Medicine: Why are anatomical terms Latin, while names of diseases & treatments are Greek?

I once had a job clerking in a law firm specializing in Social Security disability cases, where I had to make frequent resort to a dictionary of medical terminology, and I noticed that pattern. No always. Sometimes the technical medical term for a thing is a plain Anglo-Saxon word. The technical term for brain is “brain.” But, more often than not, a part of the brain has a Latin name like “cerebellum”; a brain disorder has a Greek name like “epilepsy”; a brain-surgical procedure has a Greek name like “lobotomy”. (And, if you want to adjectivize “brain,” you need to drop the Saxon and go with a Greek suffix/prefix like “-cephalous” or “-cephalic” or “cephalo-”.) Why is that?

Because the two fields of study were founded at different periods of history. Pathology goes back to ancient Greek physicians like Hippocrates and Galen who described diseases and their treatment, and established the terminology for it. The ancient Greeks did not do much research in anatomy. The field of anatomy as we know it begins in the Renaissance with Vesalius. He was Belgian, but wrote in Latin, so anatomical terminology is Latin.

I also came across plenty of anatomical terms that were Latinized versions of Greek origins. So it isn’t like the Greeks contributed nothing to anatomy; it’s just that as an organized field of knowledge, as we know it, it was put together in New Latin. Post-Renaissance, the language is known as New Latin, used as an international scientific language, and it’s a hodgepodge of input from many languages that gets more or less transparently Latinized. The ancient Greek stratum of learned terminology is the first and most important set of borrowings in New Latin, most of which went back to classical Latin.

Good to know, thanks! I was wondering if some ancient Roman physician had done the pioneering work in anatomy. Guess not.

Why not? Were they too squeamish to dissect human cadavers? (Some cultures are. I recall an anecdote about a Western physician trying to set up a teaching hospital in China in the 19th Century. He asked an Imperial official if he could obtain some cadavers for dissection. The official was horrified at such barbarism! But he assured the doctor of an unlimited supply of live criminals.)

I’m not a classicist, but I think I’m safe to say that the ancients in general didn’t have the emphasis on empiricism that we have now. Medical inquiry was more philosophical in nature. In fact, the term empiricus is Latin for a kind of physician who relied on experience rather than theory, suggesting that the mindset was peculiar enough to need its own term. And with Johanna’s explanation, it seems that the study of anatomy arose along with the age of science, which seems to me no coincidence.