STENSEN, Niels (Nicolaus Steno).

Elementorum Myologiae Specimen, seu musculi descriptio geometrica. Cui accedunt canis carchariae dissectum caput, et dissectus piscis ex canum genere.

Florentiae [Florence]: Ex Typographia sub signo Stellae, .1667

4to, pp. (viii), 123, and 7 plates (3 woodcut and folding, 4 engraved), other woodcut illustrations in the text. Original Italian paste-paper boards, uncut, later maroon paper spine (slightly rubbed) laid over the original which is thus undamaged, paper label (chipped). A few minor dampstains in the lower margin, otherwise a fine copy in original state.

FIRST EDITION. The foundation of muscle mechanics, the birth of scientific geology, and the comprehension of the mammalian ovum. G&M 577. Lilly, Notable medical books, p. 79. The book is divided into three distinct parts. The controversy resulting from the publication of his De Musculis et Glandulis in 1664 led Stensen to publish the Elementorum, in which he laid the foundation of muscular mechanics as we know it (in the first part). It “dealt chiefly with the questions: Does the muscle increase in size during contraction? Are hardness and swelling of the muscle signs of a increase in volume? Stensen first provided clear concepts and a clear-cut terminology of the parts of the muscle. Then he characterized the individual muscle fiber and the muscle itself as a paralleliped bordered by six parallelograms” (DSB). See Fulton, Selected readings, pp. 213–215. Also in the Elementorum (in the third part), Stensen described the female genital organs of dogfish. He demonstrated the follicles in the ovaries, and affirmed that the “testis” of women correspond to the “roe” of ovipara. He was the first to grasp the true nature of the mammalian “ovary”, a term he introduced in this book. Thus Harvey and Stensen between them substituted the modern knowledge of mammalian ova for the ancient theory of the coagulum, all in the space of fourteen years. See Needham, History of embryology, pp. 137–138, and Cole, Early theories of sexual generation, p. 163. The second part is on geology, in which Stensen outlined the basic principles on which modern geology is founded. The greatest period of Stensen’s research began in Florence at the end of October 1666, when he received the head of a gigantic shark, Carcharodon rondeletii, that had been caught off Leghorn. He made acute observations of its skin, its canals, the brain and nerves, the Lorenzinian ampullae, and the eyes. The rows of pointed teeth in the mouth (illustrated on plates 4 and 6) led him to a thorough study of their number and substance. He discusses the question whether the “glossopetrae” or sharks’ teeth found in rocks belonged to such fish, or were mere mineral concretions. He concludes that they were fossil sharks’ teeth. “A whole series of conclusions about rock origin and structure flowed from this recognition...” (Winter). These conclusions are given in the 22-page “digression”, as Stensen calls it, in the present book, the last three of which are firstly, that the soil in question was once under water; secondly, that the soil in question is a sediment gradually accumulated from water, and thirdly that the parts that resemble parts of animals are in fact parts of animals. Thus originated the sedimentary theory of geology, Steno actually using the words “strata” and “sedimenta” in this book. He went on to expound his theory in the Prodromus of 1669. See Garboe, Nicolaus Steno…and the foundation of exact geology and crystallography, (1954); Garboe, The earliest geological treatise (1667) by Nicolaus Steno translated from Canis Carchariae Dissectum Caput (London, 1958). Winter, The Prodromus of Nicolaus Steno’s Dissertation concerning a Solid Body (New York & London, 1968). DSB.


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