Galen of Pergamum (A.D. 129-ca. 216) began his remarkable career tending to wounded gladiators in provincial Asia Minor. Later in life he achieved great distinction as one of a small circle of court physicians to the family of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, at the very heart of Roman society. Susan Mattern's The Prince of Medicine offers the first authoritative biography in English of this brilliant, audacious, and profoundly influential figure. Like many Greek intellectuals living in the high Roman Empire, Galen was a prodigious polymath, writing on subjects as varied as ethics and eczema, grammar and gout. Indeed, he was (as he claimed) as highly regarded in his lifetime for his philosophical works as for his medical treatises. However, it is for medicine that he is most remembered today, and from the later Roman Empire through the Renaissance, medical education was based largely on his works. Even up to the 20th century, he remained the single most influential figure in Western medicine.
Yet he was a complicated individual, full of breathtaking arrogance, shameless self-promotion, and lacerating wit. He was fiercely competitive, once disemboweling a live monkey and challenging the physicians in attendance to correctly replace its organs. Relentless in his pursuit of anything that would cure the patient, he insisted on rigorous observation and, sometimes, daring experimentation. Even confronting one of history's most horrific events - a devastating outbreak of smallpox - he persevered, bearing patient witness to its predations, year after year.
The Prince of Medicine gives us Galen as he lived his life, in the city of Rome at its apex of power and decadence, among his friends, his rivals, and his patients. It offers a deeply human and long-overdue portrait of one of ancient history's most significant and engaging figures.
©2013 Susan P. Mattern (P)2014 Audible Inc.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Susan P. Mattern, professor of history at the University of Georgia wrote a meticulous and engaging biography of Claudius Galenus, also called Galen of Pergamon (Pergamum) (129ce to 226ce). Mattern’s rigorous scholarship unveils the rich, vivid layers of Galen’s life and times. Galen, a Greek aristocrat of great ambition and superior intelligence, was already a renowned physician when he arrived in Rome in 162 ce. He treated Emperor Marcus Aurelius, philosopher Eudemus and of course, the Gladiators.
Mattern tells the story of Galen from early life to death. Mattern stresses that Galen was an exemplary products of Hellenistic culture, urbane, deeply familiar with Greek philosophy and literature as well as medical literature. Galen learned the art of oratory and debate practiced by the Sophists. Mattern reports his encounters with other physician were brutal rhetorical showdowns.
Galen was a titan of his time. His many books would be consulted by medics for centuries to come. Where chronology is uncertain Mattern organized material by theme. In a series of chapter Mattern, combines biographical material with emphasis on some aspect of Galen’s doctrine and practice. Over all it is surprisingly an easy readable book considering the complicated material it covers. Professor Mattern managed to create a book anyone can read and understand not just the academic. James Patrick Cronin narrated the book.
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