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date: 25 June 2024


, of Pergamum, 129–216 CE


, of Pergamum, 129–216 CE
  • Ludwig Edelstein
  •  and V. Nutton


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

In a spectacular career rose from gladiator physician in Asia Minor to court physician in the Rome of Marcus Aurelius . The son of a wealthy architect, he enjoyed an excellent education in rhetoric and philosophy in his native town before turning to medicine. After studying medicine further in Smyrna and Alexandria (1) , he began practising in Pergamum in 157, and went to Rome in 162. Driven out by hostile competitors, or fear of the Plague , in 166, he returned in 169, and remained in imperial service until his death. A prodigious polymath, he wrote on subjects as varied as grammar and gout, ethics and eczema, and was highly regarded in his lifetime as a philosopher as well as a doctor.

Although Plato (1) and Hippocrates (2) were his gods, and Aristotle ranked only slightly below them, he was anxious to form his own independent judgements, and his assertive personality pervades all his actions and writings. His knowledge was equally great in theory and practice, and based in part on his own considerable library. Much of our information on earlier medicine derives from his reports alone, and his scholarly delineation of the historical Hippocrates and the writings associated with him formed the basis for subsequent interpretation down to the 20th cent. Large numbers of new texts, some book length, continue to be recovered, mainly in translation, but some in the original Greek.

He made ambitious efforts to encompass the entirety of medicine, deriding those who were mere specialists or who rejected any engagement with theory. The best physician was, whether or not he knew it, also a philosopher, as well as a man good with his hands. Galen reports some spectacular surgical successes, like his removal of a suppurating breastbone, and he expected even moderate healers to be able to perform minor surgery . Although he rarely refrained from laying down the law on how to diagnose and treat patients, he equally stressed the inadequacy of general rules in an individual case. Although contemporaries credited him with almost miraculous skills in prognosis (which incorporated diagnosis), especially in what might be termed stress-related diseases, he replied that they were easily derived from Hippocratic first principles and that a sound diagnosis depended on close observation of every detail. His authoritative bedside manner would also have contributed to his success with patients.

Galen was particularly productive as anatomist and physiologist (see anatomy and physiology ). Dissecting animals, especially monkeys, pigs, sheep, and goats, carefully and often, he collected and corrected the results of earlier generations by experiment, superior factual information, and logic. His physiological research was at times masterly, particularly in his series of experiments ligating or cutting the spinal cord. At others, his reliance largely on non-human anatomy, coupled with his belief that the basic structures of the human body had been described by Hippocrates, led him to ‘see’ things that were not there, e.g. the rete mirabile at the base of the human skull, cotyledons in the womb, and a connection between spleen and stomach.

His pathology , founded on the doctrines of the four humours and of three organic systems, heart, brain, and liver, explained disease mainly as an imbalance, detectable particularly through qualitative changes in the body. His pharmacology and dietetics were largely codifications of earlier learning, enlivened by personal observations and occasional novel ideas, as with his (unfulfilled and later influential) attempt to classify drugs according to twelve grades of activity.

His philosophy was equally eclectic. His major enterprise to create a logic of scientific demonstration, surviving only in fragments, went beyond Aristotle and the Stoics (see stoicism ) in both the range and precision of its arguments. Later authors credited him with innovations in syllogistic logic, and with powerful critiques of Peripatetic and Stoic ideas on motion. In his psychology, he favoured a Platonic tripartite soul over the Stoic unity, bringing the evidence of anatomy to support his case, in the same way as he used Aristotelian ideas on mixture to explain changes in the physical humours. His ‘philosophical autobiography’, On My Own Opinions, reveals the interactions between his medicine and his philosophy, as well as the limits he placed on certitude.

Galen's monotheistic views, his ardent belief in teleology, and his religious attitude—even anatomy was a veneration of God, and he was convinced of the personal protection of Asclepius —foreshadow the Middle Ages. His dominant influence on later generations, comparable only to that of Aristotle, is based on his achievements as scientist, logician, and universal scholar, and on his own self-proclaimed insistence on establishing a medicine that was beyond all sectarianism. The dissension of earlier science could be conquered by an eclectic rationality based ultimately on notions in which all shared, and be turned into a stable system of Galenic medical and practical philosophy. See medicine , § 6. 1.


  • Opera omnia, C. G. Kühn (1821–33), largely complete for the Greek, but text often unreliable; repr. 1964–5, with extensive bibliography.
  • Scripta Minora 1–3 (Teubner, 1884–93).
  • Institutes of Logic (Teubner, 1896).
  • On Dieting (Teubner, 1898).
  • On Temperaments (Teubner, 1904).
  • On the Use of Parts (Teubner, 1879).
  • On the Natural Faculties (Loeb, 1916).
  • Corpus Medicorum Graecorum series (1909– ), much improved texts, since 1963 with translation and commentary (lists in bibliographies below).
  • Commentary on Plato's Timaeus (1934), works in Corpus Medicorum Graecorum but not in K. G. Kühn .
  • On Procatarctic Causes (1937).
  • On Habits (1941).
  • On the Parts of Medicine; On Cohesive Causes; Regimen in Acute Diseases according to Hippocrates (1969).
  • On the Differences between Homoeomerous Parts (1970).
  • On Examining the Physician (1988).
  • On Semen (1988).
  • On the Elements according to Hippocrates (1996).
  • On My Own Opinions (1999).
  • Substantial sections from the Commentaries on Epidemics I, II, III and VI (1932–40).
  • Œuvres. Tome I, II, III. (Budé series, 2000-7). Tome I (2007) contains a major survey of Galen's manuscripts, as well as the complete Greek texts of On My Own Books and On the Order of My Own Books.

