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Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Miloš Judaš for a unique comparison of Thomas Willis's profound discoveries and medical terminology in his original Latin tongue and the first English translations.

De Anima Brutorum illustration of an adult human brain from above, and Professor Miloš Judaš delivering a lecture
Adult human brain from above with hemispheres moved lateral (De Anima Brutoum, 1672), and Professor Miloš Judaš

The widely celebrated texts written by Thomas Willis are in many ways a blueprint for modern neuroanatomy. The "Cerebri Anatome", first published in 1664, is the first comprehensive and satisfactory account of the gross anatomy of the human nervous system. "De Anima Brutorum", published in 1672 and regarded as the crown of Willis's achievements, broadened the field to comparative human-animal neurology.

The vast majority of Willis's works are written in Latin, but they were first translated into English by English poet Samuel Pordage from 1681-1684, who did not have a medical background or specialist anatomical knowledge, but arguably brought Willis's works to a wider audience. Interestingly, however, today we would be much more familiar with the original Latin terminology, many of which were introduced by Willis for the very first time. According to Professor Trevor Hughes, who wrote a comprehensive account on "Thomas Willis 1621 - 1675: His Life and Work", Willis introduced now widely used terms such as Claustrum, Spinal accessory nerve, Corprus striatum and Vagus nerve, among many others. These would be much more apparent for us today in the original Latin texts, rather than the English translations.

In a new interview to continue the celebrations marking the anniversary of the birth of Willis, Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor of Neuroscience Miloš Judaš, who is currently embarking on a major project translating the works of Willis for a modern audience. In this video interview, Professor Molnár asks Professor Judaš, also Director of the Croatian Institute for Brain Research, School of Medicine and Vice Rector of the University of Zagreb, for his analysis of the original Latin texts and their first English translations, with special focus on "The Anatomy of the Brain" (Cerebri Anatome) and "The Soul of Brutes" (De Anima Brutorum).


Miloš Judaš in conversation with Zoltán Molnár: What we learn from translating the works of Willis from DPAG Digital Media on Vimeo.


Further information on Thomas Willis

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

Zoltán Molnár, "On the 400th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Willis", Brain

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

Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675), Online Exhibition, St John's College

A modern description of the adult human brain structures

The article's lead image is taken from De Anima Brutorum (Thomas Willis, 1672), with thanks to St John's College Library. It illustrates an adult human brain from above with the hemispheres moved lateral, exposing the basal ganglia and the roof of the midbrain with the superior and inferior colliculi. The cerebellum is cut in the mid-sagittal plane and the fourth ventricle is exposed. The labels on the figure depict as follows:

A. Cerebral hemispheres.

B. Corpus callosum and Fornix.

C. Fornix.

D. Corpus striatum

E. Anterior and F.G. lateral and H. posterior borders of the corpus striatum.

I. Blood vessels on the corpus striatum.

K. The right thalamus with its surface removed with fibres extending into the boundary of the corpus striatum.

L. The right superior colliculus with the surface removed, with fibres M extending.

M. The fibre bundle originating from the inferior colliculus, and joining the fibres from superior colliculi to both extend towards the corpus striatum.

N. Pineal gland.

O. The inferior colliculi.

P. The left superior colliculus.

Q. Fibre bundle from inferior colliculus extend towards R the edge of the corpus striatum, and towards its basis S.

T. A transvers fibres joining together S and R.

V. The joining of the posterior borders of the corpus striatum.

W. The gap leading to tunnel.

X. The gap leading into the cavity lying under the thalami (third ventricle).

Y. Fibre bundles of the medulla oblongata, which seem to originate from the cerebellum (superior cerebellar peduncle).

Z. Separated cerebellar hemispheres.

X. The cavity under the cerebellum (fourth ventricle).

Thomas Willis 400th anniversary trailer

With thanks to St John's College