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The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire by Susan Mattern (OUP)

In our Golden Jubilee year we justifiably celebrate the founding fathers of the College. It is relevant to also reflect on the founding fathers of our profession.
Hippocrates and Galen were important figures in the early history of medicine because they provided the first natural theory of disease compared to ideas based on supernatural phenomena. Palladius, a professor at Alexandra in the sixth century, commented that Hippocrates sowed and Galen reaped. Galen summarised and synthesised the work of his predecessors, and enabled Greek medicine to be handed down to subsequent generations.
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus, better known as  Galen, or  Galen of Pergamon (AD129–c216), contributed greatly to the understanding of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology.
This 2013 book provides an authoritative biography of Galen, whose theories dominated and influenced Western medical thought for more than 1,300 years.
The author, Susan Mattern, is Professor of History at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, USA, and is the author of a number of books on the ancient world.
Galen was born in Pergamon (modern-day Bergama, Turkey). In about 145 AD his father had a dream in which the god Asclepius commanded his son to study medicine. Galen entered the local Asclepieum, and later studied at the medical school in Alexandria. After graduation Galen returned to Pergamon and became the physician to the gladiators of the High Priest of Asia.
In 162 Galen went to Rome and became physician to the family of Marcus Aurelius. During this time the Antonine Plague occurred, which caused millions of deaths. Galen wrote extensively on this plague, probably smallpox.
Galen became the most famous physician in Rome, and Marcus Aurelius described him as ‘Primum sane medicorum esse, philosophorum autem solum’ (first among doctors and unique among philosophers). Galen combined philosophical thought with medical practice, as evidenced in his work, ‘That the Best Physician is also a Philosopher’.
He was a prolific writer, possibly of up to 600 treatises, and the surviving Galen texts represent about one eighth of the literature which has survived from ancient Greece.
Galen's works had not been translated into Latin. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire during the early Middle Ages, the study of the Greek medical tradition went into decline. However, the Greek medical tradition continued to be followed in the Eastern Roman Empire as Galen’s extant Greek manuscripts were copied by Byzantine scholars. After 750 AD some of his texts were also translated into Arabic.
Latin translations of Islamic medical texts began to appear in the west from the 11th century, and were incorporated into the curriculum at the universities of Naples and Montpellier. Galen's works in anatomy and medicine became the foundation of the medieval physician's curriculum.
Galen, therefore, continued to exert an important influence over the theory and practice of medicine until the mid-17th century in the Byzantine and Arabic worlds and in Europe.
However, unlike pagan Rome, Christian Europe did not prohibit dissection and autopsy of the human body. Galen's influence was such that when dissections demonstrated variations from Galen's anatomy, physicians fitted these into the Galenic system. Eventually the work of the Italian anatomists in the 16th century led to the demise of Galen’s considerable influence.
Dr Robert Grogan
Ancient World History: Hippocrates, Galen, and the Greek Physicians
Greek Medicine: Galen - Greek Medicine.Net: www.greekmedicine.net/whos_who/Galen.html;
Mattern, Susan: The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire; Oxford University Press, 2013;
Why were the ideas of Hippocrates and Galen important https://vle.wildern.hants.sch.uk/.../Why_were_the_ideas_of_Hippocrates_and_Galen.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 June 2017 10:25