Great Moments in Medicine #1

by | Art, History | 1 comment

Galen — Influence for 45 Generations
painting by Robert A. Thom

Claudius Galen (c. A.D.129-199) was a Greek physician who wrote about medical practice. During his life he wrote, lectured, gave public demonstrations, and had a successful private practice. He wrote 500-600 papers, which have been reported to comprise approximately two and one half million words. Only about 100 of his works remain today.

Extant works include:

On the Natural Faculties — He explains the physiological or biological powers of the living organism. He believed living organisms were governed by a Physis or Nature, and this Nature was a biological principle upon which he based his medical teaching. This work is a combination of philosophy and medicine — mostly philosophy.

On the Nature of Man

Exhortation to Study the Arts

On Diagnosis from Dreams

The Best Doctor Is Also a Philosopher

Is Healthiness a Part of Medicine or of Gymnastics

The Affection and Errors of the Soul

The Construction of the Embryo

The Thinning Diet

The Soul’s Dependence on the Body

On the Use of the Parts of the Human Body

Significant excerpts:

On the Natural Faculties 1:13-14; 3:13

1.13. … [On the bladder.] The fact is that those who are enslaved to their sects are not merely devoid of all sound knowledge, but they will not even stop to learn! Instead of listening, as they ought, to the reason why liquid can enter the bladder through the ureters, but is unable to go back again the same way,– instead of admiring Nature’s artistic skill — they refuse to learn; they even go so far as to scoff, and maintain that the kidneys, as well as many other things, have been made by Nature for no purpose!

And some of them who had allowed themselves to be shown the ureters coming from the kidneys and becoming implanted in the bladder, even had the audacity to say that these also existed for no purpose; and others said that they were spermatic ducts, and that this was why they were inserted into the neck of the bladder and not into its cavity. …

14. … Now people of the present day do not begin by getting a clear comprehension of these sects, as well as of the better ones, thereafter devoting a long time to judging and testing the true and false in each of them; despite their ignorance, they style themselves, some “physicians” and others “philosophers.” No wonder, then, that they honor the false equally with the true. For everyone becomes like the first teacher that he comes across, without waiting to learn anything from anybody else. And there are some of them, who, even if they meet with more than one teacher, are yet so unintelligent and slow-witted that even by the time they have reached old age they are still incapable of understanding the steps of an argument…. In the old days such people used to be set to menial tasks…. What will be the end of it God knows!

3.13. [On the Heart] … In the case of the arteries this is clear enough, as also in the case of heart, thorax, and lungs; for, since all of these dilate and contract alternately, it must needs be that matter is subsequently discharged back into the parts from which it was previously drawn. Now Nature foresaw this necessity, and provided the cardiac openings of the vessels with membranous attachments, to prevent their contents from being carried backwards. How and in what manner this takes place will be stated in my work “On the Use of Parts,” where among other things I show that it is impossible for the openings of the vessels to be closed so accurately that nothing at all can run back. Thus it is inevitable that the reflux into the venous artery (as will also be made clear in the work mentioned) should be much greater than through the other openings. But what it is important for our present purpose to recognize is that every thing possessing a large and appreciable cavity must, when it dilates, abstract matter from all its neighbors, and, when it contracts, must squeeze matter back into them. This should all be clear from what has already been said in this treatise and from what Erasistratus and I myself have demonstrated elsewhere respecting the tendency of a vacuum to become refilled.

On Diagnosis in Dreams

The vision-in-sleep [enhypnion], in my opinion, indicates a disposition of the body. Someone dreaming a conflagration is troubled by yellow bile, but if he dreams of smoke, or mist, or deep darkness, by black bile. Rainstorm indicates that cold moisture abounds; snow, ice, and hail, cold phlegm.

It is necessary also to pay attention to the stage [kairos] of the disease and to the nourishment that has been taken. If, for example, someone who thinks that he is being covered with snow has this impression at the onset of an attack accompanied by trambling, shivering, or chills, one must assign this for the most part to the stage of the disease, not to the disposition of the body. But someone who has such a dream when the disease is past its crisis will provide us with a firmer indication of the coldness of his prevailing humors, all the more so if he has not eaten any of the phlegmatic foods, which, when they are encompassed in the stomach, make possible the coming-into-being of such an impression, even though the disposition in the whole body is not similar.

But since in sleep the soul does not produce impressions based on dispositions of the body only, but also from the things habitually done by us day by day, and some from what we have thought – and indeed some things are revealed by it in fashion of prophesy (for even this is witnessed by experience) – the diagnosis of the body from the visions-in-sleep that arise from the body becomes difficult.

Now if it were necessary only to distinguish this cause from the things done or thought by day, it would not be at all difficult to conclude that whatever has not been done or thought is arising from the body. But since we concede that there are also prophetic dreams, it is not easy to say how these might be distinguished from the ones arising from the body….

1 Comment

  1. JacquelineB

    Fascinating! Thank you for posting this.


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