Galen, Claudius

, after Hippocrates prince of the Greek physicians, was a native of Pergamus in the Lesser Asia, where he was born about A. D. 131, in the reign of the emperor Adrian. His father, whose name was Nicon, was an able architect, and spared neither trouble nor | expence in the education of his son. Galen studied with success all the philosophy of his time, but finally applied himself to medicine as his profession. Satyro and Peiops, two eminent physicians of his time, were his chief preceptors in that science. But his application to the works of Hippocrates contributed more than any other instruction to the eminence he attained.

Having exhausted all the sources of literature -that could be found at home, he resolved to travel, in order to improve himself among the most able physicians in all parts; intending at the same time to take every opportunity, which his travels would give him, of inspecting on the spot the plants and drugs of the several countries through which he passed. With this view he went first to Alexandria, where he continued some years, induced by the flourishing state of the arts and science^ in that city. From thence he passed into Cilicia; and? J travelling through Palestine, visited the isles of Crete and Cyprus, and other places. Among the rest, he made two voyages to Lemnos, on purpose to view and examine the Lemnian earth, which was spoken of at this time as a considerable medicine. With the same spirit he went into the lower Tyria, to get a thorough insight into the true nature of the Opobalsamum, or balm of Gilead. Having completed his design, he returned home by the way of Alexandria.

He was now only twenty-eight years of age, and had made some considerable advances toward improving his art. He had acquired a particular skill in the wounds of the nerves, and was possessed of a method of treating them never known before; for Galen, as well as all other ancient physicians, united surgery to medicine. The pontiff of Pergamus gave him an opportunity of, trying his new method upon the gladiators, and he was so successful that not a single man perished by any wounds of this kind. He had been four years at Pergamus, exercising his faculty with unrivalled fame, when, being made uneasy by some seditious disturbances, he quitted his country and went to Rome, resolving to settle in that capital. But his views were disappointed. The physicians there, sensible of the danger of such a competitor, found means by degrees so completely to undermine him, that he was obliged, after a few years, to leave the city. He had, however, in that time made several acquaintances, | both of considerable rank, and the first character for learning. Among others, he had a particular connection with Eudemus, a peripatetic philosopher of great repute. This person he cured of a fever, which from a quartan, bad degenerated into a triple quartan, by the ill-judged application which the patient had made of the theriacum; and what is somewhat remarkable, Galen cured the malady with the same medicine that had caused it; and even predicted when the fits would first cease to return, and in what time the patient would entirely recover. Indeed, so great was his skill and sagacity in these fevers, that if we may believe his own words, he was able to predict from (he first visit, or from the first attack, what species of a fever would appear, a tertian, quartan, or quotidian. He was also greatly esteemed by Sergius Paulus, praetor of Reme; as also by Barbarus, uncle to the emperor Lucius; by Severus, then consul, and afterwards emperor; and last^ by Boethus, a person of consular dignity, in whose presence he had an opportunity of making dissections, and of shewing, particularly, the organs of respiration and the voice, His reputation, likewise, was much increased by the success which he had in recovering the wife of Boethus, who on that occasion presented him with four hundred pieces of gold. But that on which he valued himself most, was the case of a lady, who was said to lie in a very dangerous condition; whose disorder he discovered to be love, the object of which was a rope-dancer thus rivalling th discovery of the luve of Antiochus for Stratonice, which had given so much celebrity to Krasistratus.

After a residence of about four or five years at Rome, he returned to Pergamus *. But he had not been there long, when the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, who had heard of his fame, sent for him to Aquileia, where they then resided. He bad no sooner arrived in this city, than the plague, which had shewn itself a little before, broke out with fresh and greater fury, so that the emperors were obliged to remove, attended by a very small retinue. Lucius died on the road, but his corpse was carried to Rome; and Galen found means, though not without some trouble, to follow soon after. He had

He tells us in another place, that causes conspired in determining him to he was forced from Rome at this time that measure. Galen de lib. propr. by the plague, and apparently both c. 1. | not been long returned, when Marcus acquainted him with his intention to take him in his train to Germany; hut Galen excused himself, alledging, that jEsculapius, for whom he had a particular devotion, ever since the God cured him of a mortal imposthume, had advertised him in a dream never to leave Rome again. The emperor yielding to his solicitations, he continued in the city; and it was during the absence of Marcus that he composed his celebrated treatise “De usu partium,” and some others.

