Comparative Guts

A fresco, Catacomba di Via Dino Compagni

© foto Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra” or “© foto Archivio PCAS” [Kontakt zur PCAS in Arbeit]

This fresco from the hypogeum of Via Dino Compagni in the Via Latina Catacomb in Rome dates to the fourth century CE. It shows a large group of men looking down upon a nude male figure with either a wound or a surgical incision in his abdomen. One of the seated men is pointing towards the recumbent man with a stick while the others are in discussion, and it has been suggested that this scene depicts an anatomy lesson involving a dissection, in which the man with the stick is pointing out the internal organs of the recumbent man to the rest of the group. While human vivisection and dissection was practised in Alexandria during the Hellenistic period, it does not seem to have been widely practised elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean, or in later centuries. This led physicians to have to resort to animals such as apes for their information regarding the interior of the body instead, causing misunderstandings to arise.