Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso

Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso

(jōvän`nē älfôn`sō bôrĕl`lē), 1608–79, Italian physiologist, physicist, astronomer, and mathematician; son of a Spanish infantryman. His wide interests led to original contributions in many fields, including anatomy, epidemiology, the study of fermentation, volcanology, magnetism, fluid dynamics, and the observation of comets. In his study of disease he concluded, against most contemporaries, that meteorological and astrological causes were not at work, but that something entered the body and could be remedied chemically. In Euclides restitutus he reworked Euclid's Elements into a more concise form. He is perhaps best known for his De motu animalium (1679), a study of the mechanical basis of respiration, circulation, and muscular contraction in animals.

Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso


Born Jan. 28, 1608, in Naples; died Dec. 31, 1679, in Rome. Italian naturalist. Professor at the universities of Messina (1649) and Pisa (1656). Did research in the fields of physics, astronomy, and physiology.

In 1670, Borelli established the inverse relationship between the height of a volume of fluid in a capillary tube and its diameter. He invented the heliostat. In his work on the movement of the planets (1666) he put forth the proposition that the movements of heavenly bodies are caused by the interaction of two forces—centrifugal and centripetal. Borelli was a major figure in iatromechanics. He worked out problems of anatomy and physiology from the point of view of mathematics and mechanics. He proved that the movements of the extremities and parts of the body in humans and animals in lifting weights, walking, running, and swimming can be explained by the principles of mechanics. He was the first to interpret the movement of the heart as a muscular contraction; he established the passivity of lung expansion by studying the mechanics of movements of the thorax.


De motu animalium, vol. 1. Rome, 1680–81.


Rosenberger, F. Istoriia fiziki, 2nd ed., part 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937. (Translated from German.)
Nordenskiöld, E. Die Geschichte der Biologie. Jena, 1926.