Comparative Guts

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Organs of the abdomen

Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 190/223, fol. 5r; 12th cent. CE

Photo: By Permission of the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

While the five figures representing the five bodily systems are the core of the Five-Figure Series, several iterations include nine figures rather than five, adding on depictions of the male reproductive tract, abdominal organs, female reproductive tract, and brain and ocular organs (whence the newer moniker, Nine-Figure Series). This 12th century image—from the earliest surviving set of nine—shows the abdominal organs removed from the bodily cavity and laid out in a non-sequential pattern. The liver (the tulip shaped organ in dark brown) appears twice, juxtaposed with both the stomach (center) and the gall bladder (upper right) as a way of tackling its three-dimensionality. The cross section of the stomach (top left) includes pockets of each of the four humors, mainstays of digestive theory. These choices reveal a detailed conception of discrete organs and their individual roles in the complex and theoretical physiology of digestion.