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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Towards a Galen in English

The importance of Galen’s works

The works of Galen of Pergamum (129–216 CE), ‘the Prince of Physicians’, constitute one of the most impressive monuments of Classical medicine. They comprise all areas of medical theory and practice, ranging from anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnosis and prognosis, dietetics and regimen in health, therapeutics, pharmacology and surgery, gynaecology, embryology and theory of reproduction to psychology and ethics. In addition, they cover philosophical and methodological aspects fundamental to the acquisition, systematisation and communication of medical knowledge, such as logic, terminology, epistemology, philosophy of nature and theory of causation. And however voluminous and wide-ranging, they are bound together by an intrinsic and coherent (if eclectic) comprehensive theory of the human body, the human psyche, their place within the natural world, the nature of medical knowledge and the technical and ethical components of medical expertise.

Galen’s works were of enormous influence on the subsequent history of medicine and science, both in the West and in the East, and in Arabic medicine; and Galen’s authority remained powerful until well into the 17th century. Yet, more recently, Galen’s works have also found strong resonance beyond the domain of medical history. Galen was, after all, not only a brilliant doctor and prolific writer but also the court physician of several Roman Emperors, a keen public debater and dissector and an active participant in social and cultural life, first in Pergamum and subsequently in Rome. It is therefore not surprising that Galen’s work currently commands a rapidly growing interest from classicists, ancient historians and students of Greek and Roman literature, philosophy and society; and his writings are being exploited as a rich source for the social, cultural and intellectual history of the early Imperial period and its reception in later times.

Yet Galen’s works are difficult to access. Many are available only in old editions that do not meet current standards of classical scholarship, such as the 19th century edition by Carl Gottlob Kühn (Greek text with Latin translation), which is still the most recent edition aspiring to completeness but which is universally regarded as unsatisfactory – and, in spite of its title Opera omnia, it lacks a number of Galenic works preserved in Latin or Arabic adaptation (such as Character Traits) or deemed lost but later discovered (such as the recently found Avoiding Distress). For only a handful of Galenic texts have the basic modern philological requirements of a critical edition with translation and commentary been fulfilled; and although Galenic scholarship of the last decades has seen significant improvement, it is still the case that large parts of Galen’s work are not available in English translation. While interest in Galen thus seems greater than ever before, the language skills required to read him in the original are becoming more and more scarce.


The purpose, format and setup of the project

The project ‘Towards a Galen in English’ aims to address this need. The purpose of the project is to provide a co-ordinated series of scholarly English translations of works of Galen in a uniform format consisting of introduction, translation, explicative notes, glossaries and indices.

The translations are produced by an international team of translators and Galen scholars and are published by Cambridge University Press in a new series, the Cambridge Galen Translations, edited by Philip van der Eijk. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust through Newcastle University from 2009 to 2014 and is now being supported through the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship scheme as part of the Programme ‘Medicine of the Mind, Philosophy of the Body – Discourses of Health and wel-Being in the Ancient World’ based at the Humboldt University in Berlin. The project is supported by an advisory board consisting of Vivian Nutton (London), Heinrich von Staden (Princeton), Christopher Gill and John Wilkins (both Exeter), Jim Hankinson (Austin, Texas), Christian Brockmann (Hamburg), Véronique Boudon-Millot (Paris), Amneris Roselli (Naples) and Daniela Manetti (Florence).

The project has been planned in close co-ordination with other ongoing Galen projects, such as the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum (CMG) at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, the Galen volumes in the Budé series published by Les Belles Lettres (Paris) and those in the Loeb Classical Library published by Harvard University Press, in order to minimise duplication and, where possible, to promote international collaboration. Indeed, the translations published in the series are based on critical editions that have been published, or are being prepared for publication, in the CMG, or Belles Lettres, or in some cases by other publishers (such as the Galenic Scripta Minora published in the Teubner series).

Yet the novelty of the project lies not only in its provision of English translations. It also aims to make a contribution to international Galenic scholarship, especially through substantial introductions, notes and glossaries, which provide resources for the study of Galenic language and thought, and indeed for Greek medical terminology at large. In this regard, the format of the series is closely modelled on the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series edited by Richard Sorabji and published by Duckworth, from which it has drawn most of its inspiration, and on the CUP series of translations of Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus. Moreover, the project is meant to open up Galen’s work to other disciplines beyond Classics and History of Medicine, such as the History of Philosophy, the History and Philosophy of Science, Cultural History, Linguistics and Literary Studies, and indeed to readers with a medical background.

