Johann Günther von Andernach

Icones veterum aliquot ac recentium Medicorum Philosophorumque
Ioannes Sambucus / János Zsámboky
Antverpiae 1574

Medico tedesco (Andernach 1487? ca. 1505 - Strasburgo 1574). Anatomista della scuola detta umanista perché più attenta alla rielaborazione di testi che non alla dissezione, tradusse e studiò Galeno. Lavorò e insegnò a Parigi, dove fu anche maestro di Andrea Vesalio. La sua opera rappresenta un momento di passaggio tra il pensiero classico medico greco-latino e il rinascimento scientifico.

Aldrovandi ne cita il De medicina veteri et nova tum cognoscenda tum faciunda commentarii duo (Basel, 1571) in cui Günther cercò di unificare la medicina di Galeno con quella di Paracelso, un lavoro dedicato all’imperatore Massimiliano II. Interessante l’ampia e documentata biografia che segue, tratta da www.whonamedit.com.

Johann Guenther von Andernach

German physician, born ca. 1505, Andernach; died October 4, 1574, Strassburg, France. There is a lot of confusion both about the year of birth and the correct name of this physician. His name is most often given as Johann Guenther von Andernach. Other spellings being Guintherus Andernacus, Gonthier d’Andernach, Jean Guinter d’Andernach, Ioannes Guinterius Andernacus, and Johann Winther von Andernach. The middle name is also frequently spelled Günther, Guinterus, Guintherius. His year of birth is frequently erroneously given as 1487.

Guinters’ native town was the ancient Roman city of Antunnacum, situated on the west bank of the Rhine, between present cities of Bonn and Koblenz in Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate).

Nothing is known of Guinter’s family, except that it was obscure and impoverished, or of his earliest education. The diligent and sharp-witted boy received his first education at the city school in Andernach, and is said to have left his native city at the age of twelve, in quest of learning. Guinter first studied the arts and Greek at Utrecht, where he became befriended with the Dutch philologist Lambert Hortensius. Then, supported by his benefactor, Duke Anton von der Mark, went to Deventer, and Marburg, in which last place he completed his humanistic and philosophical studies.

Guinter soon earned a reputation for learning, and thus was called to Goslar, Saxony, as headmaster - rector - of a preparatory school. Here he recouped his funds and was able to proceed to Louvain (Löwen) for further study - particularly perfecting his Greek under Rutger Rescius at the Kollegium Buslidanum (founded 1517), and also teaching of Greek, and then to Liège (Lüttich). At some undetermined earlier time Guinter seems to have begun the study of medicine at Leipzig, and about 1527 he proceeded from Liège to Paris to continue that study. This may have been due to his dire financial condition.

Guinter received the baccalaureate in medicine on April 18, 1528 after two witnesses had sworn to the fact of his previous studies at Leipzig. On June 4, 1530 he was promoted licentiate - Magister - and on October 29, 1532 received the M.D. degree. The Paris Faculty of Medicine accepted him as a regent doctor on February 6, 1533, and on November 7, 1534 he was named one of the two professors of medicine at a salary of twenty-five livres.

As a part of his academic duties Guinter was responsible for the annual winter course in human anatomy, and it was inevitable during the pre-vesalian period that his approach would be Galenic. The procedure followed was in the medieval pattern, with Guinter lecturing to the class while a barber or surgeon performed the actual dissection in order merely to illustrate and confirm Galen’s anatomy. However, Guinter himself appears occasionally to have dissected, although his technique left much to be desired.

One of his pupils during the period 1533-1536, the later distinguished anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), referred to Guinter’s anatomical instruction in strongly condemnatory terms, even declaring: «I do not consider him an anatomist, and I should willingly suffer him to inflict as many cuts upon me as I have seen him attempt on man or any other animal - except at the dinner table.» Nevertheless, it is to Guinter’s credit that he did attempt to teach his students some comparative anatomy and was willing to allow them to gain some experience by participating in the actual dissection.

After Vesalius had left Paris, one of Guinter’s pupils was Miguel Serveto (1511-1553), famous for his discovery of the small circulation, and burned on the stake in Geneva by Calvin as a heretic for his antitrinitarian teaching.

In Paris luck smiled to Guinter, King François I appointed him one of his physicians, he was highly esteemed by his colleagues and numerous patients sought his help. Due to his reputation he was invited by King Christian III of Denmark to become physician at the Danish court, but turned the offer down.

It was in conjunction with his anatomical course that he published a dissection manual, Institutiones anatomicae (Paris, 1536), in four books, dealing first with the more corruptible internal organs and then with those less susceptible to putrefaction. Thus the work followed the form first made popular by Mondino da Luzzi (1316), that is, the medieval method of dissection material. Guinter acknowledged the assistance of his student Vesalius in preparation of the work, probably the dissection and preparation of anatomical specimens. Although Guinter’s manual, preceded only by those of Mondino and Berengario da Carpi (1522), contained no genuine anatomical contributions, it did advocate that anatomy, hitherto considered as chiefly fit for study by surgeons, was fundamental to the education of the physician.

Guinter was one of the major Greek scholars of his day, a fact first disclosed by the publication of his Syntaxis Graeca (Paris, 1527). In particular he devoted his scholarship to translations of the classical writers on medicine, and in the Commentaries of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris, he was recognized as having translated the larger part of Galen’s writings and all those of Paul of Aegina*. The considerable bulk of Guinter’s translations is explained by his method, according to which, as he declared, he translated each day as much as his secretary could write out from dictation, after which Guinter edited the version for publication.

