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Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2012 Dec;137(51-52):2722-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1327351. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

["Fiction and Truth": Goethe's anatomical research at the University of Jena].

[Article in German]

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Institut für Anatomie II, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was one of the most renowned German poets of the late Age of Enlightenment. However, his engagement went far beyond literature especially relating to politics and natural science. Goethe, primarily trained as a lawyer, developed his own theory of colors and even challenged the concepts of Isaac Newton. His discovery of the human intermaxilary bone questioned all the dogmas of the religious-minded world of the 18th century. Together with the anatomy professor Justus Christian Loder, Goethe performed comparative anatomy and proved the conceptual uniformity of humans and animals on 27 March 1784. Even though, Félix Vicq d'Azyr described the intermaxilary bone simultaneously in Catholic France, Goethe's findings were politically accepted due to the liberal Protestantism of the Duchy of Weimar. Nevertheless, leading anatomists of the century (Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Petrus Camper and Samuel Thomas v. Soemmerring) mainly rejected Goethe's postulates which led to a delayed publication in 1820; almost 36 years after writing his original manuscript. Today, Goethe's discovery is known to be a fundamental basis for the development of Charles Darwin's theory of phylogenetic evolution. Nowadays, the Department of Anatomy contains the Museum Anatomicum Jenense which was founded by the Duke of Weimar, Carl August and Goethe and entails Goethe's premaxillary bones as its main attraction. The University values the cultural heritage of Goethe's contribution to Medicine and provides access to the collection to the public and generations of medical students. Still today Goethe's legacy is noticeable in the halls of the Alma Mater Jenensis.

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