Galen’s œuvre is vast, and the series therefore gives priority, in the first instance, to works that have not yet been translated into English (or indeed in any modern language), or to works for which an English translation exists which, however, is out of print or in need of revision or replacement in the light of recent developments in Galenic scholarship. A further consideration in the planning of the series has been the interest of the texts included and their relevance to some of the major issues that Galen’s work raises. Thus the works translated in the first six volumes are important witnesses to Galen’s views on the relationship between body and soul, on mental health and well-being and on the psychological management and treatment of human emotions; on the nature of human beings; on the nature and method of medical prognosis and prediction; on the preservation of health and the promotion of a healthy style of living; on the theory and therapeutic practice of pharmacology; and on the structure and purposive arrangement of the human body and its components. They also provide insight in the ways in which Galen arrived at his views and tried to justify them, how he accommodated and appropriated the various intellectual traditions, both medical and philosophical, to which he was indebted, and how successful he was in his attempts to create a synthesis out of these often conflicting tendencies. Furthermore, they give a lively picture of the social and cultural environment in which Galen lived and how it impinged on the formation and development of his ideas; and finally, they are illuminating for Galen’s activities as a writer and communicator, for the ways in which he presented his ideas, the consistency of his terminology, the audiences for whom he wrote, the genres he used to disseminate his ideas and the rhetorical strategies he employed in order to persuade his readers and to distinguish himself from rival doctors, with whom he was in constant competition.


Planning of the series

1. Psychological Writings, ed. P. N. Singer, with contributions from Vivian Nutton, Daniel Davies and Piero Tassinari

This volume was published in 2013. It includes the first English translation of the recently discovered ‘counselling’ work Avoiding Distress, the characterological work Character Traits (preserved in Arabic only) as well as the two key works of Galenic psychology: Diagnosis and Treatment of the Affections of the Soul, which draws strongly on Stoic doctrines of the emotions, and That the Capacities of the Soul follow the Mixtures of the Body, which argues for the Galenic thesis of the dependence of soul, character and cognition on the states of the body, drawing on Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates.


2. Works on Human Nature, ed. Philip van der Eijk and P. N. Singer, with contributions from R. J. Hankinson and Mark J. Schiefsky

This volume includes three works of paramount importance constituting the essentials of Galen’s views on the structure and workings of the human body; two of these are freshly translated into English. Mixtures sets out Galen’s elementary physiology, taking on board the Aristotelian heritage, and provides the basis for physiognomy and temperament theory; the Commentary on Hippocrates’ On the Nature of Man contains Galen’s canonisation of the influential Hippocratic four humour theory; and the Commentary on the Medical Statements in Plato’s Timaeus testifies to Galen’s profound medical appropriation of Platonic natural philosophy and presents a unique chapter in the history of the exegesis of this most influential of Plato’s dialogues.


3. Commentary on Hippocrates’ Prognostic, ed. Christine F. Salazar

This includes the first ever translation of Galen’s sizeable commentary on one of the most famous Hippocratic writings, setting out the prognostic and diagnostic skills of the physician, their epistemological and methodological foundations and their importance for his professional and social reputation.


4. Matters of Health, ed. P. N. Singer

This includes a new translation of Galen’s main systematic work on health, hygiene and life-style covering all aspects of ancient regimen (food, drink, exercise, work and leisure, sexuality, sleep), differentiating according to social class and according to the stages of life ranging from youth to old age.


5. Simple Medicines I-V, ed. John Wilkins

This includes the first ever modern translation of the central books of Galen’s pharmacological oeuvre, laying down his philosophy and methodology of pharmacology and the principles of his system, which were formative of ancient and medieval pharmacology for many centuries.


6. The Function of the Parts of the Human Body, ed. Julius Rocca and Piero Tassinari

This includes Galen’s monumental work on functional anatomy and general physiology, expounding his grand teleological theory of the design and functional structure of the parts of the human body that builds on Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Parts of Animals.