Lisbon: Na Officin. de Pedro Ferreira, Impressor da Augustissima Rainha N.S., 1733.
Quarto: 20 x 15 cm. , 5-20 pp.
With a woodcut illustration of conjoined twins on the title. A fine copy bound in modern wrappers.
An account of conjoined twins, joined at the pelvis (ischiopagus), The twins were born on 1 October 1732; their mother was a slave named Anna. The illustration on the title page shows the twins, disproportionate in size. The author of the tract is Anselmo Caetano Munhoz de Abreu Gusmão e Castello Branco, physician of the University of Coimbra, writing here under the pseudonym Vasco de Mendanha Coelho. I have located three copies in North American institutions: Penn, Newberry, Harvard.
Conjoined ischiopagus twins are monozygous twins (identical twins produced by the division of a zygote created by fertilization of one ovum by one sperm cell), whose bodies are joined in utero and connected by their pelvis. Ischiopagus twins share parts of the spine, central nervous system, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. They account for 10 percent of all conjoined twins.
The author gives a minute account of the anatomy of these girls and of their birth. They were joined at the pelvis; the rest of their bodies were perfectly formed, each with distinct heads, arms, and legs. Tragically, “the route of the intestines was closed in both, and the urinary tract had no orifice.”
During the birth, the head of one of the twins was too large to pass though the birth canal. Perceiving that the twins were joined together, the midwife, Izabel Rosada, “resolved to have the slave's womb opened, after receiving the sacraments.” But having found that the infants were dead, she removed the head of the larger one to allow her to remove the twins from the mother’s body.
Castel Branco describes other contemporary cases, such as a pair of boys, conjoined at the stomach and intestines but with different pulses and heartbeats, born) in 1716; two girls, joined at the buttocks, born in Galicia in 1723, who, though otherwise perfect in every other way, had contrary dispositions; and a pair of boys, conjoined at the back, who lived to be twenty, at which point one of them perished, leading to the death of the other shortly thereafter.
When Castel Branco turns to a discussion of the nature and causes of such deformities, he cites such teratologist-physicians as Estêvão Rodrigo de Castro, who identified five categories of monsters (and from whose writings the account of the 20-year old twins is taken), and Fortunio Liceti, author of the celebrated “On the Nature and Causes of Monsters”, as well as the anatomist-embryologists William Harvey and Marcello Malpighi. Castel Branco employs the word “monstra” (formally “portents”) in its dual sense to refer to true, observed anatomical abnormalities as well as to fantastic creatures (giants, human-animal hybrids, New World “Amazons”, etc.). Included are various reports of the latter, taken from writers such as Conrad Lycosthenes and Julius Obsequens but also derived from the sort of captivating “news” accounts published in pamphlets (such as the one that we are dicussing here.) We learn of a boy whose body terminated in a mermaid’s tail, bear cubs with human faces discovered by two hunters in Lithuania, etc.
Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez 348; Exposicao de Manuscritos e Livros Impressos dos Seculos XV a XVIII p. 21.