Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Galen and Galenism

Born: 129, Pergamum [Asia Minor]
Died: After [?] 216 in an Undetermined Place
  • Alain Touwaide
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_396-1


A physician born in 129 in Pergamum (Asia Minor) and educated in Smyrna and Alexandria, Galen started his career as a physician to the gladiators in Pergamum until he was called to Italy by the co-emperors in 168. He then spent most of his career in Rome, taking care of the imperial court and also treating other patients, and died sometime around 216. Thanks to his position, he could devote himself to research and writing, producing an all-encompassing oeuvre in addition to assembling a vast library collection. Attracted to philosophy in his early years, he never lost this interest and built a robust medical system that combined accurate observation of facts with rigorous rational analysis. The influence of his oeuvre, identified as Galenism, was enormous. Whereas his treatises were differently transmitted in Byzantium, several were translated into Syriac in the sixth century CE and into Arabic in the ninth century. Many such Arabic versions and the original works that they generated were translated into Latin in the West from the late eleventh century on, and they gave a new impulse to medicine in the fourteenth century. In the Renaissance, the Galenic oeuvre went through three successive phases: the reappropriation of Galen’s method, the recovery of his text in the original language, and the critical analysis of Galen’s data. At the end of the sixteenth century, Galenism arrived to an end, leaving the field of medicine open to a revival of Hippocratism.

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Primary Literature

  1. The Greek text of all the Galenic treatises known up to the early 19th century has been published (on the basis of earlier editions) with a Renaissance Latin translation in the monumental 20-volume version edited by the German physician and historian of medicine Karl Gottlieb Kühn (17–18) from 1821 to 1833 in his collection Medicorum Graecorum Opera quae exstant (Leipzig: K. Knobloch, 22 tomes). This edition has been reprinted in the 20th century (Hildesheim: Olms Verlag) and more recently (Oxford: Oxford University Press). A new edition (with facing French translation) is currently being published in the Collection des Universités de France (Paris: Belles Lettres). Some works are available with an English translation in the Loeb Classical Library, and several treatises have been translated into English during the 20th century on the basis of Kühn’s edition. Spanish translations are currently being published by Gredos (Madrid), in the Biblioteca clásica Gredos, and also by the Ediciones Clásicas (Madrid) in the Colección de Autores Griegos.Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

  1. A census of the secondary literature on Galen in the 20th century until the early 1990s can be found in Jutta Kollesch and Diethard Nickel, “Bibliographia Galeniana. Die Beiträge des 20. Jahrhunderts zur Galenforschung”, in Wolfgang Haase (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW). Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, Teil II: Principat, Band 37: Philosophie, Wissenschaften, Technik, 2. Teilband: Wissenschaften (Medizin und Biologie [Forts.]), 1351–1420 and 2063–2070. Berlin/New York: Walter De Gruyter, 1994.Google Scholar
  2. For a biography of Galen, see more recently: Mattern, Susan P. 2013. The prince of medicine. Galen in the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. For an overview of the many facets of Galen’s immense oeuvre, see Hankinson, Robert J., ed. 2007. The Cambridge companion to Galen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. On Ars medica, see most recently Boudon, Véronique, ed. 2000. Galien, Tome II. Exhortation à l’étude de la médecine. Art médical. Texte établi et traduit (Collection des universités de France), 147–448. Paris: Belles Lettres.Google Scholar
  5. On medieval Galenism, see the classical work by Temkin, Owsei. 1973. Galenism. Rise and decline of a medical philosophy. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press. More recently: García-Ballester, Luis. 2002. Galen and Galenism. Theory and medical practice from antiquity to the European renaissance, ed. Jon Arrizabalaga, Montserrat Cabré, Lluis Cifuentes, and Fernando Salmón (Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 710). Aldershot/Burlington: Ashgate, and also: Garofalo, Ivan and Amneris Roselli (eds.). 2003. Galenismo e medicina tardoantica. Fonti greche, latine e arabe. Atti del Seminario Internazionale di Siena, Certosa di Pontignano, 9 e 10 settembre 2002 (Annali dell’Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, Dipartimento di Studi del Mondo Classico e del Mediterraneo Antico, Sezione Filologico-letteraria, Quaderni 7). Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale.Google Scholar
  6. For the multiple Renaissance editions and translations of Galen’s treatise, see: Durling, Richard J.. 1961. A chronological census of renaissance editions and translations of Galen. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 24:230–305.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alain Touwaide
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for the Preservation of Medical TraditionsWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.The HuntingtonSan MarinoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Hiro Hirai
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for the History of Philosophy and ScienceRadboud Universiteit NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands