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Illness and Care


Epidemical diseases ravaged regularly through the 17th century and they were powerless against the plague, cholera and different children´s diseases.

The Renaissance’s interest for dissections increases knowledge of the human anatomy and physiology.

Sickness and Health
Epidemics were well-known since the black death in the middle of the 14th century, but in the latter half of the 16th century Elsinore was struck 13 times. It has been established that more or less local epidemics took place every other year. It was different forms of the plague, but also typhoid fever, cholera and children´s diseases took many lives. The priest and writer in Elsinore, Hans Christensen Sthen, wrote a comfort script after having lost eight children in one of the epidemics.
Tycho Brahe lost in 1576 a two-year-old daughter, after which he put up this plaque in the Mary Church in Helsingborg with this inscription:
Kirstine led, when she went away, her tender dust here.
She, who was once Tycho Brahe´s daughter.
She was just an insignificant inhabitant of this world.
But in that short time, she grew considerably. In spiritual goodness, she exceeded her gender, in good deeds her young age, in eloquence her contemporaries.
This is why nature has taken her back
So that she would not exceed the boundaries of the standards.
But still she lives; she has defeated the resistance of nature.
Instead of the short time, she now owns the period of eternity.
And improved by the Heavenly Good she rejects the Mortal,
as she through Christ have been admitted to Heaven.
Died in the Plague on September 24th
in 1576, lived for 2 years and 11 months, 11 days and 11 hours.
The sooner the more dear
The later the bitterer
To Kirstine my beloved daughter
Lively and well-bred for her age,
Have I, the father, written this.
Tycho Brahe’s Daughter’s Epitaph
Tycho Brahe’s Daughter’s Epitaph

Death - a Common Follower
Death was a frightening and common follower in people´s lives and naturally it marked their outlook on life. Ordinarily it is claimed that parents, because of the constant presence of death, did not want to attach themselves to close to their children. This does not seem to be the case with Tycho Brahe.
With his sister, Sofie Brahe, he manufactured medical preparations and in 1625 she sent a prescription for plague elixir to Christian 4.
It wasn´t until the 18th century they started to have efficient quarantine facilities and better medical training and this had a great effect on the population development later.

The Age of Dissection
Better medical science and treatments preconditioned a better knowledge of the human body. In The Middle Ages they disagreed whether they should examine the human body, as it was the creation of God. In the Renaissance this attitude changed and dissection of the human body became acceptable. Michelangelo was openly interested in the human body and its proportions and Rembrandt´s depiction of a dissection scene from 1634 is famous.

Niels Stensen, Steno
In 1638 Niels Steensen was born in Copenhagen. In the war years until 1660 he studied in Copenhagen, where he was came into contact with great people in the field of natural science: The brothers Thomas and Rasmus Bartholin, who here physician and mathematician-physicist and the chemist Ole Borch. Niels Steensen was especially interested in anatomy, which could be practised in dissections in Copenhagen, but in the period 1660-64 he went on a study visit to Amsterdam and Leiden in Holland. Both cities were centres of anatomical studies.
Dissection Scene
Dissection Scene
The Anatomical House
The Anatomical House

Heart and Brain
During a short stay in Copenhagen in 1664 Niels Steensen published dissertation on muscles and glands. In it he claimed, contrary to the beliefs of the times, that the heart was a muscle. That same year he goes to Paris, where he gave his famous speech about the anatomy of the brain. It was published in 1669. Here he contradicts the French scientist and philosopher Descartes´ contention about a physical connection between body and soul.
Niels Steensen was a controversial and innovative scientist, who was nevertheless admitted into the leading circles in Paris and from 1665-72 he stayed in Italy, where he surprisingly converted to Catholicism.

Science and Theology
The first years in Italy was fruitful. In 1667 he published a dissertation on the muscles and two years later his most famous work. A dissertation on solids naturally settled in other solids. With this Niels Steensen, or Steno, as he now called himself moved into the field of geology and crystallographic with studies of fossils in different stratums of earth in Tuscany.
In 1672 Steensen went back to Copenhagen, where he was appointed royal anatomist at the University of Copenhagen. As early as 1674 Steno returns to Italy, where he took holy orders in 1675. Later hen went to Hanover, where he met the German scientist and philosopher Leibniz. He regretted having left the natural science and said that he went from being, ”…a great nature scientist to become a mediocre theologist”. Steensen was a brilliant practician and observer, but he never formulated a coherent contribution to the medical science of the 17th century.

©  Øresundstid 2009