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Author: Vasil Bakurdjiev


Medical Heritage of Dr. Petar Beron (1799-1871)

In the year 2000, the scientists and the public of Bulgaria are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the most outstanding representatives of the Bulgarian National Revival who attempted to create for himself his own Cosmogonia and Anthropogonia, to embrace the entire visible and invisible world, and to rise to the level of the most prominent European scientists and become, as we have called him recently, the Bulgarian Lomonosov.

Today, the fact that the History of Science in Bulgaria probably is aware of the life and the entire encyclopedic work of Dr. Petar Beron is due chiefly to the fact that our contemporaries Neli and Michail (now dead) Batchvarov have established themselves in the history of Bulgarian science as Beron's researchers who have studied the whole scientific heritage of Dr. Petar Beron. It is they who have presented him in his entire development as a pedagogue, physician, public figure, patron and scientist, as the “bearer of a consistent love of enlightenment, science and homeland, of a mind we admire and of a working capacity which amazes us”.

In the first half of the nineteenth century in 1825, he began his studies at Heidelberg University, where he stayed for two years. He then went on to Munich, where he studied and graduated in Medicine. At the end of his studies, he submitted his doctoral thesis on Obstetrics (in 1831), and became a “Doctor of Medicine, Surgery and Obstetric Skills”. After practicing for nine years as a physician in Krajova (Romania), Dr. Beron devoted himself to scientific work and for this purpose he moved to Paris. It was here that, after 1841, he wrote and published many volumes of works in French, German, English, and Greek. After his "System of Atmospherology and System of Geology", his outstanding "Slavonic Philosophy" appeared. He also published other books, culminating in his seven-volume "Panepisteme" (5,000 pages with many original illustrations, drawings and tables!).

In "Panepisteme", Petar Beron makes an attempt to create a universal scientific system which will logically and without contradictions clarify everything connected with the origin, the nature, the laws of movement, and the development of the macro and micro-cosmos.

Beron was a member of several scientific societies, among them the Medical and Physiological Society in Athens. In 1853, he delivered a paper before this Society entitled "On the reasons for and the consequences of the world-wide flood". In Athens, he published three of his works in Greek.

Also of significance was his presentation of a paper at the Royal Academic Society in London on the topic "The reasons for earth magnetism are proved". This paper, together with other works by him, are to be found in the Society’s library in London.

One of the major achievements of this great Bulgarian was the reform of the work of Enlightenment in his homeland, its modernization, the free dissemination of his "Riben Bukvar", financial support for Bulgarian schools, the demand that children should acquire a wide language culture and be treated equally regardless of their religious and ethnic origin, and the provision of financial support for young Bulgarians who were to be educated in Europe.

The ideas of Dr. Petar Beron on medico-biology, anatomo-physiology, and on therapeutic, prophylactic, and traditional nature medicine are not collected and published in a separate volume — they are developed mainly in his doctoral thesis, in his "Slavonic Philosophy", in his "Riben Bukvar", and in many parts of his encyclopedic work "Panepisteme".

Two chapters stand out in the "Riben Vukvar", ‘Man’ and ‘How man should protect his health’, which reflect his achievements in scientific anatomy and physiology, as well as the Hippocratic prophylactic ideas set out in the primer (these are the first scientific and popular texts of medical content from the time of the Bulgarian National Revival).

Beron’s contributions of major significance include the following: (a) he contributed to the dissemination of Western European scientific ideas throughout the Balkans — of the ideas on anatomy of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) and of the views on physiology of William Harvey (1578-1657); (b) he introduced the teaching of actual scientific medical knowledge in Bulgarian schools; he attracted the attention of large student audiences and rapidly enhanced their general and medical culture; (c) he had a high estimation of prophylactic medicine and advocated a positive attitude towards it.

Also to be found in the works of Dr. Beron are unacceptable theses and interpretations (on digestion, the pulsations of the heart, the metabolism, etc.) which were unacceptable even at the time of their publication. However, this usually does not apply to his actual scientific hypotheses and explanations.

In his "Panpisteme", published in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century, and especially in Volumes I and IV of this major work, there is a presentation of the author’s concepts in the sphere of human physiology, electrophysiology, infectious diseases, and dangerous infections. Particularly interesting are his concepts on the formation of races and their scientific explanation in medicine. In these directions, his most important conclusions and achievements can be summed up as: (a) his views on fluids coincide with the major concepts in contemporary electrophysiology and with today’s ideas on bio-streams and potentials within the human organism. Our studies have shown that Petar Beron was the forerunner of the Bulgarian scientific schools in the sphere of physiology; (b) that the emergence of diseases is connected with an irregular nutritional regime and with the influence of the so-called risk factors; (c) the great idea of timely therapy is expressed very successfully: “The more punctually the doctor has started the therapy, writes Dr. Beron, “the more favorable will be the outcome for the patient”; (d) with the rejection of unscientific racial claims for the existence of inferior and superior races, in our view, Dr. Beron was also the forerunner of the scientific biology and
to be more exact, of the anti-racist and anthropological paradigm.