Because of the growing pressure of religious orthodoxy in France, Guinter, a Lutheran, left Paris in 1538 for Metz and after about two years went to Strassburg, where he was accepted to the Citizen’s guild under his name of Dr. Andernach and was provided with a chair of Greek studies at the Gymnasium, which had been established in 1538 by Johannes Sturm. He was a friend of the Strassburg reformists, particularly Matthias Zell (1477-1548) and his wife Katharina, and with Martin Butzer (1491-1551). The latter obtained for him a position as personal physician to the Pfalsgrafen Wolfgang von Zweibrücken.

At the same time he developed a medical practice. However, intrigues and conflicts of various kinds, and criticism of his double occupation compelled him to relinquish his academic position in 1556. During his time in Strassburg he undertook several journeys to Germany and Italy. Ferdinand I raised him to the nobility.

Although he continued his studies of the classical Greek physicians, producing a translation of the writings of Alexander of Tralles in 1549, and a revised edition in 1556, most of his later publications reflected his interest as a practicing physician.

Guinter’s book of advice on how to avoid the plague, De victus et medicinae ratione cum alio tum pestilentiae tempore observanda commentarius (Strassburg, 1542), was written on the request of the city council of Strassburg. It was translated into French by Antoine Pierre in 1544 and by Guinter in 1547 as Instruction très utile par laquelle un chacun se pourra maintenir en santé, tant au temps de peste, comme autre temps. Further works on this subject were Bericht, regiment, und Ordnung wie die Pestilenz und die pestilenzialische Fieber zu erkennen und zu kurieren (Strassburg, 1564) and De pestilentia commentarius in quatuor dialogos distinctus (Strassburg, 1565).

He wrote a general study of medicine containing some autobiographical material, De medicina veteri et nova tum cognoscenda tum faciunda commentarii duo (Basel, 1571), in which he attempted to unite Galenic medicine with that of Paracelsus. This work was devoted to emperor Maximillian II.



Guinter was entombed in the church of St. Gallus in Strassburg.

Guinter was an accomplished osteologist and mycologist, although leaning too much on Galen. Very good are also his descriptions of the female pelvis and uterus, as well as the vagina. He was definitely one of the foremost humanistic physicians of his time.


Syntaxis Graeca. Paris, 1527.

De anatomicis administrationibus.9 books of Galen, translated from Greek into Latin. Paris, 1531.

Opus de re medica. Book of Paul of Aegina. Paris, 1532.

Liber celerum vel acutarum passionum. Book of Caelius Aurelianus. Paris, 1533.

Commentaria in aphorismos Hippocratis. Book of Oribasus. Paris, 1533.

De Hippocratis et Platonis placitis. Book of Galen, translated from Greek into Latin Paris, 1534.

Anatomicarum institutionum, secundum Galeni sententiam, libri quatuor. Paris, 1536; Basel 1536; Venice, 1538; Padua, 1558. This first edition was published as a manual for medical students, and, although the book exerted considerable influence at the time, it was essentially Galenic in tradition and provided little new anatomical knowledge. In the second edition, probably published in 1540, Vesalius made a number of changes, and it is evident that Vesalius was beginning to suspect the errors in Galen, which he later exposed. Also included in this work is Giorgia Valla’s (1447-1500) De humani corporis partibus. Valla was an Italian mathematician and physician who practiced in Milano and Venice. Later in his career he taught at Padua and occupied a chair of rhetoric at Venice. In addition to his several medical and mathematical works, he translated a number of Greek scientific texts into Latin including selections from Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Rhazes, and Averroës.

De victus ed medicinae ratione cum alio tum pestilentiae tempore observanda commentarius. Strassburg, 1542.

Bericht, regiment, und Ordnung wie die Pestilenz und die pestilenzialische Fieber zu erkennen und zu kurieren. Strassburg, 1564. Written on the reequest of the city council of Strassburg.

Avis, Régime et ordonnance pour connaître la peste etc. Strassburg, 1564 and 1610.

De pestilentia commentarius in quatuor dialogos distinctus. Strassburg, 1565.

Commentarius de balneis, & aquis medicatis in tres dialogos distinctus. Strassburg, Excudebat Theodosius Rihelius, 1565; German translation by Etschenreuter, 1571. In this small book on thermal springs, Guinterius gives many interesting details on the waters of Baden near Vienna, Baden-Baden, Ems, Karlsbad, and many other springs around Europe.

De medicina veteri et nova. Basel, 1571. An attempt at unifying Galenic medicine with that of Paracelsus. Also containing some autobiographical material.

Gynaeciorum commentarius, de gravidarum, parturentium, puerperarum & infantium cura . . . Accessit elenchus auctorum in re media cluentium, qui gynaecia scriptis clararunt & illustrarunt. Opera e studio Joan. Georgii Schenkii . . . Argentorati, Impenzis Lazari Zetzner, 1606. A work on obstetrics published posthumously by Johann Georg Schenck of Grafenberg (died 1620). Strassburg, 1606. Schenk wrote the first bibliography of gynaecology, covering physicians who wrote on the subject from the earliest times to the beginning of the 17th century. This was appended to Guenther’s work. The title of Schenk’s work is Pinax autorum qui gynaecia seu muliebra ex instituto scriptis exoluerunt et illustrarunt.