Other published treatises preserved only in the oriental tradition include:

  • Anatomical Procedures IX–XV, M. Lyons, Eng. trans. (1962).
  • Commentary on Airs, Waters, Places (sections), A. Wasserstein (1988; full edition forthcoming).
  • Commentary on the Hippocratic Oath, F. Rosenthal, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 1956.
  • Compendium of the Timaeus, R. Walzer (1941).
  • On Demonstration (fragments), I. von Müller, Abhandlungen Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften München 1895.
  • On Medical Experience, R. Walzer (1944).
  • On Medical Terminology, M. Meyerhof, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1931.
  • On Morals, J. Mattock, Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition, Festschrift R. Walzer (1972).
  • ‘Compendium of Method of Healing’, I. Garofalo, Studi classici ed orientali 1999.
  • On Problematical Movements, C. Larrain, Traditio 1994, new texts from Latin.

Texts published for the first time in Greek include:

  • On My Own Opinions, V. Boudon-Millot and A. Pietrobelli, Revue des études grecques 2005 (the editio princeps by V. Nutton (1999) was based on the Latin version).
  • Avoiding Distress, V. Boudon-Millot, La science médicale antique. Nouveaux regards, Festschrift Jouanna (2008).
English translations
  • Hygiene, R. M. Green (1951).
  • Anatomical Procedures I–IX, C. Singer (1956).
  • On the Passions and Errors of the Soul, P. Harkins (1964).
  • On the Use of Parts, M. T. May (1968).
  • On the Opinions of Hippocrates and Plato, P. De Lacy (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum 1978–84).
  • On Prognosis, V. Nutton (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum 1979).
  • On Respiration and the Arteries, D. Furley and J. Wilkie (1983).
  • On Sects; Outline of Empiricism; On Medical Experience, M. Frede and R. Walzer (1985).
  • On Bloodletting, P. Brain (1986).
  • On Examining the Physician, A. Z. Iskandar (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum 1988).
  • On the Therapeutic Method I–II, R. J. Hankinson (1991).
  • On the Seed, P. De Lacy (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum 1993).
  • A. J. Brock, Greek Medicine (1929), for selection of passages.
  • On Elements, P. De Lacy (1996).
  • On My Own Opinions, V. Nutton (1999).
  • On the Properties of Foodstuffs, M. Grant (2000).
  • On the Properties of Foodstuffs, O. Powell (2003).
  • On Diseases and Symptoms, I. Johnston (2006).
  • P. N. Singer, Selected Works (1997).
  • M. Grant, Galen on Food and Diet (2000).
  • Titles and editions: G. Fichtner, Corpus Galenicum (1990), includes also spuria.
  • Arabic tradition: M. Meyerhof, Isis 1926.
  • M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam (1970).
  • F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums 3 (1970).
  • Chronology: J. Ilberg, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 1889, 1892, 1896, 1897.
  • K. Bardong, Nachrichten der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften Philologisch 1941.
  • D. Peterson, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 1977.
  • Bibliography: K. Schubring, repr. of K. G. Kühn, vol. 20 (1965).
  • V. Nutton, Karl Gottlob Kühn and his Edition of Galen (1976).
  • G. Fichtner, Corpus Galenicum (1990).
  • H. Schlange-Schöningen, Die römische Gesellschaft bei Galen (2003).
  • General surveys: J. Mewaldt, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft 7. 578.
  • V. Nutton, Ancient Medicine (2004).
  • Biography: G. Sarton, Galen of Pergamon (1954), but weak.
  • Medical ideas: C. R. S. Harris, The Heart and the Vascular System (1973).
  • J. Rocca, Galen on the Brain (2004).
  • Philosophy: P. Moraux, Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen 2 (1984).
  • Subsequent influence: O. Temkin, Galenism (1973).
  • Collections of papers on Galen: V. Nutton (ed.), Galen: Problems and Prospects (1981).
  • P. Manuli and M. Vegetti, Le Opere Psicologiche di Galeno (1988).
  • F. Kudlien and R. J. Durling, Galen's Method of Healing (1991).
  • J. A. Lopez Férez, Galeno: Obra, Pensamiento, e Influencia (1991).
  • J. Kollesch, Galen und das hellenistische Erbe (1993).
  • A. Debru, Galen on Pharmacology (1997).
  • D. Manetti, Studi su Galeno (2000).
  • V. Nutton, Galen Beyond Kühn (2002).
  • A. Roselli and I. Garofalo, Galenismo e Medicina tardo-antica (2003).
  • J. Barnes and J. Jouanna, Galien et la Philosophie (2003).
  • C. Gill, J. Wilkins and T. Whitmarsh, Galen and the World of Knowledge (2009).
  • W. Haase, ed., Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.37.2 (1994) contains many essays on Galen.