Known simply as Galen, Aelius Galenus was a Greek physician who etched his name in the history books as one of the most accomplished physicians of the Roman Empire. Aside...
Galen of Pergamum (c. 129-216 AD) was born in what is now modern-day Turkey. He received extensive education in various fields, including philosophy and medicine, which prepared him for his later career. Moving to Rome, he quickly gained reputation due to his surgical skills, especially on gladiators, and his lectures.
- Medical Texts: Galen wrote numerous medical treatises which influenced both Islamic and European medicine for centuries. His works were, next to those of Hippocrates, the most studied and quoted in the West until the Renaissance.
- Anatomy and Physiology: While Galen’s knowledge of anatomy was based largely on animal dissection (since human dissections were often forbidden), his observations laid the foundation for subsequent anatomical studies. He recognized the value of the pulse in diagnosis and described the valves of the heart.
- Pharmacology: Galen made significant contributions to the field of pharmacology, creating various therapeutic agents using mixed compounds.
Philosophy and Theory
- Hippocratic Theory: Galen was a firm believer in the Hippocratic theory of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) and based many of his medical practices on balancing these humors.
- Philosophy of Science: Besides medicine, Galen wrote extensively on philosophical topics, making contributions to the philosophy of science and ethics.
- Dominance in Medicine: Galen’s views on anatomy and medicine became the standard reference in Europe for over a thousand years. His incorrect anatomical assumptions were not challenged until the Renaissance.
- Islamic World: Galen’s works were translated into Arabic and influenced prominent Islamic physicians like Avicenna.
Galen’s legacy endured for centuries. Although the Renaissance brought about a revision of many of his anatomical assumptions with more accurate human dissections, his influence in shaping the foundation of Western medicine cannot be overstated.
The term “Galenic” medicine is often used to describe his influence on the practice and theory of medicine for over a millennium.