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Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Emeritus of Neurology Alastair Compston FRS about the deeply influential texts written by the Founder of Neurology Thomas Willis four centuries ago.

The title pages of Cerebri Anatome, Pathologie Cerebri and De Anima Brutorum
Title pages of three Willis texts: Cerebri Anatome (1664), Pathologiae Cerebri (1667), and De Anima Brutorum (1672)

In 1664 Thomas Willis published a text on the brain and nerves that was to be enormously influential for the next two centuries, and continues to carry great weight even today. The "Cerebri Anatome", first published in 1664, gave “the most complete and accurate account of the nervous system which had hitherto appeared”, was the first to use the term “neurology” and contained the first descriptions of the “Circle of Willis”, considered one of Willis’s finest achievements. Willis went onto publish seven books during his lifetime and today early printed editions of Willis's work still exist in relatively large numbers.

alastaircompston.jpgOn this day, Wednesday 27 January 2021, Thomas Willis was born exactly 400 years ago. To mark this historic day, Professor Zoltán Molnár invites Willis specialist Professor Alastair Compston FRS, Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Cambridge, to take us on a journey through his extraordinary collection of the great works of Thomas Willis, and provide his unparalleled insights into the medical contributions of Willis ahead of the publication of Compston's new bio-bibliography of Thomas Willis this coming summer.

In his interview with Professor Molnár, Professor Compston explains that there was a rationale behind the sequence in which Thomas Willis published his works. As stated in Cerebri Anatome (1664), Willis had planned a series of publications on the nervous system from the start. De Anima Brutorum (1672) was to be the highlight of this series and scholars today still regard it as the crown of his achievements. The book brings together Willis's concept of fermentation, interest in the nervous system, concept of voluntary and involuntary movement, and his ideas on the corporeal and rational souls of humans.

Watch this new video interview to find out more about Willis's systematic approach to knowledge and coherence in the contributions to medicine in his writings, why Willis became interested in the nervous system and his lasting contributions to knowledge, and what makes Willis's books valuable intellectually, aesthetically, commercially and still worth reading today.

Alastair Compston in conversation with Zoltán Molnár: An insight into the writings of Willis from DPAG Digital Media on Vimeo.



Thomas Willis: 400th anniversary lecture by Zoltán Molnár at the NeurotechEU opening

Thomas Willis (1621-1675) 400th Anniversary Lecture, Anatomical Society Meeting 2021 - Zoltán Molnár

Molnár, Zoltán, "Thomas Willis (1621-1675), the Founder of Clinical Neuroscience", Nature Review Neuroscience 5:4 (2004), 329-35

Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675) Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Founder of Neurology online exhibition (see under current exhibitions, St John's College)

Prof Alastair Compston - “Dr Thomas Willis’s Works” lecture on 16 June 2011, Le Gros Clark Building, Dept of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford