Guy de Chauliac

The French surgeon Guy de Chauliac (ca. 1295-1368), also known as Guido de Cauliaco, was the most famous surgical writer of the Middle Ages. His major work remained the principal didactic text on surgery until the 18th century.

Guy de Chauliac was born, very likely, at Chauliac, a village near the southern border of Auvergne. He was probably of peasant stock. The little that is known of his childhood and early training stems from brief, but frequent, autobiographical comments in his writings.

Because Guy cited the views of one of his Toulousian teachers, he is believed to have begun his medical and surgical studies in that city. At the University of Montpellier, whose medical faculty was renowned throughout the medieval world, he fulfilled the requirements for the degree of master of medicine. Subsequently, that title accompanied his name in most official documents, even though he had previously taken holy orders.

Sometime after 1326 Chauliac attended the anatomical lectures of Nicolò Bertuccio, the student of and successor to the important medieval anatomist Mondino da Luzzi at the University of Bologna. The next trace of Chauliac is in Paris, where during the late 13th century great surgeons such as Lanfranc and Henri de Mondeville had taught and practiced. The courses that their followers offered may have piqued but did not hold Chauliac's interest, for unlike many students, he did not linger in Paris but seems to have drifted slowly southward, perhaps performing surgical procedures to earn his way.

After having practiced surgery in or near Lyons for a decade or more, Chauliac moved to Avignon, where he accepted the post of private physician to Pope Clement VI. The date of his appointment to his office can be fixed between the Pope's election in 1342 and the onset of the bubonic plague epidemic at Avignon in 1348, which Chauliac described as a resident physician in that city. He also served Clement's successors at Avignon, Innocent VI and Urban V. In 1363 Chauliac, who had become papal first physician, composed his most important work, The Inventory of Medicine, or as it is known in Latin, Chirurgia magna.

This book, though not the earliest medieval surgical text, is remarkable in several respects. It begins with a historical account of the development of medicine and incorporates Chauliac's evaluation of the medical sources available in the mid-14th century. He reveals that he prized the Galenic texts recently rendered from Greek to Latin but scorned John of Gaddesden's medical encyclopedia, Rosa Anglica.

Of more interest today, however, are the personal experiences that Chauliac sprinkled throughout his text. These findings, together with his efforts to reconcile them with authoritative statements, contributed to the enormous success of his book; the Chirurgia magna was translated into many languages and passed through innumerable editions and abridgments. Five years after completing it, probably during the month of July, in 1368, Chauliac died.


Further Reading on Guy de Chauliac

There is a chapter on Chauliac in Leo M. Zimmerman and Ilza Veith, Great Ideas in the History of Surgery (1961). See also Fielding H. Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine (1913; 4th ed. 1929); Arturo Castiglioni, A History of Medicine (1927; 2d ed. 1947); and W. J. Bishop, The Early History of Surgery (1960).