Comparative Guts

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Anatomical figures

(Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 13002, fol. 2v; 1165 CE)

Photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

These figures offer the earliest example of the so-called Five-Figure Series (Fünfbilderserie), which appears in medical manuscripts from across the medieval world, with Latin, Provençal, Arabic, and Persian versions surviving. The series, which likely originated in Late Antiquity, displays a remarkably coherent set of characteristics. The figures are depicted as squatting, and each is rendered “see-through” to display a different bodily system: the veins, arteries, bones, muscles, and nerves, respectively. The two figures pictured here represent the veins (left) and the arteries (right). Each includes a somewhat floral liver on the left and a tear-drop spleen on the right; the vein man also includes the complete digestive tract and its appendages. While the digestive tract here is schematic, other versions offer more abstract interpretations, like the perfectly coiled bowel (reminiscent of a garden hose) in a 13th century Latin version at the Bodleian.