By Luuc Kooijmans. Translated by Diane Webb
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Extra resources for Death Defied: The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch
And what was true of executed criminals was also true of laboratory animals: at least in this way they could still be of some use. The inferiority of animals had been asserted in clas- 29 Sprat, History, 232. the anatomy lesson 35 sical antiquity by arguing that they lacked the ability to reason, and the philosopher René Descartes had presented his own variation of that argument. His belief that thought and consciousness exist outside the material world led him to conclude that animals could not suffer.
To exploit the interest taken by the scientific community in his work, De Bils was in urgent need of two things: human bodies and money. In principle cadavers were supplied only to surgeons, but in Sluis, where he had settled, the authorities, tired of his repeated requests, finally gave him the bodies of several executed criminals. This was important dissecting and embalming material, but De Bils was not completely satisfied, because he objected to the way the death sentence had been carried out.
Van Horne praised De Bils’s diligence, and was full of admiration for his embalming technique, since everyone who saw one of his prepared cadavers admitted to having ‘no idea how to imitate it, let alone to improve upon it’. e. scientifically sound] things’. By keeping serious natural scientists at a distance, his work remained a circus attraction. De Bils had had his handbills ‘pasted onto cardboard and hung in the vestibules of 24 De Bils’s pamphlet was called Aan alle ware liefhebbers der anatomie (To all true lovers of anatomy).