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Every Organ Tells a Story 2: A History of Anatomical Terms
In the last chapter we met Atlas and his eternal burden and discovered the reasons how the Oracle of Delphi came to name some lymph nodes in the neck. We met wineskins and the anatomist Dr Eustachi.
The History of Nomenclature
In this chapter we will be seeing how the acorn, the rainbow, the Roman clasp and the sea-horse- all inspired the anatomists to name body parts.
Ancient anatomists relied on studies of cadaver - often in highly unhygienic and smelly circumstances- in their pursuit to understand the inner workings of the human body. While the study of animal anatomy gave the some inkling about the similarities, they knew the unique composition of the human body.
With the lack of optical devices and advanced imaging they relied on macroscopic study of the body parts and made a lot of assumptions on the inner workings.
As far back as Hippocrates, there was a belief the inner workings of the human body was controlled by the 'Four Humours' (liquids). They attributed our well being to these four humours and the balance between these four.
This belief carried on well into medieval periods until Vesalius and Galen started making inroads into circulatory, digestive and other systems. Interestingly in many countries the complementary physicians still use this medieval concept of imbalance of forces or humours to attribute to physical and mental illness and may prescribe treatments to 'correct the balance'
The Four Humours
The four humours are
Sanguine ( Blood)
Choleric( Yellow Bile)
Melancholia( Black bile)
Phelgmatis ( Phlegm)
They created a matrix of the four humours and 'mixed' them up using hot/cold and dry/wet domains coming up with 9 different 'temperaments'.
The word Temperament comes from Latin 'Temperare' - to mix!
It is interesting how these words still influence our use of language. We call someone Sanguine if they are cool and charismatic, Melancholy now means sorrow and low moods, Bilious means angry and irritable and Phlegmatic may mean passive /shy.
For a very long time this theory has influenced assessing personality type and even though now we know that the fluids/balance theory doesn't physiologically add up, we still use the personality categories in rudimentary psychology.
The Fibula is a very thin, slender bone that accompanies the main shin bone ( Tibia) in the lower leg below the knee. (see picture). It is a non weight bearing bone and is thin because of that. It is attached above and blow to the Tibia and it is the thinnest of the long bones of the body.
As the fibula doesn't weight bear, it can be used for reconstructing the bones elsewhere- it is mainly used in reconstructing the jaw bone or the mandible and can serve a s a donor site as we can still walk without a section of the fibula.
The lower end of the fibula projects forward and it also forms the lateral (facing away)) part of the ankle joint
To the ancient anatomists when the dissected the leg, it must have borne a strange similarity to a clasp or a brooch where there was a thick limb and the thin limb attached to each other. So they decided to name this bone after a Roman brooch or a clasp.
Fibula in Latin means a brooch.
The Romans had many weapons. Their powerful army succeeded in many conquests by a carefully selected arsenal for different types of combat. The soldiers favoured a short Roman Sword called the Gladiolus for close combat.
This sword was so popular and it was used in arena combat that the slaves who became fighters using the sword were called the Gladiators after the sword itself.
For the anatomists dissecting the thorax or the chest, the breast bone - sternum- very much resembled this Roman sword so they named the main body of the breast bone Gladiolus.
I didn't know until I researched for this article that the humble acorn is called Glans in Latin. Now without me resorting to further graphic misdemeanour you will have to use your imagination why the anatomist thoughts that the Glans of the Penis (the head) looked like an acorn. The pictures should help.
Altogether now, from little acorns, mighty oaks grow!
The Hippocampus is a fascinating part of the human brain. It is a paired structure situated inside the medial part of the temporal lobe with a right and left half.
The Hippocampus is responsible for memory, behavioural inhibitions, attention and navigation. This is also the organ that suffers a lot of damage in Alzheimer's disease resulting in memory loss, lack of social inhibition and poor attention.
It contains different type of neuronal cells and has been studies extensively in how it relates to retention of memory and creation of stored information.
Various Anatomists have likened it to a seahorse ( Hippocampus in Greek) a sea monster ( pes hippocampi ) or the Horns of Amun ( Egyptian God) as it can also look like the Ram's horn.
Iris is that part of the eye that controls the size ( diameter) of the pupils by constricting or dilating. It is a very thin membrane that also gives the colour to the eyes due to the various types of pigmentation that occur.
When we talk about eye colour we are actually talking about the colour of the iris. IT can be brown, blue, hazel, green, grey etc. The Iris is like a camera aperture. The sphincter in the middle of the iris is called the pupil. The tiny muscles that control the iris control the size of the pupil.
The highly pigmented surface of the iris works l by preventing light from entering thus channelling the light only through the pupils.
To the Greeks the iris represented the spectrum, the beautiful colours of the rainbow so they named it after their Goddess of the rainbow - Iris.