Carl von Rokitansky and the Italian translation of the Handbuch der Pathologischen Anatomie: A linguistic and doctrinal enigma

L. Castagnoli, N. Jonjic, C. Rizzardi, M. Melato

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Carl von Rokitansky was the author of a treatise that came out between 1842 and 1846 with the title Handbuch der Pathologischen Anatomie. A historical milestone in pathological anatomy, Rokitansky's work represented the first attempt to systematically classify pathological specimens. Its publication inevitably made a great impact on Vienna, at that time the major European medical centre. The Italian translation of Rokitansky's masterpiece, Trattato Completo di Anatomia Patologica, published in Venice in 1852, was carried out by Ricchetti and Fano: the former a philologist and the latter a Triestine physician who, in 1873, had worked at Simon Pertot's side, the first prosector to be assumed in Trieste. From the start, the two translators not only made no secret of the linguistic obstacles they came up against, but also how unconvincing Rokitansky's doctrines were; a scepticism emerged from their words that inevitably contributed to the realization of a translation difficult to read. Undoubtedly, Rokitansky elaborated a theory of disease containing a certain degree of unclarity and in this respect it is interesting to emphasize that even the English translation, Manual of Pathologic Anatomy (1849-1854), demonstrated similar conceptual problems. A convinced supporter of gross pathology, Rokitansky put forth a theory of disease, the so-called Krasenlehre, resting upon humoral doctrines. This new knowledge inevitably exerted a great influence over Viennese, as well as German, medicine. Rokitansky's humoral pathology survived until the 1850s, when it was attacked by young Virchow, the future, universally recognized, father of cellular pathology, who definitively extinguished speculative humoral pathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)654-661
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Handbooks
  • History of medicine
  • Pathological anatomy
  • Rokitansky
  • Translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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