By Luuc Kooijmans. Translated by Diane Webb
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Extra resources for Death Defied: The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch
It was generally accepted that animals had been created to serve human needs. This notion was supposedly sanctioned by Genesis 9:2–3, in which God told Noah that he had delivered into his hand ‘every beast of the earth’. 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.
Van Horne also approached Bartholin, asking him to supply incontrovertible proof that De Bils was wrong, but Bartholin thought his letter to DeleBoë sufficient and refused to have anything more to do with the matter. In the meantime, the health of the central figure in the debate had begun to deteriorate. De Bils had a bad cough and asthma, which he claimed was the result of inhaling poisonous substances during dissections. His commercial venture was threatening to end in disaster, and since his run-in with Van Horne, his relations with the academic world were strained.
De Bils protested, but also went in search of a job. He had hoped that Van Horne would be so grateful for his donations to the university that he would urge the Leiden regents to grant him a government post, but such a position was not forthcoming. In 1656 he was finally appointed bailiff of Aardenburg in the province of Zeeland, which provided him with a modest income but not enough to cover his expenses. He therefore attempted to cash in on the interest shown in his work. Although he would have preferred a paid position as an anatomist, his lack of credentials meant that his chances of this were very slim.