The island of Zakynthos is one of the Ionian Islands found 155 miles (250 km) to the West of Athens. It is to the South of Macedonia, the island of Odysseus. It is also known as Zanthe or Zante, both pronunciations of the medieval Italian name for this island.
In October 15, 1564 Andreas Vesalius died suddenly at the gates of the main city of the island, also called Zakynthos, after a long and perilous return voyage from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The details of this trip and his potential cause of death will be covered in subsequent articles.
As famous as Vesalius is today, you would think that it would be easy to find information as to his grave and presence in the island. This is not so. Vesalius last trip to Jerusalem, his return, his death has been to date shrouded in mystery and legend. Some of these have been clarified in the 2014 Vesalius Continuum meeting in Zakynthos.
There are a few reminders of the presence of Vesalius on the island. The first one is a marble bust found in a small triangular plaza found about 100 yards from the building of the Municipality of Zakynthos and the Dionysios Solomos Square(Πλατεία Διονυσίου Σολωμού). The plaza was initially called “Vesal square” and later was renamed after the former major of Zakynthos, Fotis Ladikos.
Described by O’Malley (1965) in his well-known Vesalius’ biography, I had a difficult time finding the bust, although it is on the main street in front of the sea looking at the port, as most locals do not know about it. It was only by chance that one of the attendees to the meeting, Dr. Kenneth Wise found it close to a well-known Greek Restaurant, the Gallo D’Oro (Golden Rooster). It was also by chance that he and I talked about it when discussing Dr. Wise’s book on Vesalius entitled “All Else Is Mortal”.
The marble bust has a barely readable marble plaque that reads in Greek:
ΕΓΕΝΝΗΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΒΡΥξΕλλΕΣ 1-2-1515
ΑΠΕΘΑΝΕ ΕΝ ΖΑΚΥΝΘΩ 15-10-1564
BORN IN BRUSSELS 1-2-1515
DIED IN ZAKYNTHOS 15-10-1564
This plaque has the wrong date of birth, as it is well documented that Andreas Vesalius was born on the early morning of December 31st, 1514, , making the year 2014 the 500th anniversary of his birth and the 450th anniversary of this death. This is the year when I spent a week in Zakynthos.