His life and works--His influence on Medicine.
Claudius Galenus, commonly known as Galen, has influenced the progress of medical science by his writings probably more than any other medical writer. His influence was paramount for fourteen centuries, and although he made some original contributions, his works are noteworthy mainly as an encyclopædia of the medical knowledge of his time and as a review of the work of his predecessors. There is a great deal of information in his books about his own life. He was born at Pergamos in A.D. 130 in the reign of Hadrian. His father was a scholar and his mother somewhat of a shrew. Galen, in his boyhood, learned much from his father's example and instruction, and at the age of 15 was taught by philosophers of the Stoic, Platonist, Peripatetic, and Epicurean schools. He became initiated, writes Dr. Moore, into "the idealism of Plato, the realism of Aristotle, the scepticism of the Epicureans, and the materialism of the Stoics." At the age of 17 he was destined for the profession of medicine by his father in consequence of a dream. He studied under the most eminent men of his day. He went to Smyrna to be a pupil of Pelops, the physician, and Albinus the platonist; to Corinth to study under Numesianus; to Alexandria for the lectures of Heraclianus; and to Cilicia, Phoenicia, Palestine, Crete, and Cyprus. At the age of 29 Galen returned from Alexandria to Pergamos (A.D. 158), and was appointed doctor to the School of Gladiators, and gained much distinction.
He went to Rome for the first time in A.D. 163-4, and remained for four years; and during this period he wrote on anatomy and on the teaching of Hippocrates and Plato. He acquired great fame as a practitioner and, if he had so desired, might have attended the Emperor; but it is probable that Galen thought that the office of physician to the Emperor might prevent him from leaving Rome if he wished to do so. He also gave public lectures and disputations, and was called not only the "wonder-speaker" but the "wonder-worker." His success gave rise to envy, and he was afraid of being poisoned by his less successful rivals. The reason why he left Rome is not certain, and the possible causes of his departure are discussed by Dr. Greenhill in the "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology." A pestilence raged in Rome at this time, but it is unlikely that Galen would have deserted his patients for that reason. Probably he disliked Rome, and longed for his native place. He had been in Pergamos only a very short time when he was summoned to attend the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and L. Verus in Venetia. The latter died of apoplexy on his way home to Rome, and Galen followed Marcus Aurelius to the capital. The Emperor soon thereafter set out to prosecute the war on the Danube, and Galen was allowed to remain in Rome, as he had stated that such was the will of Æsculapius. The Emperor's son Commodus was placed under the care of Galen during the father's absence, and at this time also (A.D. 170) Galen prepared the famous medicine theriaca for Marcus Aurelius, who took a small quantity daily. The Emperor Septimius Severus employed the same physician and the same medicine about thirty years afterwards. It is recorded that the philosopher Eudemius was successfully treated by Galen for a severe illness caused by an overdose of theriaca, and that the treatment employed was the same drug in small doses.
Galen stayed several years in Rome, and wrote and practised as on his former visit. He again returned to Pergamos, and probably was in Rome again at the end of the second century. It is certain he was still alive in the year 199, and probably lived in the reign of the Emperor Caracalla.
He was not only a great physician, but a man of wide culture in every way. In matters of religion he was a Monotheist. There was persecution of the Christians in his day, and it is likely that he came little into contact with the disciples of the new religion, and heard distorted accounts of it, but in one of his lost books, quoted by his Arabian biographers, Galen praises highly the love of virtue of the Christians.
He no doubt found the practice of medicine lucrative when he had gained pre-eminence, and it is recorded that he received £350 for curing the wife of Boetius, the Consul.
Galen wrote no less than five hundred treatises, large and small, mostly on medical subjects, but also on ethics, logic, and grammar. His style is good but rather diffuse, and he delights in quoting the ancient Greek philosophers. Before his time, as we have seen, there were disputes between the various medical sects. The disciples of Dogmatism and of Empiricism had been opposed to each other for several centuries, and the Eclectics, Pneumatists, and Episynthetics had arisen shortly before his time. Galen wrote against slavish attachment to any sect, but "in his general principles he may be considered as belonging to the Dogmatic sect, for his method was to reduce all his knowledge, as acquired by the observation of facts, to general theoretical principles. These principles he, indeed, professed to deduce from experience and observation, and we have abundant proofs of his diligence in collecting experience, and his accuracy in making observations; but still in a certain sense at least, he regards individual facts and the details of experience as of little value, unconnected with the principles which he had laid down as the basis of all medical reasoning. In this fundamental point, therefore, the method pursued by Galen appears to have been directly the reverse of that which we now consider as the correct method of scientific investigation; and yet, such is the force of natural genius, that in most instances he attained the ultimate object in view, although by an indirect path. He was an admirer of Hippocrates, and always speaks of him with the most profound respect, professing to act upon his principles, and to do little more than expound his doctrines, and support them by new facts and observations. Yet, in reality, we have few writers whose works, both as to substance and manner, are more different from each other than those of Hippocrates and Galen, the simplicity of the former being strongly contrasted with the abstruseness and refinement of the latter."
A list of the various editions of Galen's works is given in Dr. Smith's "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology" (1890 edition, vol. ii, pp. 210-12), and also the titles of the treatises classified according to the branch of medical science with which they deal, and it is convenient to follow this classification.
GREEK AND ROMAN
EARLY ROMAN MEDICINE.
EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.
MACHAON (SON OF ASKLEPIOS),
PLATO, ARISTOTLE, THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA AND EMPIRICISM.
THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL.
ROMAN MEDICINE AT THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEGINNING OF THE
IN THE REIGN OF THE
PHYSICIANS FROM THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS TO THE DEATH OF NERO.
THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
I.--WORKS ON ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.
II.--WORKS ON DIETETICS AND HYGIENE.
V.--ON PHARMACY, MATERIA MEDICA, AND THERAPEUTICS.
THE LATER ROMAN AND BYZANTINE PERIOD.
INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON ALTRUISM AND THE HEALING ART.
GYMNASIA AND BATHS.
GREEK AND BATHS
DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
FEES IN ANCIENT TIMES.