15

THE LIFE AND CAREER OF GALEN

Galen of Pergamum is a pivotal figure in the history of Western medicine. Just as the creation of the Hippocratic Corpus in the early Hellenistic period gave a new shape to Greek medicine by establishing a bloc of material against which others could react, favourably or unfavourably, so, 400 years later, Galen by his own example and his writings imposed upon later learned physicians an idea of what medicine was (and, equally important, what it was not) that lasted for more than a millennium. As we saw in the previous chapter, many of his views were not unique to him, but the forceful way in which he developed them and decried others, his frequent claims for the superiority of this or that technique or intellectual methodology, and the sheer power and prolixity of his writings impressed a Galenic stamp on subsequent medicine in Byzantium, the Middle East and the mediaeval West. 1

Galen was born in August or September 129 into a wealthy family at Pergamum (Bergama, W. Turkey). 2 The city was then at the height of its prosperity: stoas, temples and magnificent houses were being built in the town itself, while, outside the walls, a huge temple to the god Asclepius was being refurbished with the support of the Roman emperor himself. 3 Galen's family profited directly from this building activity. His great-grandfather was a land surveyor, his grandfather president of the carpenters' guild, his father, Nicon, a very rich architect with several landed estates. 4 The deep affection Galen displays for his father contrasts with his comments on his mother, whose wild, emotional outbursts, abusing her husband and biting the servants for the slightest mistake, Galen recorded with distaste. 5 Nicon was a man of great culture, an expert in geometry and astronomy as well as in architecture, who carried out experiments on his crops and wines to improve their quality. 6 It is tantalising that not one but two architects of this name are recorded from Pergamum at this period, both of whom composed complicated 'isopsephic' inscriptions for public places, in which all the letters are given numerical equivalents and in which the sum total of each line must be the same. That of Iulius Nicodemus, 'called Nicon the younger', graced a colonnade in the marketplace; that of Aelius Nicon a base for a statue of a satyr. Where a second poem by Aelius, in honour of the sun, was located is unclear, but it too was

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Ancient Medicine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Note to the Reader ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • 1 - Sources and Scope 1
  • 2 - Patterns of Disease 19
  • 3 - Before Hippocrates 37
  • 4 - Hippocrates, the Hippocratic Corpus and the Defining of Medicine 53
  • 5 - Hippocratic Theories 72
  • 6 - Hippocratic Practices 87
  • 7 - Religion and Medicine in Fifth- and Fourth-Century Greece 103
  • 8 - From Plato to Praxagoras 115
  • 9 - Alexandria, Anatomy and Experimentation 128
  • 10 - Hellenistic Medicine 140
  • 11 - Rome and the Transplantation of Greek Medicine 157
  • 12 - The Consequences of Empire: Pharmacology, Surgery and the Roman Army 171
  • 13 - The Rise of Methodism 187
  • 14 - Humoral Alternatives 202
  • 15 - The Life and Career of Galen 216
  • 16 - Galenic Medicine 230
  • 17 - All Sorts and Conditions of (Mainly) Men 248
  • 18 - Medicine and the Religions of the Roman Empire 273
  • 19 - Medicine in the Later Roman Empire 292
  • 20 - Conclusion 310
  • Notes 317
  • Bibliography 419
  • Index of Names 465
  • Index of Topics 478
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