Agathinus, Claudius

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Agathinus, Claudius

(fl. ca. a.d. 50)


Agathinus was a Spartan physician who lived in Rome, where he was connected with the family of the Stoic philosopher L. Annaeus Cornutus. His association with known Stoics was certainly not fortuitous, since he is known to have been a practitioner of the Pneumatic school of medicine founded by Athenaeus of Attalia under the influence of Poseidonius, another Stoic philosopher. Although the identity of Agathinus’ medical teacher is not known, it was certainly not Athenaeus of Attalia (fl. 50 B.c.) himself. Agathinus founded his own school, which he called episynthetic (i.e., eclectic). In direct opposition to the schismatic spirit of Imperial Roman medicine, the episynthetic school championed the intellectual unity of medicine as interpreted by Galen.

Agathinus had many medical disciples, of whom the best known was the celebrated Archigenes, who described his teacher’s scientific attitude: “Therefore Agathinus—who was particular about everything and never relied on mere eclecticism, but for safety’s sake always required empirical verification—administered hellebore (elleborus) to a dog, which therewith vomited” (see Oribasius in Corpus medicorum Graecorum, VI, part 1, 1 [Leipzig-Berlin, 1928], 252).

None of Agathinus’ original writings survive intact, but antique sources mention a work on the pulse, dedicated to his pupil Herodot; a work on fever, especially the kind he called “semitertian fever” and, finally, a work on hellebore. All of these show, therefore, that Agathinus was neither a narrow specialist nor a dubious charlatan, as were so many of his colleagues in Imperial Rome. On the contrary, although only scant information about Agathinus’ life and a few fragments of his writings remain, it is apparent that he was among the really important and influential physicians of the intellectually rich first century a.d.


Information on Agathinus’ personality and the episynthetic school can be found in G. Kaibel, ed., Epigrammata Graeca (Berlin, 1878), no. 558; and in Galen’s Works, ed. C. G. Kühn, XIX (Leipzig, 1830), 353. His associations in Rome are discussed in Suetonius; see Suetonii Reliquiae, ed. A. Reifferscheid (Leipzig, 1860), p. 74, with textual correction by Osann. Agathinus’ disciples are discussed in Galen; see Corpus medicorum Graecorum, V, part 10, 2, 2 (Berlin, 1956), 86, His writing on the pulse is mentioned in Kühn’s edition of Galen’s Works, VIII (Leipzig, 1824), 749 ff.; on fever, in Corpus medicorum Graecorum, V. part 10, 1 (Leipzig, 1934), 62; and on the hellebore, in Caelius Aurelianus, Celeres vel acutae passiones, Bk. 3. sec. 135. Agathinus’ influence is assessed in Galen, Über die medizinischen Namen, M. Meyerhof and J. Schacht, eds., (Berlin, 1931). p. 10. To be used, with some reservations, is M. Wellmann, Die pneumatische Schule bis auf Archigenes (Berlin, 1895), pp. 9 ff.

Fridolf Kudlien