Petar Beron’s doctoral thesis went beyond the confines of the Munich Medical Faculty and attracted the attention of scientists and specialists because of the fact that it deals with one of the unsolved problems of that time: the correlation between the dimensions of the pelvis and the dimensions of the foetus during the process of parturition. Here he made at least two major contributions to science: (a) he devised a new pelvis measuring unit; (b) he drafted tables showing the results of measurements of the head of the newborn child by the help of which the head of the still unborn foetus is measured.

Dr. Petar Beron made valuable contributions to science, ensuring a good start for Bulgarian medical science and helping it to get ahead of time by means of his studies, and directed the attention of researchers to the psycho-prophylactics of parturition. The dissertation work of Dr. Petar Beron, an important ingredient of his scientific medical heritage, makes him the equal of the most important theoreticians of obstetrics and gynecology of that time: Rjonak, Friid, Rjoderer, Stein, Bodelock, etc.

The unique characteristics of the contributions to science of Dr. Petar Beron in the sphere of medicine make them comparable with the achievements of European scientists and doctors of medicine in the nineteenth century. These, together with his ideas in the sphere of physico-chemistry and his hypotheses on the origin and development of the cosmos and man, on the human races and on the earth magnetism, contributed to the development of science as a whole, to the enrichment of the pan-human fund of scientific knowledge.




Unlike all previous Bulgarian literary men, Petar Beron was a lay man and wrote the first wholly secular literary work. He was born in Kotel in 1795 or 1797, the son of a wealthy family of "aba" weavers who were ruined in the Russo-Turkish War of 1812. He began his education at a cell school in Kotel and was then apprenticed to an "aba" weaver in Varna. From here he managed to emigrate to Rumania where he entered a secular Greek school in Bucharest, and then became a teacher in a rich Bulgarian family in Brasov, Transilvania. After this he went abroad and studied medicine in Heidelberg and Munich, and qualified as a doctor in 1831, writing his thesis in Latin. He returned to Rumania and for a time practiced as a doctor. Then he took up trading, made quite a considerable amount of money and gave generous donations to further Bulgarian education. He did not stay in Rumania, however, but returned to Western Europe and visited England and France. He spent most of his time in Paris where he occupied himself with studies connected with physics, mathematics and philosophy. He mastered numerous languages and was able to write scientific and philosophical monographs in French, German, Latin and Greek. He was tragically killed in Kraiova in 1871 by people who were robbing him. Petar Beron reached a. height of scholarship and learning rare, if not unique, among Bulgars of his day. Like Sofroni, he saw the great advantages that Western Europe enjoyed in matters of education and was deeply conscious of the backwardness of his own people.

Curiously enough, the book for which he is particularly remembered was written very early in his life when he was a teacher in Brasov, and before he had traveled to Western Europe. Even at this time he was deeply conscious of the shortcomings of Bulgarian education and the total inadequacy of a syllabus, the sole reading matter of which was the Psalter and other ecclesiastical books in archaic language. Beron’s book published in Brasov in 1824, was known as RIBEN BUKVAR (The Fish ABC) because of a picture of a dolphin on the back cover. It was not at all what we understand by an ABC today, but was more like a little encyclopedia and consisted of eight sections. The first dealt with the letters of the alphabet and the parts of speech. Beron did not attempt definitions of the latter but merely gave examples. The second section contained various prayers with directions for when to say what, but no passages from the Bible, since Beron did not consider it suitable for children. The third section contained proverbs and sayings intended to teach practical guild and Christian morality. The fourth section consisted of wise answers made by ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Diogenes, and Aesop. The fifth section was devoted to ‘Fables’ and the sixth to ‘Miscellaneous Stories’, all of which, like the sayings of the fourth section, were aimed at the moral education of the child and at acquainting him with the wisdom of the past. The seventh chapter contained an account of some aspects of nature, including substances and plants such as coffee, salt, tobacco, cotton and sugar, and animals such as the elephant, the whale, the monkey, the beaver, the dolphin, and man himself. Beron gave special attention to creatures such as the ant and the bee, which have some sort of social organization that his readers might learn civic duty alongside with natural history. The eighth section of the ABC was devoted to arithmetic, again without definitions and theoretical explanations, and the book ended with pictures of some of the beasts described in the seventh section, including the famous dolphin.

An important literary feature of the ABC is that although for technical reasons it was printed in the old Church Slavonic letters, its language is the popular speech of Eastern Bulgaria without any of the old forms which crept into Sofroni’s writings. The ABC is therefore the first Bulgarian book written in the spoken language. Moreover, the Eastern dialect today is considered to be the literary language of Bulgaria, while before Beron the vast majority of books produced, including those by Sofroni himself, tended to be in the western dialect. It is thus doubly historic from the literary point of view.

As an educational reformer Beron desired to make Bulgarian education suited to the practical needs of life and he had a strong sense of moral and social duty which he felt must be encouraged in the the young. He was himself a supporter of the Bell-Lancaster method of teaching. Among his innovations was the introduction of a new method of learning the letters of the alphabet, by their sounds instead of their traditional names, and he also introduced very varied subjects as reading matter in place of the eternal Church books. He believed in the initiative method of teaching, in taking pupils out into the fields and in teaching them dancing and singing.

