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  • Sobre la localización de las enfermedades (De locis affectis)
  • P. N. Singer
Galen. Sobre la localización de las enfermedades (De locis affectis). Introduction by Luis García Ballester; translation and notes by Salud Andrés Aparicio. Biblioteca Clásica Gredos, no. 248. Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1997. 462 pp. Ptas. 3,425.00.

A modern scholarly translation of the De locis affectis is to be welcomed: the previous version by Rudolph E. Siegel (Galen on the Affected Parts, 1976) is less than entirely reliable, and this is a work of central importance, both for the picture it gives of Galen toward the end of his career and for its great influence at certain key moments in later Galenism. The present volume will be doubly welcome for its ample introductions—a general one on Galen, and a specific one on the De locis affectis—by the doyen of Spanish medical historians, Luis García Ballester, who indeed brings out both aspects of the text’s importance with characteristic care and lucidity.

The text itself—rendered here in a clear Spanish version, and with useful indices—is constantly revealing, not just of Galen’s mature system of diagnosis (as García Ballester emphasizes), but of Galen the self-publicist, Galen the polemicist, Galen the vivid raconteur of his own successes; this is after all the text with the famous diagnostic anecdote (Kühn, 8. 361–66; pp. 376–78 here) that has led at least one contemporary scholar to liken the physician to Sherlock Holmes in the gloriously theatrical presentation of his own infallibility. These are points underplayed by García Ballester, who might be accused of taking too much of Galen’s own account at face value—not just of the consistency and clarity of his scientific method, but also of contemporary schools and of his own teachers, and indeed of his own life. For García Ballester chooses biography as the peg on which to hang his (marvelously full and wide-ranging) synopsis of Galen’s work. There are advantages to such an approach: we have a splendidly vivid account of the young Galen’s arrival in Rome, of reactions to and influences upon him; we get a picture of chronological developments, especially in anatomical knowledge; and we get some useful remarks incidentally about Greco-Roman social conditions and the Galenic doctor-patient relationship. But there are disadvantages too: chiefly, the methodological one of almost total lack of independent corroboration of what Galen says about his own life and successes; but also the consistency (if sometimes the consistent indeterminacy) with which Galen returns to the same questions throughout his career, which causes García Ballester some awkwardness in mapping the biographical account onto a thematic one.

The last is perhaps a minor cavil concerning what remains a very helpful overview of Galen. A slightly larger one concerns the bibliography. García Ballester marshals the “classics” of Galenic scholarship; but when he approaches more recent times, he appears to have been overwhelmed by the weight of the [End Page 483] recent German encyclopedic volumes covering Greco-Roman medicine, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW II.37.1–3), to the point of forgetting a range of other works of at least equal value to the intellectual historian—not least (rather bizarrely, as he was himself a contributor) the proceedings of various international Galen conferences, and the work of such ground-breaking scholars as Donini, Frede, Manuli, and Vegetti. This is a minor eccentricity, however, compared with that of the translator, who mars some otherwise helpful notes (on Galenic terminology as well as on historical figures) by an apparent reluctance to venture further forward in history than the 1970s. It is delightful to see, in his notes on Asclepiades of Bithynia and on the Methodist school (pp. 136 and 373, respectively), the venerable name of Theodor Meyer-Steineg, whose Jena monographs of the first decades of this century may still be read with profit; but somehow both Ludwig Edelstein’s classic piece on the Methodists (in Ancient Medicine, ed. Owsei and C. Lilian Temkin, 1967) and Michael Frede’s return to the subject (in Jonathan Barnes et...

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