Author: agostino2013

Women, tumors and anaemia in the ancient world

I have neglected this blog for a long time, owing to my deteriorating health since last autumn. This experience, albeit very unpleasant, has led me to see ancient women’s sufferings in a new light: having perhaps internalised misogynistic prejudice in my own research, I never quite got genuinely interested in ancient gynaecology, although I teach the subject regularly, with some success. It is a dissertation topic of choice for Finalists. When diagnosed with a large uterine fibroid in November 2017, I didn’t think much of it. I was exhausted and bleeding horribly, but as a benign tumour of the...

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Forbidden material, illicit books? Galen on Xenocrates of Aphrodisias

Throughout his works on pharmacology, and especially in his fundamental On simple drugs, Galen offers views on the limits of acceptable in the realm of remedies. A comprehensive, wide-ranging treatise, Galen’s On simple drugs is unique among ancient works on remedies in that the author shares invaluable information, and comments about the nature and the formation of the discipline. But pharmacology is not just any area of medicine, and Galen is no ordinary doctor. A Greek from Asia Minor and Roman citizen, a physician to the emperors of Rome as well as a successful professor (with a fair number of...

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Rethinking ancient pharmacology: Galen’s treatise On simple drugs

Galen’t treatise On simple drugs in eleven books holds a special place in the history of pharmacology. The first major work on the topic after Dioscorides’ De materia medica, Galen’s work brings fresh ideas on the nature, purpose and method of the field. Galen devotes five books to methodological issues, followed by another six books investigating not the apparence, but the properties of each and every simple medicine. This work, in turn, is the cornerstone of all his subsequent treatises, on compound drugs and antidotes. After Galen, Islamic medicine took pharmacology to the next level, systematising and enriching Galen’s ideas....

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Early printed books at Johns Hopkins: a time traveller’s capsule?

Johns Hopkins university, Baltimore, Maryland. Prematurely summery weather and vegetation, mellow green grass and thousands of birds, far, far away from the timid London Spring. As I finished my talk on Galen and popular medicine last Tuesday, my hosts at the History of Medicine institute rewarded me with fresh food and drink (well deserved); then it was time for a visit to their special collections in the history of medicine. A batch of carefully lined-up volumes lay on the large table for me to browse and examine. Christine, the curator, was welcoming and chatty about some of them: the bizarre...

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The real stuff: Galen and the Middle East

What did a Greek doctor like Galen know about ancient Arabia, and how did this affect his practice? While the debt of Islamic physicians to Galen is often put forward, representations of the East in his works are scarcely investigated. Yet in his lifelong quest for “the real stuff” of drugs in a world where fraud was rife, Galen used a remarkable range of Eastern substances, some fairly rare and used only as medication. The history of pre-Islamic Arabia and the surrounding countries is best known through ancient Greek and Latin sources. Texts by the likes of Pliny the Elder,...

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