Galen of Pergamum

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Galen of Pergamum

Circa 129/130-post 216 c.e.

Medical writer

Sources

Mathematical and Philosophical Roots. Galen was the practitioner of the art who casts the greatest shadow on Western, Islamic, and Hellenistic medical science. The son of Nikon, an architect and geometer, Galen began studies in philosophy at the age of fourteen, but two years later he turned to medicine, which was to be his life’s profession. Never, how ever, did he forsake philosophy and, indeed, throughout his life Galen wrote extensively on the subject. His grounding in geometry is said to have guided his logical mind in an incredible life of practice, research, and writing. A modern, printed edition of Galen’s medical works encompasses some twenty-two, small-print volumes. Alas, his philosophical writings were housed in a temple library that burned during his lifetime and, consequently, his philosophical writings are tragically lost to posterity. He also wrote on grammar and ethics.

Physician to Gladiators and Emperors. Galen studied medicine in several major medical training centers, including Pergamum, Smyrna, Corinth, and Alexandria. When he was twenty-eight, he returned to Pergamum, where he was engaged as a physician to a gladiator company. Working with the wounds on injured combatants allowed him special insight into the treatment of these injuries. Galen’s greatest anatomical writings were produced in Rome, where he went to practice in 162; there he acquired a great reputation. By his own assertion, it was his medical successes, not the public lectures he gave, that established Galen’s fame. He tells us not only that he left Rome for Pergamum as the plague made its way there from the East, but also that he was “Rome-weary” even before that. Later, Galen responded to a call from Marcus Aurelius to cure his medical problems. From time to time he treated various emperors, including Commodus and Septimius Severus.

Sources

Rudolph E. Siegel Basel, Galen’s System of Physiology and Medicine, three volumes (New York: Karger, 1968–1973).

Rebecca Flemming, Medicine and the Making of Roman Women: Gender, Nature, and Authority from Celsus to Galen (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Fridolf Kudlien and Richard J. Durling, eds., Galen’s Method of Healing: Proceedings of the 1982 Galen Symposium (Leiden & New York: E. J. Brill, 1991).