Opera medico-chirurgica quae continent Chirurgicum Magnam

Opera Medico-Chirurgica


Thesaurus and Armamentarium


Enchiridion book


Bio Data






Jean Vigier (Joanne Vigieri)


Very little is known about the life of Joanne Vigieri, except that he was likely born in southern France that he was a physician in the city of Castres, about 100 miles west of Montpellier and that he became a royal counselor and physician to the French King, Louis XIII. His biography based on the 1832 edition of Encyclopedie Modern gives a cursory description of him as a physician that studied Greek, Roman and Arab authors in his scientific work. He published among others annotated translation of the Hippocratic Aphortisms (Lyon, 1620), Chirurgia Magna (La Grande Chirurgie des Ulcers, Complete Surgery of Ulcers) published in 1656 and again in 1659. It appears that the most of his work was published posthumously by his son, a physician, with the same name.

From the cover of this book we find out that Vigier was “Consiliario et Medico Regis Christianissimi” in other words, Royal Medical Counselor to the French King. At that time it was Louis XIII and as it was customary for the 16 and 17th century French Kings they called themselves, Regis Christianissimi, “the most Christian” (of the Kings). This was unique to France.

It includes

  1. Opera medico-chirurgica quae continent Chirurgicum Magnam – 347 pages (The complete medico-surgical work)
  2. Thesaurum & Armamentarium Medico-Chirurgicum (142 pages) – A thesaurus of medico-surgical tools and instruments), and
  3. Enchiridion Anatomicum – Historiam Fœtus (83 pages.
    Enchiridion is a late Latin term, derived from the Greek word ἐγχειρίδιον (enkheiridion)) referring to a small manual or handbook. (Wikisource). This work deals with the development of the fetus.

The first, and largest work on surgery has an extensive overview of different swellings, cysts, infections, abscess, tumors and ulcers, signs and symptoms that can be used as prognosticators and their management as reviewed from the classic literature. To this Vigier ads his own experience. He is a supporter of the humoral theory, even though in 1628 William Harvey already published his work on blood circulation. In his defense, very few embraced Harvey’s new idea. Vigier is a defender of the classics. He talks about the artery (vitalem spiritum in arteriis contentum). Some notable chapter describe the phlegmon, scrophula, nasal polyps, parotid gland swellings and tumors (De parotidibus, p.87), epulis and parulis (De Epulide et Parulide), the ranula. The latter is quite aptly described as having a content of the color and consistency of the (raw) egg white (colore et consistentia ovi albumen). He correctly suggests opening (marsupialization) the ranula but concedes that often will recur. He has a section on the infection and swelling of the tonsillitis and pharynx. He suggests phlebotomy (bleeding) a treatment that was still in vogue in 1799 when George Washington was bled to death (by his physician for 40 years, Dr. James Craik) for precisely the same condition (pharyngitis). He separately discusses facial, cranial, ocular and nasal traumas, lingual and labial pathologies. Not surprisingly for labial ulcerations, like for many others, he suggests purging, venesection/bleeding (purgatione, venae sectione), and mercury containing ointment containing white wax (cerae alb.) and dissolved in ether (oleo vitrioli).

There is a section on oral ulcers (De oris ulceribus, p. 271). He calls them aphtae, a term used starting with Hippocrates and then Celsus and Galen. His treatment for oral ulcers contains 8 fluid ounce of extract of plantago major (plantain), honey, rose oil, pommegranate wine, in equal parts, add 1 drachm (60 grams) of aluminium potassium sulfate (alumen), boil it slightly (bulliant parum). Best if consumed with milk.  

Cover notes: Andrew I Spielman