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Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing

Susan P. Mattern

Publication Year: 2008

Galen is the most important physician of the Roman imperial era. Many of his theories and practices were the basis for medical knowledge for centuries after his death and some practices—like checking a patient’s pulse—are still used today. He also left a vast corpus of writings which makes up a full one-eighth of all surviving ancient Greek literature. Through her readings of hundreds of Galen’s case histories, Susan P. Mattern presents the first systematic investigation of Galen’s clinical practice. Galen’s patient narratives illuminate fascinating interplay among the craft of healing, social class, professional competition, ethnicity, and gender. Mattern describes the public, competitive, and masculine nature of medicine among the urban elite and analyzes the relationship between clinical practice and power in the Roman household. She also finds that although Galen is usually perceived as self-absorbed and self-promoting, his writings reveal him as sensitive to the patient’s history, symptoms, perceptions, and even words. Examining his professional interactions in the context of the world in which he lived and practiced, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing provides a fresh perspective on a foundational figure in medicine and valuable insight into how doctors thought about their patients and their practice in the ancient world.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xii

In a passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams explains that, because each object in the universe interacts through gravity with every other object, the entire universe can be extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake. Although I do not make such broad claims for the subject...

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1. Stories in Context

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pp. 14-47

This passage, pedestrian in style but arresting in content, survives in the corpus of the western world’s most influential physician, in the work he considered his masterpiece, demonstrating the unerring skill with which Nature has formed the human body. He departs briefly from a technical discussion of the anatomy of the stomach to describe an event from his own practice...

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2. Place and Time

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pp. 48-68

On where or when his stories take place, Galen offers hardly any specific details. Many stories occur in a void without a hint at their physical environment, so that the reader struggling to form a picture of what is happening must rely only on his or her own assumptions to fill in the visual details...

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3. The Contest: Rivals, Spectators, and Judges

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pp. 69-97

Agon means “contest” in Greek, referring especially to those contests in athletics and other events performed at the great Greek religious festivals—a tradition that not only survived but flourished in the Greek Near East of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Many of Galen’s case histories have an agonistic element—the cure or diagnosis or prognosis is part of a broader story...

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4. The Patient

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pp. 98-137

In agonistic stories, it almost does not matter who the patient is. Even a patient of low status can serve as a springboard for advancing Galen’s reputation if he can impress an audience with his skill; and even if the patient had no large household or “friends” of his own, Galen brought his own audience...

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5. Physician and Patient

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pp. 138-158

The question who is the physician in Galen’s stories may seem disingenuous. It is normally Galen himself. Grammatically, the physician is “I” or, very frequently, “we.” The use of the first person plural to refer to an individual...

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pp. 159-162

This book is about Galen’s subjective experience and his subjective account of that experience. It is not about what really happened between physicians and patients, which we do not know; we only know how Galen represented those encounters. However,with rare exceptions,we are dependent for the knowledge of almost any event, if any degree of nuance is sought...

Appendix A

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pp. 163-172

Appendix B

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pp. 173-202


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pp. 202-252


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pp. 253-268


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pp. 269-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896347
E-ISBN-10: 0801896347
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801888359
Print-ISBN-10: 0801888352

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2008