Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 8: Venice, Part 3

June 1, 2021


Grand Canal (Canal Grande)

This canal extends for 3,800 meters from Santa Lucia Station to St. Mark's Square, winding in a reversed "S" shape.

It is praised as the "most beautiful road in the world."

Along the canal stand luxurious mansions built by nobles from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

Among them is the mansion of Sagredo, a friend of Galileo Galilei, who was at the University of Padua at the time and engaged in discussions with Galileo.

Based on these discussions, Galileo wrote "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" in the 17th century (a conversation about the cosmic systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus).


The term "canal" in Canal Grande comes from the Latin word "canna" and the Greek word "kanna," meaning "reed" or "rush."

These stems were used as pipes or flutes, evolving into various words in different languages.

In English, we have terms like "canal" (waterway), "canyon," "Grand Canyon," "cannon," "canon" (a musical composition), "channel," among others.

How do the terms "canon" and "canna" relate in music?

In ancient Greece, the reed (canna) was used as a measuring rod for its precise results.

This led to the word "canon," meaning rules, regulations, laws, standards, strictness, or scripture.

In music, compositions that strictly imitate preceding phrases are called canons.

The camera and photocopier manufacturer Canon shares this etymology.

The word "canon," meaning "standard" or "strict," is fitting for a company dedicated to precision engineering, and the pronunciation is similar to the Japanese word for the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon, whom the founders hoped to emulate when the company was established.

In medical terminology, we also have terms like "inguinal canal," "alimentary canal," "recanalization," etc.

The South American instrument (vertical flute) called the quena was also traditionally made from reeds (canna), hence the name.

Nowadays, it's made from bamboo or wood.

In German, a slender tube is called a "Kanüle."

Tubes inserted from the nose to the stomach or used for intravenous therapy and artificial respiration are all called "Kanüle."

Cannes in southern France got its name because it used to be a swampy area covered with reeds.

Now, it's famous worldwide as a resort town where the Cannes International Film Festival is held annually.