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date: 31 October 2020

Anonymus Londiniensisfree

  • Daniela Manetti


An anonymous work, preserved in a manuscript of the 1st century ce from Egypt, about several medical issues (definition of basic concepts, medical historiography on the causes of disease, physiology of digestion), Anonymus Londiniensis represents a rare example of an autograph from antiquity. An important source for peripatetic doxography and the reception of Hellenistic medicine.


  • History of Science and Technology

The papyrus P. Lit. Lond. 165, now held in the British Library as inv. 137 (P. Brit. Libr. inv. 137), was published first in 1893 by Hermann Diels, who learned of it through Fridericus G. Kenyon’s first notice.1 Diels set immediately to work, with the help of Kenyon, and produced the edition after a very short time. The papyrus, as reconstructed by Kenyon (with some later additions in 1901), is a roll around 3.5 metres long. Thirty-nine columns, almost complete, are preserved: one or two columns are missing at the beginning, as is at least one between columns IX and X. The text breaks off abruptly halfway down col. XXXIX. The handwriting suggests a date around the later part of the 1st century ce. The scribe also wrote some short texts, related to the content of the recto, on the back, where two other different hands added a short recipe and a copy of a Rescript of Marcus Antonius to the koinon of Asia. After Manetti, the Anonymus is now generally thought to be an exceptional example of an unfinished autograph text, a draft of a medical handbook written by the author himself, with many corrections, revisions, and additions.2 The presence on the verso of a text connected with Asia (the Rescript), has suggested that the author could be personally connected with the Herophilean school at Men Karou directed by Alexander Philalethes, mentioned several times in the papyrus; it has also been argued, less probably, that the draft was a private exercise in preparation for the medical agones at the Asclepieia festival in Ephesus.3

The content of the text falls into three sections: the first, from the beginning to col. IV 17, includes a preliminary discussion of the definition of the terms condition, affection, disease, and other basic concepts of medicine. After that a blank space and a title mark the start of a second section, from col. IV 20 on, which contains first a doxographical survey of the causes of disease, citing many authorities from the 5th and 4th centuries bce. The author states four times that his source is “Aristotle.” The third section, not marked by any (at least visible) editorial division, from col. XX 9 to XXXIX contains an exposition of the essential human anatomy and of the main physiological processes (respiration and digestion). This is inspired largely by three Hellenistic authorities, Herophilus of Chalcedon, Erasistratos of Ceos (3rd century bce) and Asclepiades of Bithynia (2nd–1st century bce).

For the majority of the 20th century, interpretation of the text was heavily influenced by Diels’ opinion that it was a collection of lecture notes, badly copied by a scribe or by an uneducated pupil. Scholarly attention was fixated upon the doxography of the causes of disease and tended to ignore the other parts. Diels traced this doxography back to a medical compilation by Meno, a pupil of Aristotle, known to us from a passage in Galen’s commentary on HippocratesOn the nature of man (XV 25–26 K). The scribe, Diels argued, used Alexander Philalethes as an intermediate source.4 For a long time scholarship accepted Diels’ opinion and focused on the value of the account of Hippocrates, ascribed to Aristotle (allegedly via Meno), even though this did not match the conventional image of Hippocrates.5 A new edition by Manetti, preceded by many articles on the text of numerous passages, was based on a systematic revision of the papyrus, both by direct examination and with the help of digital images: the progress in reading the papyrus now permits an easier understanding of all the aspects of the text.6

The author of the papyrus knows and manipulates a wide range of doxographical sources: he uses Stoic-orientated handbooks and medical doxography in the first section, he uses the “Aristotelian” doxography in the second section (whether its original author is Aristotle himself or not, it is certainly connected with the early Peripatos).7 In the third section, he probably draws on a doxographical work by Alexander Philalethes (1st century bce), at least concerning Asclepiades of Prusa, and he appears to know discussions for and against individual doctrines of Herophilus and Erasistratus. Anon.’s personal position is expressed directly only when he endorses the approach adopted by the ancients as far as the definition of the basic concepts is concerned (I 4–5; II 18–19: for the authorial presence), but it can be understood as generally favouring an Aristotelian tradition, both in the positive—not polemical—use of the Aristotelian doxography concerning the causes of disease and in his treatment of the basic premises of medicine and of the physiology of the human body.8 He describes individual aetiological theories, combining citations with interpretations and translations of concepts into a more modern (Aristotelian, but also post-Aristotelian) language, and tends to highlight certain elements regarded as significant for his own position (see the case of Aegimius of Elis XIII 21–XIV 1).9

