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João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco, better known as Amato Lusitano and Amatus Lusitanus (1511–1568), was a notable Portuguese Jewish physician of the 16th century. Like Ibn al-Nafis, Michael Servetus, or William Harvey, he is credited as the first discoverer of the circulation of the blood.
Lusitano was born in Castelo Branco in 1511, of Jewish parents. He studied medicine at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Unable to return to Portugal as he wished, due to the persecutions of the Inquisition, he travelled throughout Europe before settling in Ferrara, Italy, at whose University he taught anatomy as an assistant to the physician Giambattista Canano. He wrote several books, including Index Dioscoridis (1536), In Dioscorides de Medica materia Librum quinque enarrationis (1556), and Curationium Centuriae Septem (1556). He was for a time the physician to the Pope Julius III, in Rome. With the accession of Pope Paul IV, persecutions of the Jews in Italy began. Lusitano fled first to Ragusa, then to Thessaloniki, Greece, which then had a large Jewish community and was part of the Ottoman Empire.
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Lusitano was born in 1511 in Castelo Branco, Portugal. He was a descendant of a Marrano family called Chabib (= Amatus), and was brought up in the Jewish faith. After having graduated with honors as M.D. from the University of Salamanca, in Spain, he left his native country of Portugal in fear of the Inquisition. He went to Antwerp, Belgium for a time and then traveled through Holland and France, finally settling in Italy. His reputation as one of the most skilful physicians of his time preceded him there, and during his short sojourn at Venice, where he came in contact with the physician and philosopher Jacob Mantino, he attended the niece of Pope Julius III and other distinguished personages.
In 1546 Juan was in Ferrara, delivering lectures on anatomy and medicinal plants. At one of his lectures he dissected twelve cadavers — a great innovation at that time — in the presence of many scholars, among whom was the anatomist Jean Baptiste Cananus, who through his experience on this occasion discovered the function of the valves in the circulation of the blood. During his sojourn in Ferrara, which lasted for six years, Amatus Lusitanus received an invitation from the King of Poland to move to that country, which he declined, preferring to settle in Ancona, where religious tolerance existed.
Meanwhile his reputation grew higher and higher. Jacoba del Monte, sister of Pope Julius III, was one of his patients; and he prescribed also for Julius himself, to whose sick-bed he was later summoned.
With the accession of Paul IV, Amatus underwent all the sufferings which the Maranos of Ancona had to endure from this pope. He took refuge in Pesaro, leaving behind him all his possessions, including several manuscript works, the loss of which he greatly deplored. One of these manuscripts, however, the fifth part of his Centuriæ, was later restored to him and published. During his sojourn at Pesaro he received an invitation from the municipality of Ragusa to settle there. This he accepted, but after staying for some months he left the city for Salonica, where he openly professed the Jewish faith.
Lusitano died in 1568.
He discovered the circulation of the blood, and through dissections of the Azygos vein, he was the first to observe and speculate about the venous valves found there.
This discovery contradicted the conventional belief of the time that the blood flows from the heart via the arteries as well as the veins. It is obvious that this hypothesis was supported by the fact that the network of arteries and veins becomes thinner and thinner as they get farther from the heart. It was also assumed that the networks are not connected, so the blood cannot pass from one network to the other. (The microscope was not yet invented, so one could not view capillary arteries without aid.)
Dr. Amatus Lusitanus described in the Centuria I, paragraph (Curatio) 513, how, in 1547, he performed an experiment before some scholars from the University of Ferrara. He blew air into the lower part of the azygos, and showed that the vena cava would not be inflated. It was not possible for the air to escape because of the valve or operculum mentioned. When it is clear that if air cannot pass out of the azygos into the vena cava, it is all the more certain that blood, much thicker than air, could not flow through. In the audience was "the admirable anatomist” Giambattista Canano, to whom the discovery of the valves was attributed later by mistake.
Amatus enriched medical literature with several valuable works which for a long time enjoyed the highest reputation. Among these the most important was his Centuriæ, in which he published accounts of his cases and their treatment. This work, in seven volumes, entitled Curationum Medicinalium Centuriæ Septem, passed through a number of editions (Florence, 1551; Venice, 1552, 1557, 1560, 1653; Basel, 1556; Leyden, 1560, 1570; Paris, 1620; Bordeaux, 1620; Barcelona, 1628). His other works were: Enegemata in Duos Priores Dioscoridis de Arte Medica Libros (Antwerp, 1536); Commentatio de Introitu Medici ad Ægrotantem, (Venice, 1557); De Crisi et Diebus Decretoriis, (Venice, 1557); In Dioscoridis Anazarbei de Medica Materia Libros Quinque, (Venice, 1557; Leyden, 1558); Enarrationes Eruditissimæ, (Venice, 1553); La Historia de Eutropio (Eutropius translated into Spanish); commentary on the first book of Avicenna's Canon, which, as he relates in the preface to the seventh Centuria, he lost among his possessions at Ancona.
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