International Giants of Otology: Malpighi, Morgagni, Cortungo, Valsalva & Scarpa

At a time when lands and peoples were being discovered, the eighteenth century was also a great time of discovery in all areas of study, especially in Otology. The center of the world for science and technology was Europe and desp184ite war, tyrannical monarchs, and various diseases, great strides were being made in the discovery of anatomical structures, their function and their specific roles in the plagues and other serious health problems that had lingered for centuries.

In all professions, research leaders in their respective times are slaves to the 185existing tools used to generate discoveries and new procedures. A major breakthrough was the invention of the microscope by a spectacle maker, Zacharias Jansen in Holland in 1595, who revolutionized the study of Otology as well as many other disciplines.  Zacharias, assisted by his father Hans, experimented with lenses and initially created more of a novelty 18than a scientific instrument. As development of the device continued throughout the 17th century, otologic discoveries and other scientific knowledge flourished.  As the 17th century faded, the microscope had been used to discover many anatomical components, plants, and other structures but it was not until development of lens grinding and refraction that true observation of various structures was realized.  Anton Leewenhoek a Dutch drapery merchant and scientist, now considered the father of microbiology, 181designed an early single lens microscope that made him the first to observe single cell organisms and further his research in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  The use of a single microscopic lens notwithstanding, Leewenhoek, Robert Hooke and other scholars of their time were able to observe cells and their structure, leading to 18th century discussion and scientific research into their theoretical and practical contribution to otologic and other diseases that had plagued humans for centuries.

In the 18th century, the seat of learning in Otology as well as many other sciences was the University of Bologna.  Here was Marcello Malpighi, an Italian physician and botanist now referred to as “Father of 183microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology”.  While Malpighi was a significant scholar with numerous botanical and human anatomical discoveries to his credit, his greatest contribution to Otology was that he was Valsalva’s professor at Bologna.  Valsalva’s research focused on the anatomy and physiology of the ears.  Coining the term Eustachian tube,  his name is associated with the Valsalva antrum of the ear (sometimes called the Mastoid Antrum) and, probably188 his most famous invention,  the Valsalva maneuver, for equalizing the pressure between the atmosphere and the middle ear. Succeeding Valsalva at Bologna was his student, Giovanni Morgagni.  Morgagni assisted Valsalva in the publication of De Aure Humana (1704; Anatomy and Diseases of the Ear) and later published a posthumous collection of Valsalva’s work in 1740. Morgagni went on to become a famous professor of anatomy at the University of Padua, describing the relationship between otitis media and brain abscess and founded the field of pathological anatomy as well as many other 189anatomical structures throughout his career.

Related to the influence of the Morgagni is Domenico Cotugno of the University of Naples who published for distribution to friends a plate that traced the course of the nasopalatine nerve, which is responsible for sneezing. Antonio Scarpa acknowledged Cartungo’s research as he developed his knowledge of this nerve. In the same year as Cotugno’s anatomical dissertation De aquaeductibus auris humane 187internae, building upon the work of Guichard Joseph Duverney and Antonio Maria Valsalva and anticipating that of Hermann von Helmholtz, he was the first to prove the presence of a serous fluid in the labyrinth and the first to associate this with sound transmission.  Cortugno believed that sound waves move the stapes which in turn move the labyrinthine fluid and considered that tones could be perceived by the semicircular canals but were analyzed in the cochlea.  His work described the vestibule, semicircular canals, and cochlea of the osseus labyrinth of the internal ear, demonstrated the existence of the labyrinthine fluid, as well as formulated a theory of resonance and hearing.

From the early work of finding various structures and suggesting their function, to later times when theories were invented to explain the function these structures, 18th century Otology had been shaped by the continued development of the microscope and a lineage of brilliant anatomy professors.  Indeed, this was a time of discovery and theory, not necessarily otologic cures, but without the discovery and early theory, there would not be the treatments and procedures that came in the 19th century where real progress was made reducing the adverse affects of otologic and other diseases.

Next week Hearing International reviews the important concepts and individuals that shaped the 19th century treatment of otologic disease.


Junior, J.; Hermann, D., Americao, R., Filho, I., Stamm, A. Pifnatari, S., (2007).  A brief history of Otorhinolaryngology: Otology, Rhinology and laryngology.  Revisita Brasileira de Otorrinolaringologia.  Vol 73(5).  Retrieved October 19, 2015.

Unknown. (2010). The history of the microscope.  Retrieved October 26, 2015.

Traynor, RM. (2012). A tale of two maneuvers.  Hearing Health and Technology Matters.  Retrieved October 27, 2015.


Tiez, T. (2015). Giovanni Battista Morgagni and the science of anatomy. Yovistoblog.  Retrieved October 25, 2015.

Unknown. (2010). The history of the microscope.  Retrieved October 26, 2015.

Wikipedia. (2015).  Marcello Malpighi. Retrieved October 26, 2015.

Wikipedia. (2014).  Antonio Maria Valsalva.  Retrieved October 25, 2015.









About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.