Aretaeus of Cappadocia

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Aretaeus of Cappadocia

(fl. ca. a.d. 50)


Aretaeus is known for his text on the causes, symptoms, and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. The dates of this physician, who was rarely cited in antiquity, have long been a matter of dispute, but it should now be clear that Aretaeus belongs to the middle of the first century and that he was a contemporary of the famous pharmacologist Pedanius Dioscorides, who cites him once. Further, since Aretaeus probably knew Andromachos, Nero’s personal physician (to whom Dioscorides dedicated his work), we may conclude that at some time he had resided in Rome. Nothing more is known about his life.

Aretaeus belonged to the so-called Pneumatic school of physicians, which had been founded in the first century b.c. by Athenaeus of Attalia, who had studied under the Stoic Posidonius. Since Aretaeus is the only one of the Pneumatic school whose work has come down to us intact, he is a valuable source in several respects: (1) One can trace in his work several specific influences of the Stoic-Posidonian ideas and influences in medicine (for instance, the idea of the soul’s ability to predict). (2) Aretaeus’ position on the physician’s compassion for the patient, for instance, reveals that the Pneumatics took a position close to that of the early Christians, and thus forms an important link between medicine and early Christianity (which actually was not very affable to medicine). (3) Aretaeus reveals that the “orthodox” Pneumatic school of the first century led to a strong revival of the doctrine of Hippocrates as well as of the Ionic dialect within medical literature. Since Aretaeus also used Homeric words and modes of expression, he represents an important example of the Greek style of prose in imperial times, especially that of the so-called second sophistic.


Aretaeus’ text on acute and chronic diseases, the original title of which is unknown, is edited by C. Hude in Corpus medicorum Graecorum, 2nd ed., II (Berlin, 1958): for the physician’s compassion, see p. 7. 11.17 ff.; for the soul’s mantic power, see p. 22, 11. 26 ff.

Dioscorides’ reference to Aretaeus is Pedanii Dioscuridis Anazarbei De materia medica, M. Wellmann, ed., 2nd ed., III (Berlin, 1958), 298, 1. 19. For the dating of Aretaeus’ life and for the Stoic-Posidonic and Christian features of the Pneumatics and of Aretaeus, see F. Kudlien, “Untersuchungen zu Aretaios von Kappadokien,” in Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz, no.11(1963), ch. 1. See also “Pneumatische Ärzte,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, supp. XI (in press).

Fridolf Kudlien