractione aliquando protrudat,
aliquando non,
vel quasi nihil,
imaginarium quid;
hoc a me ante refutatum est,
et praeterea sensui contrarium est & rationi.
Si enim
dilatato corde
repleri necesse est ventriculos sanguine,
contracto, necesse est protrudere semper,
et non parum
cum et ductūs non parvi,
et contractio non pauca sit,
in quavis propulsione
proportio sanguinis exclusi
(videlicet subtripla,
vel suboctupla),
debet respondere quantitati prius contentae
et in dilatatione replenti,
uti se habet capacitas contracti ventriculi ad dilatati;
quemadmodum eum in dilatatione non contingit repleri nihilo vel imaginario,
ita in contractione nunquam nihil vel imaginarium expellit,
sed semper aliquid secundum proportionem contractionis.
Quare concludendum,
si uno pulsu in homine, vel ove, vel bove, cor emittat drachmam unam,
et mille sunt pulsus in una semihora,
contingere eodem tempore libras decem et uncias quinque transmissas esse;
si uno pulsu drachmas duas, libras xx et uncias x;
si semiunciam, libras xli, & uncias viij;
si unciam, libras lxxxiij et uncias iiij contingere in una semihora
transfusas (inquam) esse de venis in arterias.
[13] Sed quantum in unoquoque protrudatur singulis pulsationibus,
et quando plus et quando minus,
et qua de causa,
accuratius post haec ex multis observationibus a me forsan palam fiet.

[14] Interim hoc scio,
et omnes admonitos velim,
quod aliquando uberiori copiā pertransit sanguis,
aliquando minore,
et sanguinis circuitus quandoque citius,
quandoque tardius peragitur,
secundum temperamentum,
causas externas et internas,
et res naturales et non naturales,
animi pathemata,
et similia.
[15] Verum enimvero cum per pulmones et cor vel minima copia transeat sanguis,
longe uberiori proventu in arterias et totum corpus deducitur,
quam ab alimentorum ingestione suppeditari possibile sit,
nisi regressu per circuitum facto.
[16] Hoc etiam palam fit sensu,
vivorum dissectionem intuentibus,
non solum apertā magnā arteriā,
sed (quod confirmat Galenus in ipso homine)
si quaevis vel minima arteria dissecta fuerit,
unius pene semihorae spatio, totam sanguinis massam
e toto corpore,
tam venis
quam arteriis,
exhaustam fore.
[17] Similiter, laniones hoc satis attestari possunt;
quando, rescissis arteriis jugularibus in mactando bove,
unius horae quadrante minus,
totam sanguinis massam exhauriunt,
et vasa omnia inanita reddunt.
In membrorum excisione et tumorum,
ex larga sanguinis profusione,
itidem comperimus aliquando brevi contingere.

[3rd: The role of the veins]

[18] Nec astringit hujus argumenti vim,
quod per venas effluere (in jugulatione et in membrorum excisione)
aeque sanguinem,
si non magis,
quam per arterias,
dicat quispiam,
cum contra se res habeat.
Venae enim quia subsidunt,
quia in ipsis nulla vis cogens foras sanguinem,
et quia impedimento valvularum compositio est (ut postea patebit),
parum admodum reddunt;
arteriae vero impetu impulsum sanguinem foras
tanquam cum syphone ejectum, profundunt.
[19] Experienda res est:
omissā venā et incisā jugulari arteriā, in ove vel cane;
admirabile videbitur
quanto impetu,
quanta protrusione,
quam cito omnem sanguinem e toto corpore,
tam venis
quam arteriis,
contingat inaniri.
[20] Arterias autem nullibi sanguinem e venis recipere,
nisi transmissione factā per cor,
ex ante dictis patet.
Quare, ligando aortam ad radicem cordis,
et aperiendo jugularem vel aliam arteriam,
si arterias inanitas et solum venas repletas conspexeris,
mirari non convenit.
[21] Hinc causam aperte videbis
cur in anatome,
tantum sanguinis reperiatur in venis,
parum vero in arteriis;
cur multum in dextro ventriculo,
parum in sinistro;
Causa forsan est,
quod de venis in arterias nullibi datur transitus,
nisi per cor ipsum & per pulmones.
[22]  Haec res forsan antiquis dubitandi praebuit occasionem
et existimandi
spiritūs solos in illis concavitatibus contineri
dum vitae superstes animal esset.