Beron felt it to be of the utmost importance that the teacher should be a person of the highest moral integrity and for him to set a good example to his pupils in every way. To him, teaching was a sacred cause; not to be undertaken by civil servants or artisans, or people whose first consideration was financial reward. It may be noted here that Petar Beron’s high moral ideals were in no way betrayed by the long line of Bulgrian teachers of the Renaissance who followed him. They included many great patriots who devoted their lives to the resurrection of the country and people, and it was not for nothing that Ivan Vazov, author of the great novel ‘UNDER THE YOKE’, made his hero Ognyanov, a teacher by profession.

Beron’s other works were mainly scientific and were written during his sojourn in Western Europe. They include SYSTEME DE GEOLOGIE ET ORIGINE DES COMETES DU DEUXIEME VOLUME D’ATMOSPHEROLOGIE, which was a continuation of the previous volume in 1847; LE DELUGE, SA CAUSE, SES ACTIONS ET SES EFFETS... 1857, and a further work on this subject in 1858; THE ORIGIN OF THE PHYSICAL, NATURAL, METAPHYSICAL, AND MORAL SCIENCES, and texts for THE COSMOBIOGRAPHICAL ATLAS also in 1858; the Atlas itself in 1859 and METEREOLOGICAL ATLAS in 1860. In 1861 in Paris he produced the first volume of a monumental seven-volume work on a single science which he called PANEPISTEME, and which in his own words embraced ‘everything which exists in the world and everything which proceeds from the mind of man’. Previously, in 1855 he had published in Prague in German a work called SLAVONIC PHILOSOPHY, which had already raised some of the ideas which he developed in greater detail in his PANEPISTEME.

This list gives a very good impression of Beron’s enthusiasm for science and enlightenment, and his encyclopedic breadth of interest. The Fish ABC, however, remains the work for which he is chiefly remembered by his fellow countrymen and which had the greatest influence on the course of the Bulgarian Renaissance. It was received with enormous interest at the time of its publication, but its immediate effect on Bulgarian education was very disappointing. The Bulgarian bourgeoisie was either not yet prepared to make the effort to change the educational system, or lacked the means to do so, and in spite of Beron’s high hopes, the ABC was not immediately adopted as a textbook, and, in general the cell schools continued as before. Ten years were to pass before Beron’s ideas were finally put into practice. It came with the opening of the first modern Bulgarian school in Gabrovo in 1835 by Vasil Aprilov, who had been inspired in his work by a man named Yuri Venelin.


Addendum: If we make an inquiry about the most infamous Bulgarian — viz., that would easily become to be Dr. Petar Beron. It is so because Bulgarians are worldwide known as a nation not producing celebrities. It is not so because no one in Europe during the end of the 19th century regarded Dr. Petar Beron as a Bulgarian. One thing is sure, that the Doctor remained bulgarian in his heart and belonged to the world of the Slavs. What is more, his heart was sent back to a newly liberated Bulgaria, in 1878, to be burried in his native town Kotel. Today, this embalmed heart could still be found in Beron's House Museum in town.

We wanted to make this extension on Dr. Petar Beron for several reasons. The literature on this famous Renaissance man is vast. While looking here and there in the process of gathering materials for this review, we turn on page after page of the life and works of a rare genius. This statement could not be disproved — not only because his literary heritage comprise more than 10 000 pages. He could have been another Alexander von Humboldt for the Slav nations and certainly the multivolume ‘Panepisteme’ could stand hand-in-hand with Humboldt’s ‘Cosmos’. But it is still that we don’t have this magnum opus in Bulgarian.

Otherwise, bulgarians keep a good tradition for this man because of his ‘Fish Primer’ — allegedly, the first bulgarian secular textbook in modern times and in new vernacular. We put an emphasis on this because in Medieval Bulgaria — First and Second Bulgarian Kingdoms — there existed many examples of early secular literature. These, however, remained in the shadows of the Byzantine Literature from 5th to 15th centuries. The later on higher development of the Russian Empire and other eastern nationalities was consistently preceded by the Golden Bulgarian Age. No more comments.

So, how are we going to proceed with a critique on Petar Beron’s philosophy. We have been tying to view the question from many angles. First, there are several good monographs reviewing his outlooks, but it is necessary to abridge all that stuff. Second, if there are other major works on that scholar in languages other than bulgarian, we have to get access to such works and review them. Third, if there are living ancestors of the scholar, we have to contact them for inquiry on existing archive.

Fortunately, we believe that an interested reader will excuse our efforts. As time goes on open access to a ‘Corpus Habeas’ will be available on that author and for free access. Until then our project will keep in touch for any fresh assets on the topic!


Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.

(i). Dr. Petar Beron (1799-1871)


(ii). Title page from the "Fish ABC", published by Dr. Petar Beron in Brasov /1824/. This is the first bulgarian book written in secular language and containing materials for educative purpose.



Copyright © 2008 by the author.