Ambroise Paré is considered the greatest medieval surgeon of the 16th Century, serving four French (Catholic) Kings (Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III) in spite of his humble Protestant beginnings. Paré was born in Northern France in 1510 (?). Although without formal medical education, he received practical training at Hotel Dieu in Paris, one of the oldest French Hospitals. His intelligence and long years of experience, further enhanced during military campaigns (1542) and the 1562-1598 French Wars of Religion, has earned him the respect and protection of the royal house. During the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre (August 23, 1572) when rampaging mob killed tens of thousands of Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants) in Paris, Pare was saved by Charles IX himself.
Pare was a practicing barber-surgeon with considerable dexterity and originality. He is credited with invention of new dental and surgical instruments, introduction of the ligature to stop bleeding instead of application of a hot iron and boiling oil cauterization utilized to get rid of the “toxic” nature of gun powder. He applied embalming wound dressing of egg yolk and oil of turpentine, earning the nickname of “the gentle surgeon”. Unlike his contemporary “educated” surgeons and physicians, Paré did not speak Latin. He wrote in French and his first complete published work appeared quite late in his life (1575) but had seen dozens of editions and translations. Prior to his collected works, Paré published The method of curing wounds caused by arquebus and firearms in 1545 and Treatise on Surgery 19 years later.
The copy in our collection is a Collected Works (Oeuvres) 1652 edition in French. It is a massive volume of 924 pages. It is one of the most remarkable surgical works from the Renaissance era. In it, Paré summarizes all medical and surgical knowledge up to that point quoting from 173 authors, including ancient Greek, Roman and Arab classics (Hippocrates, Plato, Celsus, Galen, Rhazes, Avicenna) but also from works of his contemporaries like Vesalius and Fallopius. Of particular note are his extraordinary illustrations, over 320 engravings that were widely copied in subsequent publications, including Scultetus’ Armamentarium Chirurgicum, another volume in our collection.
Editorial note: Andrew I Spielman