In the physiological section Anon. quotes a famous Herophilean slogan (“Let the apparent things be called primary, even if they are not primary,” T50a von Staden) as a support for his opinion that medicine must limit itself to the perceptible parts of the body (XXI 18–23, which gives origin to a polemical mention of Erasistratus’ triplokia, XXII 23–28): one must not consider the parts of the body that are actually primary but only those that appear such in relation to sense perception. For the author, the human body is composed of simple and composite parts (XXI 18–21, 30–XXII 5) that correspond perfectly to the Aristotelian uniform and non-uniform parts (PA 646a 12–24).10 Passing on to physiology, Anon. maintains that every body (animate or inanimate) produces continuous effluence of matter thanks to warmth and movement, so that a reverse process of acquisition of matter is necessary to preserve the balance of the body. For this reason, Nature has organised for human beings’ desires, matter, and faculties (XXII 41–49). Matter consists of pneuma and nutriment. Anon. goes on, first exposing respiration (XXIII 11–XXIV 19, with a digression on Aristotle’s theory of sleep), then arriving at the core of his interest (XXIV 19 ss.), that is digestion, or, better, the distribution of matter into the body within the general theory of vital balance mentioned above. It is implicit that this part, as it is customary, was a premise to his own aetiology of disease, which he did not complete. The author shares the traditional idea that during digestion food matter is somehow cooked in its passage through the body, where there is assimilation of the food matter. But Anon. shares partially the opinion of Asclepiades of Prusa: he claims that a small part of liquid food is assimilated directly, as raw matter (for Asclepiades this was the whole process of digestion, because he denied cooking). Distribution and assimilation of food starts at once in the mouth and continues in the digestive apparatus and in the vessels, both veins and arteries. Anon.’s exposition is frequently interrupted by interspersed polemical digressions against Asclepiades (XXIII 27–35, XXIV 23–26; XXXIV 6–53), Erasistratus (XXI 23–28; XXIII 17–18, XXIV 26–31, XXVI 31–XXVIII 13), and Herophilus (much less: XXVIII 46–XXIX 25) on individual issues. But the general premises of the process are, according to him, (a) that distribution is permitted by invisible interstices through the body, and (b) that there is a selective assimilation of the suitable part of food and the expulsion of the unsuitable part, as the urine shows (XXIX 26–XXX 40). From XXX 40 on, Anon. focusses on a discussion concerning the existence of an invisible continuous efflux from the bodies and develops a detailed analysis of a number of examples with animated and unanimated bodies (perfumes, meat, pain, plants, liquids, dogs, etc.). Effluences are produced by the body’s warmth and humidity (till XXXV 20). But they are also different from one another, and many bodily fluids or secretions are included, as well as various physical conditions or external factors (XXXV 20–XXXVI 43). They are both observable by reason and sense-perceptible. Nature once again is mentioned for preserving what is right and consequent, according to a slogan attributed by the Anon. to Herophilus and Asclepiades (XXXVI 47–50). Complementary to the effluence being emitted, different influxes enter into our bodies: the last part of the text is devoted to showing the different kinds of influx, whether they are observable by reason or perceptible (XXXVI 50 ff.): fomentations, use of pharmaka, inhalation of vapours, etc. The author also inserts anecdotes, like the one on the last days of Democritus (XXXVII 34–49), and polemical remarks (against Asclepiades, XXXVII 55–XXXVIII 24). Following that, he approaches the Asclepiadean argument concerning the existence of passages (poroi) observable by reason, parallel to those sense-perceptible; here the text ends abruptly.

