Jakob Ruf - who he was and who not

[Translate to English:]

Jakob Ruf (ca. 1505-1558) was born in Constance and by choice became a citizen of Zurich. He was a self-made man of the sixteenth century. The decades between 1500 and 1560 were years of convulsive transformation for the city of Zurich and the entire Swiss Confederacy. In this turbulent time, Ruf seized the possibility of giving shape to his life. Leaving behind the narrow confines defined by his descent from a family of craftsmen in Constance and his life as a monk in Chur, he made use of his exceptional ambition and ability, his theoretical knowledge as well as his professional skill as a skilled barber-surgeon to establish himself as the city surgeon and, for a period, the city physician of Zurich.

Ruf worked in the service of the city as an instructor of midwives and as an author and director of plays. He also wrote medical treatises in Latin and German, political songs, prognostications, sayings, calendars and broadsides. His complete works reveal him as an engaged mediator between the spheres of the learned, craftsmen, and the common woman as well as the common man. Jakob Ruf died on February 20, 1558.

Article commemorating the 450th anniversary of Jakob Ruf's death, NZZ 20.2.2008 (German)

Who looks for traces commemorating Jakob Ruf encounters curiosities. The series of misunderstandings began already in Ruf's lifetime (all references can be found in Hildegard E. Keller, Introduction, vol. V, pp. 11-17). His name appeared together with that of the maker of woodcuts, Heinrich Vogtherr, with whom he had collaborated in Zurich, in a catalog of heretics of the Catholic Church. Ruf would later repeatedly - and inaccurately - be credited with the invention of forceps for aiding in child birth.

Many more important things were also attributed to Ruf. In a publication from the year 1742, the well-known Parisian anatomist, Croissant de Garengeot (1688-1759), maintained that Ruf, not William Harvey, was the discoverer of the circulation of blood - a discovery that, it should be noted, is credited as one of the most important in the entire history of medicine. The book had already appeared in a second edition before it was reviwed by Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777), a learned doctor from Bern, who, mocked the attribution to Ruf of this "nouveauté fort considérable" and by way of correcting it, noted that in the Trostbüchlein Ruf had merely spoken, not of heart contractions and the circulation of fluids, but rather of a spirit of life (Lebensgeist).

The false crediting of discoveries as well as their correction by one of the most experienced medical reviewers of the eighteenth century shows that from the late sixteenth century onwards learned doctors in Europe engaged with Ruf's German and Latin writings and adapted, translated, and reviewed them critically. As a result, they continued to reach new audiences. This impression accords well with the reception history reconstructed in Jakob Ruf: Leben, Werk und Studien, to which evidence from across Europe bears witness:

  • Ruf's collection of monstrous and wonderful births documented in the texts and images of the Trostbüchlein was taken up by Ambroise Paré and many others (cf. The introduction and commentary to the edition in volume IV)
  • The Latin version of the Trostbüchlein was incorporated into the important early modern anthology of gynaecological writings (Gynaeciorum, 1586), which, inter alia, includes texts from the (pseudo-)Trotula tradition, Felix Platter's series of plates on the anatomy of women and translations of Konrad Gessner (cf. the introduction to the edition and the edition of the accompanying texts of this anthology in volume IV)
  • The Trostbüchlein was reprinted frequently in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and translated into Dutch, Czech, and English (cf. the edited and translated accompanying texts of numerous editions in volume IV)
  • The Tumorbüchlein was translated for the Amsterdam guild of surgeons in the mid-seventeenth century (cf. the edition of the accompanying texts in volume IV)
  • Bibliophile doctors of the eighteenth century collected works of Jakob Ruf, thereby demonstrating their keen interest in his writings on childbirth and the treatment of tumors (cf. the list of copies in the introductions to the editions in vol. IV).

Jacob Rüf, Ruëff, Rüeff, Ryef, Ruoff, Ruof?

Ruf's name was not only entered incorrectly in a catalogue of heretics. Ruf's name, which was written in many variants in the sixteenth century, has never been modernized and unified in what little modern research on him has been published. As a result, he also has not been entered into library catalogues or on-line indices using a standardized form of spelling. The startling multitude of spellings for his name has led to false identifications (on this subject, see the biography in volume I) and to reversals of identity (including one that no doubt would have irritated Ruf, namely his identification with Walther Hermann Ryff). Many of these mistakes can still be found in recent reference works and have led to disciplinary-specific ways of spelling Ruf's name, depending on the areas of research and whether the author of the medical works or of the theatrical compositions is being invoked. It would be hard to find another case in which one personality has been split up simply due to multiple spellings of his name.

For the complete edition of Jakob Ruf's works, we decided to adopt (and to establish) the modern form, Jakob Ruf. In this way, the author remains identifiable disregarding any disciplinary boundaries. As one and the same author. The modern form of Ruf's name has the advantage that it is easily pronounced. Of course, in an oral context it can be pronounced with a dipthong [Ruef], just as it most likely was spoken in Swiss-German and Southern German regions during Ruf's life-time. Whoever conducts electronic research however, must take into account that many databases still employ the historical variants of Ruf's name as listed above.

Studies of Ruf's Work

Clemens Müller: Humanismus und Humanität im medizinischen Werk von Jakob Ruf, Stadtschnittarzt zu Zürich.
In: Nova Acta Paracelsica 22 & 23, (2008/2009), pp. 75-87.

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller: Ärzte, Astronomen und Astrologen - wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Genealogie als Einblattdruck. Zum Ärzte- und Astrologenverzeichnis und zur Astrologentafel (1545/1546) von Jakob Ruf.
In: LiLi. Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik, Heft 147 / 2007, pp. 96-121.

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller: God's Plan for the Swiss Confederation. Heinrich Bullinger, Jakob Ruf and their Uses of Historical Myth in Reformation Zürich.
In: Randolph C. Head, and Daniel Christensen (eds.): Orthodoxies and Diversities in Early Modern German Culture: Order and Creativity 1550-1750, Leiden 2007, pp. 139-167.

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller: Jakob Ruf (1505-1558) und die Anfänge der eidgenössischen Augenheilkunde.
In: 100 Jahre SOG und die Entwicklung der Schweizer Augenheilkunde. Hg. Schweizerische Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft, Horw 2007, pp. 78-87.

Hildegard Elisabeth Keller / Hubert Steinke: Jakob Ruf's Trostbüchlein and De conceptu (Zürich 1554). A Textbook for Midwives and Physicians.
In: Emidio Campi, Simone De Angelis, Anja-Silvia Goeing and Anthony Grafton (eds.): Scholarly Knowledge: Textbooks in Early Modern Europe, Genf 2008 (Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance), pp. 307-332.