All this while the faculty persecuted him continually, insomuch that he was apprehensive of some design against his life. Under this suspicion, he retired very often to a country-house, where Commodus the emperor’s son resided. That prince was then under the tuition of Pitholaus, to whom the emperor had given orders, if his son should be taken ill, to send for Galen. This order gave him an opportunity of attending the prince in a fever, which appeared very violent on the first access. He had the good fortune to remove the disease, and the following eulogium was made by Faustina the princess: “Galen,” says she, “shews his skill by the effects of it, while other physicians give us nothing but words.” He also cured Sextus, another son of Aurelius Marcus, and predicted the success, against the opinion of all his colleagues. Thus he raised his fame above the reach of envy; and he continued not only to preserve, but increase it. The emperor, after his return from the German expedition, was suddenly seized in the night with violent pains in the bowels, which, being followed by a great flux, threw him into a fever. Next day, he took a dose of hiera picra, and another of the theriacum ;*


The emperor during his absence had sent to tialen to prepare thfc theriarum in the manner he had seen it done by his first physician Demetrius. The commission was executed entirely to the satisfaction of Marcus, as he signified after his return to Rome, Galen observes, that the emperor was a good judge of this medicine, being used to take it every day as a preservative against poison; and he found that made by Galen so good, that he resolved to make use of it soon after it was finished, contrary to the usual custom of letting it stand awhile, till the opium bad lost some of its soporiferous quality. Ibid, de Antidotis, lib. i. I is remarkable, that this medicine was 1 so much esteemed by a succession of emperors after Nero, that in preparing it, they ordinarily examined the drugs themselves. To this purpose, we find our author observing in the same work (lib. xiii.) that he had made the theriacum for the emperor Severus, but it was not so good as this made for Marcus because Commodus, who succeeded this last prince, had not taken care to get good drugs, the cinnamon especially, which was one of the principal, being bad.

after which, the physicians who | bad attended his person in the army, ordered him to be kept quiet, giving him nothing but a little broth for the space of nine hours. Galen, being called in soon after, attended with the rest, and they, upon feeling the patient’s pulse, were of opinion that he was going into an ague. The emperor, observing that Galen stood still without approaching him, asked the reason: Galen replied, that his luNe being touched twice by his physicians, he depended upon them, not duubting but they were better judges of the pulse than he was. The emperor, little satisfied with this answer, immediately held out his arm. Galen having considered the pulse with great attention, “I pronounce (says he) that we have nothing to do here with the access of an ague; but the stomach is overcharged with something that remains undigested, which is the true cause of the fever.” These words were no sooner uttered, than the prince cried out aloud, “That is the very thing, you have hit the case exactly;” and repeating the words three times, asked what must be done for his relief. “If it was the case of any other person,” replied Galen, “I should order a little pepper infused in wine, which I have often tried with success in this case; but as it is the custom to administer to sovereign princes only mild remedies, it suffices to apply hot to the stomach a piece of flannel dipped in the oil of spike.” Marcus did not neglect to make use of both these remedies; and in the issue said to Pitholaus, his son’s governor, “We have but one physician .*

It is somewhat remarkable, that notwithstanding his frequent attendance, as well as cures performed upon this emperor, he never acquired the title of Archiater. Le Clerc’s Hist, Lib. xi. c. i. p. 3. Perhaps the title was not coined at that time.

Galen is the only valuable man of the faculty.

