Disputatio de Dentibus

Disputatio de Dentibus (1644)




Melchior Sebisch (Melchiorus Sebizius)


Melchior Sebisch was a professor at the University of Strasbourg. Born into a famous family, his father (same name) was a Professor of Medicine at the same institution. The young Melchior travelled in his youth, visited 27 universities before himself obtained a doctoral degree in Basel in 1610. In 1612 he worked as an assistant to his father at Strasbourg. He followed his father’s footsteps but he was a highly respected medical professor in his own right.

To understand the dissertation entitled Disputatio de Dentibus, one has to understand the process of the medieval doctoral defense. The professor's lecture notes during a course at the university were distributed to students in the doctoral class in the form of condensed questions and each doctoral candidate had to respond to those questions in writing, identifying what they understood from the course material. In effect, this was the written exam at the end of a doctoral course. The book contains written answers of the doctoral students and was printed and distributed to professors, invited guests, the entire senate and to the student's friends and classmates who were invited to the festive oral defense, a necessary step before the doctoral degree was awarded. The event was festive and took place in the aula of the university.

Disputatio de Dentibus. Contains 4 bound dissertations for Zacharia Andreas from Colmar, Claus Sigismund from Breslau, Conrad Schluser, from Reichenbergen-Hesse and Iacob Bechter from Strasbourg, doctoral students in Strasbourg in 1644.

From the cover of each dissertation we learn the title and functions of Melchior Sebisch. It states: Professor Melchiore Sebizio, Medicinae Doctore ac Professore (Medical Doctor and Professor) (Comito Palatino Caesareo, & Republ. Archiatro) and Head Physician of the State and to the Chief Elector of the State of Palatinate (Rhineland Pfalz).

For each of the students designated as Rispondente – (Defending students) we learn that the first defense was for:

  1. Zacharia Andreae Colmarensis ( Andreas Zacharia from Colmar) submitting 152 answers. Next was
  2. Sigismundo Closio, Vratislaviensi, Silesio, -Claus Sigismund from Breslau, Silesia - Wroclaw, Poland, today) who submits 110 answers. Next is the defense for
  3. Conrado Schlusero Rauchenbergensi-Hasso -Conrad Schluser from Rauschenberg-Hesse with 45 answers and finally
  4. Jacobo Bechter Argentoratensi Iacob Bechter from Strasbourg with 209 answers.

This was Published: Argentorati (Strassbourg), Eberhardi Welperi in 1644 but we see it republished in 1645 as well.

With this in mind, the four dissertations reflect the state of the knowledge that was known in 1644 and taught by Dr. Melchior Sebisch. According to Walter Hoffman-Axthelm, in History of Dentistry, 1981, page 174: "nothing but rehashed ancient wisdom is to be found in the four dissertations by Melchior Sebizius". It appears, even Professor Hoffman-Axthelm did not understand that up until the mid 18th century dissertations were really about regurgitation of existing material, more like a literature review in a master's thesis today. After the mid 18th century, dissertations involved original research undertaken by the defendant. The answers supplied by the four defendants reflected what they understood from Professor Sebisch' course on teeth. The ideas were not original, just as today a faculty members teach the collective wisdom from textbooks and not necessarily their original ideas.
Editorial notes by Andrew I Spielman

Digital Versions

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