Jean Fernel (1497-1558) embodied the humanist spirit of the Renaissance. He studied philosophy (especially Aristotle), astrology, arithmetic, mathematics and Latin literature before devoting his life to medicine. He conducted a comprehensive synthesis of the medical system of Galen, and invented the terms “ physiology ” and “ pathology ”.
His taste for teaching, his extensive clinical practice, his benevolent attitude to the sick, and his consideration for individuals and for human nature all contribute to Jean Fernel’s image as a humanist. He was the most famous physician of his time, although his work relying on philosophy and galenic dogmatism eventually became obsolete. Forgotten for half a millennium, this distant precursor of holistic medicine is worthy of renewed interest.