Thus distinguished above his contemporaries, did this prince of physicians continue to practise at Rome, the capital of the world, till his death, which happened A. D. 201, in his 70th year. He had usually enjoyed a perfect state of health, the effect of observing a strict regimen both in diet and exercise: for, being subjected to frequent disorders in his younger days

Before he was eight and twenty, he hardly passed a year without some disorder; we have already mentioned an imposthume, which was cured by the assistance of Æsculapias. Of this he gives the following account: “Being afflicted,” says he, “with a fixed pain in that part where the diaphragm is fastened to the liver, I dreamt, that Æsculapius advised me to open that artery which lies between the thumb and second finger of my right hand. I did so, and immediately found myself well.

he studied his own | constitution, and having fixed the methods of preserving it, followed them strictly. This was nothing more than taking care to eat such meats as. were of easy and equal digestion, abstaining particularly from summer fruits, confining himself to figs and raisins, and using a constant and equal exercise. By following these rules, he never had any distemper, except once a fever of one day’s continuance, occasioned by too much study and over-fatigue.

He was a man endowed with excellent parts, and, baring the advantage of the best education, became not only an eminent physician, but also a great philosopher; and was particularly happy in a facility of expression, and an unaffected eloquence; but the style of his works is extremely diffuse, his sentences are sometimes perplexed, and sometimes absolutely obscure. The great number of books which we have of his composing, to pass over those we have lost,*


It is certain some of them were lost in his life-time by a fire which destroyed the Temple of Peace at Rome, where they were deposited. That temple was one of the schools of the physicians. Le Clerc, “Hist of Physic,” p. III. lib. ii c. i.

are a convincing proof how little pains it cost him to write. Suidas tells us that he wrote not only ou physic and philosophy, but also on geometry and grammar. There are reckoned above five hundred books of his upon physic only, and about half that number upon other sciences. He even composed two books, containing a catalogue of his works; shewing the time and place in which some of them were composed, together with the occasion of writing them, and the proper order of reading them.

These stand at the head of the list of his works, by Chartier.

Without entering into a long detail of all the particular treatises written by Galen, a vast collection of which is ia the British Museum, it may be sufficient here to notice the different editions of the whole of his works that have been transmitted to us. The Greek editions are those of Aldus and Aud. Asulanus, printed at Venice, 1525, in 5 vols. folio, and of Hieron. Gemusæus, at Basil, 1538, in the same form. The Latin editions are, that of Paris, 1536, folio, printed by Simon Colinteus; and reprinted ?at Lyons, in 1554, with additions and corrections^ by Joan. Frellonius; that of Basil, 1542, folio, printed by Frobeiiius, and edited by Gemusæus; those of Basil again in 1549, 1550, and 1562; the last of which contains a | preface by Conrad Gesner, in which he comments with great judgment on the merits of Galen and his works, and of his different translators: the edition of Venice, 1562, with the corrections of John Baptist Rasario: ten editions published at Venice by the Juntas in different years between 1541 and 1625; the ninth of which, printed in 1609, and the last, are precisely the same, and are the best and most correct: lastly, an edition printed at Venice in 1541—45, by John Farreeus, in 7 vols. 8vo, with the notes of Ricci. An edition of Galen’s works, both in Greek and Latin, in an elegant form, was published at Paris, in 13 vols. folio, by U6ii6 Chartier, including also the works of Hippocrates; it is deemed a correct work.

As a physician, the ancients had the highest esteem for him. Athenacus, his contemporary, shews the great opinion he had of his merit as a philosopher, by making him a guest at his feast of the philosophers; where he not only compliments him upon the great number of his writings, but adds, that in elocution and perspicuity of style, he was inferior to none*. Eusebius, who lived about an hundred years after him, observes, that the veneration in which Galen was held as a physician, was such, that many looked upon him as a God, and even paid him divine worship; accordingly Trallian gives him the title of “most divine.Oribasius, who flourished soon after Eusebius, and was himself Archiater to Julian, testified his esteem for Galen, by the extracts he made of his works, as well as by the praises which he bestows upon him. /Ktius and Paulus vEgineta have also copied Galen, especially the last, and his works were commented on by Stephen the Athenian. Avicenna, Averroes, and the rest of the Arabian physicians, who take the best of what they have from Galen, have not been wanting in their praises of him. After all, however, it is certain he had in his own time a considerable party to contend with, and these latter ages have raised up some powerful adversaries to his name. The practice of Hippocrates, which he laboured to re-establish, did not triumph over the other sects, immediately upon Galen’s declaring against them. The sect of the methodists (as it was called) supported its credit for some ages

