‘That slender and narrow seminal passage arises from the horn of the uterus very white and sinewy but after it has passed outward a little way it becomes gradually broader and curls like the tendrils of a vine until it comes near the end when the tendril-like curls spread out, and it terminates in a very broad ending which appears membraneous and fleshy on account of its reddish colour … if they are opened carefully and spread apart, they form, as it were, the hell-like mouth of a bronze trumpet’.
Gabriele Falloppio, Obervationes Anatomicae (Venice, 1561).
This description of the tubes connecting the ovaries to the uterus comes from the Italian anatomist Gabriele Falloppio (1523–62), after whom the tubes are named ‘Fallopian tubes’. Falloppio, who had taught anatomy at the University of Pisa before being appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Padua, was clearly influenced in his anatomizing by a previous professor of Padua, Andreas Vesalius (1514–64). As Persaud notes, Falloppio was not the first to describe the Fallopian tubes – they had essentially been described by ancient authorities such as Herophilus (c. 300 Bc), Galen (129 – c. 200 AD), and Rufus of Ephesus (1st century AD), but he was the first to begin to understand their function.
Reinier de Graaf, Opera omnia (Leiden, 1677), Tabula XVI: Graafian follicles.
The Dutch anatomist Reinier de Graaf (1641–73) brought Falloppio’s work a step forward, describing the Fallopian tubes as follows:
‘The ”The trumpets”, or “tubes” … are two in number, one of either side. In human females they are situated at the sides of the uterus. Where they originate, at the fundus, they are quire narrow … As they pass through the substance of the uterus and for some distance outside they proceed in a straight course, gradually widening. When, however, they have attained an appreciable size, they curve perceptibly more and more and proceed, being from side to side or twisting like vine-tendrils’.
De Graaf’s own contributions to female reproductive biology are commemorated in the term ‘Graafian follicle’, another name for ovarian follicles, the basic units of female reproductive biology. De Graaf first published the above image of Graafian follicles in his famous work on the female reproductive system, De Mulierum Organis Generationi Inserventientibus (Leiden, 1672). In it we see a section of an ovary (A), some ovarian follicles within it (B), and beneath it the fallopian tube (E) leading to the uterus. Within the ovary (referred to by Dr Graaf as the ‘testes muliebres’), De Graaf pointed to the presence of the follicles, which he called ‘female balls’.
Daniel Le Clerc and Jean Jacques Manget, Bibliotheca anatomica sive Recens in anatomia inventorum thesaurus locupletissimus (Geneva, 1685), ii, Tabula XVIII, fig. 5.
De Graaf was not afraid to criticise Fallopio’s comments on the Fallopian tubes and pointed to the fact that the tubes were usually open. In the above illustration he depicts a tubal pregnancy and, using an account of one which had been presented in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, went on to emphasize his point that:
‘All these cases prove that the eggs from which fetuses are to be generated pass from the ‘testicles’ through the tubes to the uterus and that a fetus is generated in a tube from no other cause than that an already fertilised egg gets caught for some reason or other in its transit’.
Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.
Ankum, W.M., H.L. Houtzager and O.P. Bleker, ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Fallopian tube’, Human Reproduction Update, 2, no 4 (1996), 365–69.
Anon, ‘An account concerning a woman having a double matrix; as the publisher hath Englished it out of French, lately printed Paris, where the body was opened’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in volume 4, no 48, (1669), 969–70.
Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997).
Stolberg, Michael, ‘A Woman Down to Her Bones. The Anatomy of Sexual Difference in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries’, Isis, 94, no, 2 (2003), 274–99.
Thiery, M., ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Graafian follicle’, Gynaecol. Surg., 6 (2009), 189–91.
 This quotation is cited by Ankum, W.M., H.L. Houtzager and O.P. Bleker, ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Fallopian tube’, Human Reproduction Update, 2, no 4 (1996), 366. Worth had a complete Latin edition of the works of Fallopio, printed at Frankfurt in 1606.
 Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997), p. 22.
 Cited in Ankum, W.M., H.L. Houtzager and O.P. Bleker, ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673’, 366.
 Cited in Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997), p. 242.
 Cited in ibid., p. 368. The account, which included the original picture, was printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in volume 4, no 48, (1669), 969–70: ‘An account concerning a woman having a double matrix; as the publisher hath Englished it out of French, lately printed Paris, where the body was opened’.