Galen, Galenos of Pergamon, 129-216 A.D.

Claudius Galenus

Claudius Galenus

Ars Medica, Venice 1549

Edited and translated by Martin Akakia (Acakia)

Claudii Galeni Pergameni Ars medica, Quae et ars parva, Martino Acakia Catalaunensi Doctore medico interprete et enarratore, multo quam antea castigatior, et ab infinitis erroribus repurgata.

Galenos of Pergamon, 1549, Venice

Galen, or Galenos of Pergamon was a Greek physician, surgeon, philosopher that moved to Rome and served several Roman Emperors, including Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Septimius Severus. Born in the city of Pergamon (Pergamum), on the western coast of today's Turkey, he comes from an educated family. His father, Aelius Nicon was an architect. Galen obtained his medical education in Pergamon at an Aesclepion, a temple dedicated to the Greek God of healing, Aesclepius. Between age 16 and 28 he was further educated in Smyrna (today Izmir), Corinth, Crete, Cyprus and Alexandria. In 157 at age 28 he returned to Pergamon where he acme chief physician to the Gladiators of the High Priest of Asia. Five years later, Galen moved to Rome becoming a prominent physician and elevating in rank to become chief physician to the emperor.

He was a prolific writer publishing over 400 works. He was so influential that many of his works were among the first to be retranslated from Arabic and Greek and printed after the appearance of the printing press. Galen's influence was profound. Many medical schools, starting with some of the first (Salerno, Bologna) taught Galen over centuries, like a dogma, without ever questioning its accuracy. His animal dissections, as opposed to human dissections led him to make mistakes, errors that were finally uncovered by Andreas Vesalius some 1300 years later. Vesalius' De Humanis Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem published in Basel in 1543 were the first to rectify those errors.

With all those caveats, Galen’s contribution to history of medicine are unquestioned and no self-respecting library of history of medicine could exist without a work of the great Galen. His work includes the first natural, as opposed to the supernatural theory of disease. He summarized and promoted Hippocrates' humoral theory of disease. Although he identified that arteries contained blood, he had an erroneous idea about the circulation. His blood circulation involved the conversion of the "natural spirit" produced by nutrients in the liver, where all the blood was generated, into "vital spirit" in the heart and lungs from where it moved to the brain, where it was turned into “animal spirit” that made the body move ("anima = move").

His work, "Ars Medica", the book we have recently purchased for our collection was translated into Latin and annotated by Dr. Martin Akakia (Acakia), a prominent Professor of Medicine of Catalan origin. The name Akakia was known as "without malice", a highly honorable individual. He obtained his medical degree in 1525 in Paris and became the chief physician for the French King, Francois Ist. By 1545 we see him as Professor at University of Paris. His marriage to Marie Chauveau resulted in two sons and a grandson, one son and grandson with the same name and professions at the same institution.

In 1538 Akakia published a trio of Latin translations of Galen's "De rations curandi", accompanied by the "Commentary" and followed in 1548 by "Ars Medical qua are parva" the book in our collection. The full title of the latter is Galen's "Art of Medicine, or the Small Art, with commentary of a teacher, doctor, an interpreter and a critique of the infinite number of errors that needed purged". The work was first published in Lyon. Our copy is the second edition published in 1549 in Venice. Placing Galen in the right context, translating, correcting his errors could be done either by writing a new treatise (as Vesalius did) or making corrections in the original translation (as our volume does).

Editorial notes by Andrew I Spielman.

Digital Version

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