A Sonnet to an Anatomist

cabrol tpMontpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus Fortunatus Plemp. Cabrol was surgeon to King Henri IV and taught surgery at Montpellier’s famous medical school. The front matter to Alphabet anatomic included a dedication to the king, several prefaces, and a number of odes and sonnets, in French and Latin, to Cabrol and his skill in dissection. One of them praised his skill in uncovering the skeleton. Here it is, with thanks to Marc Schachter for help with the translation.

To Sieur Cabrolcabrol sonnet

On his book of bones


He, who undertakes by the art of architecture

   To erect for his descendants some beautiful building

   In the first place always lays the foundation,

   Being pushed to that, by nature herself.


In its state the edifice does not endure for long,

   If the base, and the foundation are not very stable

   That which is well founded retains longer

   Its being, its beauty, its form, and its figure.


What Cabrol observes with his very expert fingers,

in the most beautiful structure of the entire universe,

He has reduced to an anatomy in a table


Writing in the first place the structure of the bones,

   Which are the solid pilings of our body,

for which he makes himself above all admirable.