It is not, indeed Athenseus, but author was very ancient. Casaubor^‘s the author of the arguments prefised notes upon Athcuaeus. to his books, that says this, but that | from that time, and even furnished physicians to the emperors long after. Yet it gradually mouldered away; and notwithstanding the efforts of the moderns, the party of Galen is very numerous at this day.

Galen is the writer that contains by far the most anatomy of all the ancients. He has given a much more complete anatomical account of the human body than any of his predecessors, or even successors for a thousand years after. There can be no doubt that he dissected the bodies of the inferior animals. But Vesalius, the first of the moderns who ventured to call in question his infallibility, affirmed that he had never dissected a human subject; and this seems now the general opinion, particularly of Haller, and other learned historians of the art.

Thus we have exhibited the bright side of this physician’s character, but we must not close this memoir without shewing the other side also: for the greatest geniuses have their blemishes and defects, which too are often in proportion greater, or at least are seen more conspicuously by being linked to so much splendour. The foible which stands foremost on this side of Galen’s character, is his vanity, which was so excessive as to carry him beyond the bounds of prudence and decency. His writings are fulsomely filled with his own praises, and he magnifies himself in the same degree as he debases other physicians who differed from him; in refuting whom, he throws out the flowers of an acrimonious rhetoric with an unsparing hand. We have already given a convincing proof of the good opinion he entertained of himself, and how little scrupulous he was to make his own eulogium in his recital of M. Aurelius’s disorder. That whole book abounds with stories of the same cast, which also at the same time serve to impeach him of pride, and a disdain and contempt of every body else. In this spirit we see him giving way to most injurious reproaches against the methodists, whom he calls “the asses of Thessalus,” who was the principal founder of the sect. He observed, indeed, more decency towards Erasistratus, Asclepiades, and others of the more ancient physicians; but still, among the praises he bestows upon them, there escapes from him haughtiness enough. But he grows absolutely insupportable, in the ostentatious parade which he makes of having done in physic something what Trajan had done in the Roman empire. “No | person whatsoever before me (says he) hath shewn the true method of treating diseases. Hippocrates, indeed, pointed out the same road; hut as he was the first who discovered it, so he went not so far therein as was to be wished.

Galen is likewise reproached with being superstitious; and we have given an instance of his opening a vein, in consequence of a dream. He teils us also in the same place, that he had two more dreams of the same kind; and says in another place, that, being once consulted in the case of a swelled tongue, he directed a purge, and somewhat cooling to be held upon the part; the patient took the purge, and had a dream the same night, jn which he was ordered to apply a gargle of lettuce juice, whicn succeeded very well. But this superstition was the religion of his country, of which Æsculapius, as he teils us, was the God, and was held to be that particular God whose province it was to assist the sick in dreams.

He is also charged with bearing a particular enmity to the Christians; it is true, that speaking of the methodists and other sects in physic, he says, “That their several followers were as obstinately attached to their parties, as the disciples of Moses and Christ were to theirs.” But this does not imply any particular ill will against the Christians, or that he thought worse of them than the pagans generally did. As to the story that is told, of Galen’s hearing in his old age of the miracles wrought in Juduea by the name of Jesus, and resolving to take a journey thither to see them, but that he died on the road, or upon the borders of the country, after lying ill ten days of a fever; it is merely a monkish forgery. 1


Life prefixed o his Works, by Chartier. —Moreri. —Haller Bibl. Med. Praet. —Chaufepie.Saxii Onomast. Thomson’. Hist, of the Royal Society.