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Galen: A Thinking Doctor in Imperial Rome
12.05.2021 Michael Mcvaugh
Medicine
Galen

Today’s scholars will find it incredible that only sixty years ago no serious historical work on Galen (b. 129 CE) was being done: like the weather, everyone talked about him but nobody did anything about him. As a budding medievalist at Harvard then, anxious to explore Galen’s medical ideas, I discovered that the only advice my mentors could give me was to look through the mouldering pages of Kühn’s edition from the 1820s (there was of course no reprint yet), Greek text and Latin translation, as guided by its index in vol. 20. 

Historians may have been deterred by the language problem, the sheer volume of Galen’s work, his reputation for self-aggrandisement, but for whatever reason they shied away from him. Today the situation has been reversed—there is a frightening quantity of work being published on Galen, new works are being discovered and familiar works being translated into modern languages—and probably the most influential figure in this long rediscovery is the author of the present study, Vivian Nutton. I count about 750 items in its enormously useful bibliography: 670 of them were published after 1960, 50 of those by Nutton himself. Given this situation, it is only someone like Nutton who could be expected to be well enough acquainted with this volume of scholarship to give us an up-to-date assessment of Galen’s life and thought.

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