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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Joseph Hyrtl

Austrian anatomist, b. at Eisenstadt in Hungary, December 7, 1810; d. July 17, 1894

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Hyrtl, JOSEPH, Austrian anatomist, b. at Eisenstadt in Hungary, December 7, 1810; d. July 17, 1894, on his estate near Vienna. He began his medical studies in Vienna in 1831, having received his preliminary education in his native town. His parents were poor, and he had to find some means to help defray the expenses of his medical education. In 1833, while he was still a medical student, he was named prosector in anatomy, and the preparations which this position required him to make for teaching purposes attracted the attention of professors as well as students. His graduation thesis, "Antiquitates anatomic rariores", was a prophecy of the work to which his life was to be devoted. On graduation he became Prof. Czermak's assistant (famulus) and later became also the curator of the museum. He added valuable treasures to the museum by the preparations which he made for it. As a student he set up a little laboratory and dissecting room in his lodgings, and his injections of anatomical material were greatly admired. He took advantage of his post in the museum to give special courses in anatomy to students and in practical anatomy to physicians. These courses were numerously attended.

In 1837, when but twenty-six, Hyrtl was offered the professorship of anatomy at the University of Prague, and by his work there laid the foundation of his great reputation as a teacher of anatomy. Here he completed his well known textbook of human anatomy, which went through some twenty editions and has been translated into every modern language. The chair of anatomy at Vienna falling vacant in 1845, he would not have applied for it, so satisfied was he with the opportunities for work at Prague, but that his friends insisted; he was immediately elected. Five years later he published his "Handbook of Topographic Anatomy", the first textbook of applied anatomy of its kind ever issued. Before his death he was to see this department of anatomy become one of the most important portions of the teaching in the medical schools of the world. It was as a teacher that Hyrtl did his great work. Professor Karl von Bardeleben, himself one of the great teachers of the nineteenth century, did not hesitate to say that in this Hyrtl was unequalled. His fame spread throughout Europe, and he came to be looked upon as the special glory of the University of Vienna. In 1865, on the occasion of the celebration of the five-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the university, he was chosen rector in order that, as the most distinguished member of the university, he should represent her on that day. His inaugural address as rector had for its subject "The Materialistic Conception of The Universe of Our Time". In this he brought out very clearly the lack of logic in the materialistic view of the world and concluded; "When I bring all this together it is impossible for me to understand on what scientific grounds is founded this resurrection of the old materialistic view of the world that had its first great expression from Epicurus and Lucretius. Nothing that I can see justifies it, and there is no reason to think that it will continue to hold domination over men's minds."

In 1880 there was a magnificent celebration of Hyrtl's seventieth birthday, when messages of congratulation were sent to him from all the universities of the world. After retiring from his professorship he continued to do good work, his last publication being on Arabic and Hebraic elements in anatomy. On the morning of July 17, 1894, he was found dead in bed, with his arms crossed on his breast. His principal works are "Lehrbuch der Anatomie des Menschen" (Prague, 1846); "Handbuch der topopraphischen Anatomie", 2 vols., 8vo (Vienna, 1853); "Handbuch der Zergliederungskunst" (Vienna, 1860). His monograph for the reform of anatomical terminology "Onomatologia Anatomica" (Vienna, 1880), attracted widespread attention.


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