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  • Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples
  • Herbert H. Dedo
Lawrence J. Bliquez. Roman Surgical Instruments and Other Minor Objects in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. With a catalog of the surgical instruments in the “Antiquarium” at Pompeii, by Ralph Jackson. Mainz, Germany: von Zabern, 1994. xvi + 238 pp. Ill. DM 135.00.

This treatise on Roman surgical instruments is the best study on the subject I have seen published in the English language. The book is especially helpful because of its superb text and illustrations, as it is no longer possible to see these marvelous instruments in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Fortunately, I had the privilege of examining them in 1957, but since then the museum has been closed because of earthquake safety concerns, and now the objects are apparently in storage.

The introduction sets out current conditions of the Naples Museum, the details of the instruments’ provenance, and the care they need. There follows a catalog of instrument types in the museum (bleeding cups, scalpels and dissectors, hook instruments, elevators, “chisels,” and many others, including vaginal and rectal speculae, cauteries, and clysters or syringes), with their likely provenance, extending to the designation of the building in Pompeii or Herculaneum. The detailed discussion of these instruments includes not only the descriptive text, but a bibliography, a general index, and references to ancient authors.

The photographs are superb and make it possible for us to see the objects better than when they were in their glass cases. The description of the instruments is detailed, with analysis of their shape and their probable function, and there is a very scholarly review of prior publications. Furthermore, there are inspired guesses about the particular buildings in Pompeii or Herculaneum in which the instruments may have been discovered (mainly in the nineteenth century)—for example, in the house of the surgeon. This is based on comparison with prior descriptions and museum inventories, which have been correlated with the dates of excavation of specific buildings.

In summary, this is the definitive analysis of the most exciting and extensive collection of Roman instruments known. (There are large collections in the British Museum and the Burroughs Wellcome Museum in London, and in the Louvre Museum in Paris, but they are not as extensive.) This book, with its fine execution and excellent quality of printing, is a necessary addition to the library of anyone interested in the history of surgery.

Herbert H. Dedo
University of California, San Francisco

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