[23] Cum enim exspiraverint pulmones & moveri desiverint,
de venae arteriosae ramulis in arteriam venosam,
et inde in sinistrum ventriculum cordis,
sanguis permeare prohibetur;
cumque unā cum pulmonibus cor non desinat moveri,
sed postea pulsare et supervivere pergat,
contingit sinistrum ventriculum et arterias emittere in venas ad habitum corporis sanguinem,
et per pulmones non recipere,
ac proinde inanitas ire.
[24] Sed hoc nec uno cordis ventriculo donatis,
nec quibus uterque pro uno inservit
(ut in embryone notatum antea est) accidit;
iis non prohibetur, ob defectum pulmonum motus,
oscula & porositates caecas & invisibiles aperientis & claudentis,
sanguinis transitus;
dum is per apertas manifestasque anastomoses (foramen ovale & ductum arteriosum) perfluat.
[25] Quod in rem nostram non parum facit fidei,
cum hujus nulla alia causa,
(nisi quam nos ex nostra suppositione asserimus),
adduci possit.
[26] Praeterea hinc patet,
quo magis aut vehementius arteriae pulsant,
eo citius in omni sanguinis hoemorrhagia inanitum iri corpus.
[27] Hinc etiam in omni lipothymia,
omni timore,
et hujusmodi,
quando cor languidius et infirmius, nullo impetu, pulsat,
omnem contingit hoemorrhagiam sedari et cohiberi.
[28] Hinc etiam est quod,
corpore mortuo,
postquam cor cessavit pulsare,
non possit vel e jugularibus
vel cruralibus venis et arteriis apertis,
ullo conatu massae sanguineae plus quam pars media elici.
Nec lanio,
si bovi (postquam ejus caput percusserit et attonitum reddiderit) jugulum
prius non secuerit quam cor pulsare desierit,
totum sanguinem exhaurire inde poterit.
[29] Denique hinc de anastomosi venarum et arteriarum,
(ubi sit,
et quomodo sit,
et qua de causa) neminem hactenus recte quidquam dixisse,
licet suspicari.
Ego in illa disquisitione jam sum.
Cap. X Primum suppositum (de copia pertranseuntis sanguinis e venis in arterias, & esse sanguinis circuitum) ab objectionibus vindicatur, & experimentis ulterius confirmatur

Cap. XI Secundum suppositum confirmatur

Cap. XII Esse sanguinis circuitum, ex secundo supposito confirmato

Cap. XIII Tertium suppositum confirmatur, & esse sanguinis circuitum ex tertio supposito

Cap. XIV Conclusio demonstrationis de sanguinis circuitu

Cap. XV Sanguinis circuitus rationibus verisimilibus confirmatur

Cap. XVI Sanguinis circuitus ex consequentibus probatur

Cap. XVII Confirmatur sanguinis motus & circuitus ex apparentibus in corde, & ex iis, quae ex dissectione anatomica patent


line 98  in quavis proportioni: i.e. whatever the proportion may be of the blood expelled in relation to the total capacity of the ventricle in diastole.
line 112 libras decem, etc.: 8 drams = 1 oz. and 12 oz. = 1 lb., so 96 drams = 1 pound; 40 drams divided by 8 = 5 ounces.
line 161 effluere: inf. in Indirect Statement (dependent on “dicat quispiam” line 165); subject = [sanguinem]
line 221 inanitum iri: Future passive infinitive; this construction is more common in Renaissance Latin according to Smutny.