Throughout the text, even if Anon. is dependent on different written sources and is not always consistent, the outline of his position is sufficiently clear—he follows the general principles that what appears is the only means we have to explore what we cannot see, and the ruling principle that the balance of the body must be preserved. His idea of the distribution of matter during nutrition is based on the existence of invisible interstices (or, better, points of rarefaction), but he does not necessarily imply a discontinuous matter theory like that of Asclepiades, who believes in the existence of void.11

Primary Texts

Editions and Translations
  • Beckh, Heinrich, Hermann Diels, and Franz Spät. Anonymus Londinensis: Auszüge eines unbekannten aus Aristoteles-Menons Handbuch der Medizin und aus Werken anderer älterer Ärzte. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1896.
  • Diels, Hermann. Anonymi Londinensis ex Aristotelis Iatricis Mernoniis et aliis medicis eclogae. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1893.
  • Jones, William H. S. The Medical Writings of Anonymus Londinensis. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1947.
  • Kenyon, Frederic G., and Hermann Diels. Some Additional Fragments of the London Medical Papyrus, 1319–1323. Berlin: Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1901.
  • Manetti, Daniela and. Anonymi Londiniensis. De medicina. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011.
  • Ricciardetto, Antonio. “L’Anonyme de Londres: Édition et traduction d’un papyrus grec médical du Ier siècle.” Liège, Belgium: Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2014.
  • Ricciardetto, Antonio. L’Anonyme de Londres. P. Lit. Lond. 165, Brit. libr. inv. 137. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016.
Partial Editions
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Saggio di edizione di P.Lit.Lond. 165: la polemica contro Erasistrato sulla presenza di aria nelle arterie.” In Storia ed ecdotica dei testi medici greci. Edited by Antonio Garzya, 307–317. Naples, Italy: D’Auria, 1996.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Il ruolo di Asclepiade nell’Anonimo Londinese.” In Trasmissione e ecdotica dei testoi medici greci. Edited by Antonio Garzya and Jacques Jouanna, 333–347. Naples, Italy: D’Auria, 2003.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Plato 129T (Timaeus), PBrLibr inv. 137.” In Corpus dei Papiri filosofici greci e latini, I.1***, 528–578. Florence, Italy, Olschki 1999,
Rescript of Marcus Antonius
  • Kenyon, Frederic G. “A Rescript of Marcus Antonius.” Classical Review 7, no. 10 (1893): 476–478.
  • Ebert, Joachim. “Zum Brief des Marcus Antonius und das κοιννσίας‎.” Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete 33 (1987): 37–42.
  • Ricciardetto, Antonio. “La lettre de Marc Antoine (SB I 4224) écrite au verso del l’Anonyme de Londres (P. Brit. Libr.) inv. 137.” Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete 58 (2012): 43–60.


  • Diels, Hermann. “Über die Excerpte von Menons Iatrika in dem Londoner Papyrus 137.” Hermes 28 (1893): 407–434.
  • Dorandi, T. “Per l’autografia di PLitLond 165.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 91 (1992): 50–51.
  • Hippocrates and Jacques Jouanna. Des vents; De l’art. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1988.
  • Kenyon, Frideric G. “A Medical Papyrus in the British Museum.” Classical Review 6 (1892): 237–240.
  • Leith, David. “Pores and Void in Asclepiades’ Physical Theory.” Phronesis 57, no. 2 (2012): 164–191.
  • Leith, David. “Review of Manetti 2011.” Gnomon 86 (2014): 192–195.
  • Leith, David. “Elements and Uniform Parts in Early Alexandrian Medicine.” Phronesis 60, no. 4 (2015): 462–491.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Note di lettura dell’Anonimo Londinese: Prolegomena ad una nuova edizione.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 63 (1986): 57–74.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Autografi e incompiuti: Il caso dell’Anonimo Londinese, P. Lit. Lond. 165.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994): 47–58.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Aristotle” and the Role of Doxography in the Anonymus Londiniensis (P. Brit. Libr. inv. 137). In Ancient Histories of Medicine. Edited by Ph. van der Eijk, 95–141. Boston: Brill, 1999.
  • Manetti, Daniela. “Levels of Authorial Presence in Anonymus Londiniensis (P.Brit.Libr. inv. 137).” Trends in Classics 5 (2013): 159–178.
  • Prince, S. “The Peripatetic Hippocrates and Other Monists in the Anonymus Londiniensis.” In Ancient Concepts of the Hippocratic. Edited by Lesley Dean-Jones and Ralph M. Rosen, 99–116. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.
  • Wellmann, Max. “Der Verfasser des Anonymus Londinensis.” Hermes 57, no. H. 3 (1922): 396–429.