Galen: On Food and Diet

Galen: On Food and Diet

Galen: On Food and Diet

Galen: On Food and Diet

Synopsis

Galen, the personal physician of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, wrote what was long regarded as the definitive guide to a healthy diet, and profoundly influenced medical thought for centuries. Based on his theory of the four humours, these works describe the effects on health of a vast range of foods including lettuce, lard, peaches and hyacinths.This book makes all his texts on food available in English for the first time, and provides many captivating insights into the ancient understanding of food and health.

Excerpt

Medicine occupies a central position in our lives today. We expect to be diagnosed correctly and to receive the latest treatment based on extensive scientific research. The media enthusiastically recount breakthroughs in our understanding of disease, or complex operations that can restore our quality of life. Alongside this progress psychologists have noted our increasing bewilderment and even anger in the face of death. Wonder at what medicine can achieve is disturbed by what it cannot. It is difficult then to envisage a world where medicine could offer only some comfort and where death, especially among the very young, was always lurking as a very real threat. Yet many historians concede that palliative care by Galen would have been far preferable to anything that was to be available until the closing years of the nineteenth century. Galen was born in AD 129 at Pergamum, a large city on the Aegean seaboard of what is now Turkey. As his father was an architect and interested in education, Galen was given lessons in mathematics and geometry. For a child from a wealthy background this was in some ways unusual, the emphasis in Roman schools being on the literature and rhetoric necessary for a career as a lawyer or a town councillor. On the other hand architecture, whilst an essential part of Roman civilisation, was not a profession that commanded a particularly high status. This liberal and in some ways radical background allowed Galen the scope to experiment: he was not bound by his family to enter into what was regarded as a traditionally safe career. Moreover, since Pergamum had long been an intellectual and cultural centre, Galen was able to attend the lectures of the Stoic and Platonist philosophers who were attracted to the city by its great library. It is an indication of his mental abilities that Galen was only fourteen when he began these studies.

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