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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75.3 (2001) 557-558

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Book Review

The Treatment of War Wounds in Graeco-Roman Antiquity

Christine F. Salazar. The Treatment of War Wounds in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Studies in Ancient Medicine, no. 21. Leiden: Brill, 2000. xxvii + 299 pp. $78.00; Nlg. 138.83 (90-04-11479-3).

It is self-evident to anyone who studies the classical world that war was a fact of life, and that wounds were common. It is less obvious that sufficient testimonia survive to allow for an entire book on their treatment. Christine Salazar has gathered a surprising amount of material and crafted it into a splendidly detailed and comprehensive account. The book, which began as a doctoral dissertation under the direction of the distinguished G. E. R. Lloyd, falls essentially into two quite distinct parts. The first, titled "Wounds and Their Treatment," deals with the nitty-gritty of the subject: the sources of information available, types of wounds and their effects, the weapons accounting for wounds, surgical intervention and pharmaceutical applications, medical personnel in Greek and Roman armies, and the criteria for distinguishing professional practitioners from laymen.

All of this would have been a useful contribution in itself but Salazar, who holds a degree in classics as well as in history of medicine, goes on in part 2 ("Wounding as a Code") to discuss scenes of wounding in literature. Concentrating especially on the Iliad and the literary portrayal of Alexander the Great, she argues persuasively that wounding and the subthemes that accompany it (comportment of the individual wounded, the location of wounds, reactions of physicians and comrades, etc.), in addition to acting as, for instance, devices for controlling the pace of the narrative, constitute important elements in the construction of the hero image. This conclusion is both prompted and supported by Salazar's finding that descriptions of wound treatment in Greek and Roman authors, while often giving the impression of realism, are in fact literary constructs. She also shows that the subject of wounding became topical: once the various aspects of wounds and their care were established in Homer, these same aspects tended to be repeated in subsequent texts. As topicality is generally characteristic of Greco-Roman literature, this is not particularly surprising--but it is surprising when Salazar also senses topicality where wounding is concerned even in "objective" medical texts like the Hippocratic Epidemics. Part 3 of the book ("Non-Textual Material") assembles and discusses the archaeological evidence: skeletal remains, surgical tools, hospitals, and artistic depictions of wounding, the latter illustrated with eight figures. Salazar treats these matters in summary fashion, so that part 3 is more in the nature of an appendix.

Salazar documents her argument throughout with quotations from the primary sources. She has impressed this reviewer with her command of the literature, especially the texts of Galen, Oribasius, and Aetius: much of this is not translated into English, and frequently it is not easy going in the Greek. Documentation is generally in English translation in the text, the Greek and Latin [End Page 557] originals being reserved for the footnotes; thus both scholars and laypersons can appreciate and benefit by the book. Also impressive is the extensive bibliography, replete with Continental scholarship. The volume is equipped with an index locorum as well as a general index.

Since it is morally indefensible for a reviewer not to carp at something, I will take issue with Salazar's view that the faked specimens of the "spoon of Diocles" in the Meyer-Steineg collection were actually copied from an original (p. 49). Celsus's description of the instrument is detailed enough to have enabled forgers to create a fairly convincing version; and, since impacted weaponry was ordinarily removed with everyday devices like forceps, there were probably never many such virtuoso instruments in circulation to begin with. The chances of a specimen surviving to modern times are therefore slim. Sometimes too Salazar seems to split one hair too many in her quest for answers to the issues she explores, as in...


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