restricted access Galen and Galenism: Theory and Medical Practice from Antiquity to the European Renaissance (review)
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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 203-205



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Luis García-Ballester. Galen and Galenism: Theory and Medical Practice from Antiquity to the European Renaissance. Edited by Jon Arrizabalaga, Montserrat Cabré, Lluís Cifuentes, and Fernando Salmón. Variorum Collected Studies Series. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2002. xii + 320 pp. $105.95 (0-86078-846-6).

The size and scope of the scholarly production of Luis García-Ballester (1936-2000) is documented in a seventeen-page bibliography at the end of Galen and Galenism. The eleven essays in this collection, first published between 1979 and [End Page 203] 2000 and reprinted here with their original paginations, represent a small but significant portion of his writings. The editors have arranged them as chapters, in the chronological sequence of the subject matter, proceeding from the second to the sixteenth century. This arrangement underscores the thematic cohesiveness of García-Ballester's work. On the other hand, a reconstruction of the order in which the articles were actually composed affords a glimpse into the evolution of his thought. Above all, it shows how methodically he redirected and tightened his focus in assessing Galen's legacy. In this process he was constantly guided by the latest studies of leading historians such as Owsei Temkin, Richard Durling, and Vivian Nutton, while shaping his own substantial contributions.

The memory of Luis García-Ballester is likely to remain distinctly associated with the seminal recognition of the changing treatment of Galen by medieval and Renaissance medical authors. It is interesting to see how this recognition developed over two decades. In 1979, he characterized the sixteenth-century reaction of humanist medicine, against Arabic sources in general and Avicenna's Canon in particular, as "the new Galenism" (article XI, p. 199). In the 1990s, after concentrating increasingly on university medicine (articles IX, VIII, and VII), he applied the term "the new Galen" to a group of writings, Galenic as well as Arabic, that were translated into Latin in the second half of the thirteenth century and were soon added to the curriculum. In addition to identifying the treatises, García-Ballester argued that they not only provided a greater familiarity with Galenic physiology, clinical principles, and therapeutics, but also stimulated a "more rational interpretation" of medicine as an art or technique (V, pp. 82-83). The increasingly precise formulation of these groundbreaking theses on the authority of Galen dovetailed with closer scrutiny of his life and ideas (articles I-IV). A dominant feature that emerged from this scrutiny was the supremacy of reason—not only as a liability of Galenism which may have "laid the foundations for a pernicious withdrawal from reality" (II, p. 1649), but also as an asset that prevented medicine from slipping into empiricism or "becoming the mere accumulation of cases" (II, p. 1644), and that secured the status of "the scientific doctor" (II, p. 1638).

Few themes are more central to García-Ballester's assessment of Galen and Galenism than the service of rationality to observation, or the connectedness of theory to empirical foundations, practical objectives, and actual circumstances. Every discussion, no matter how abstract the topic may seem to be, draws attention to the concrete implications and contexts. For example, scholastic debates on the concept of "health" are emphatically presented as "no mere theoretical pedantry" but as having "important practical repercussions of a social and economic nature" (VI, p. 131). Similarly, we are reminded that fever, the subject of much learned disputation (IX), was an important part of everyday reality, "sin duda alguna, el hecho más cotidiano de la clínica medieval" (VIII, [p. 317]). In this and other casual but animated observations, the existential dimension of learning is extended from the bedside to all of daily life. Even in a meticulous reconstruction of the reception and influence of one single book (VIII), or in an inventory of Arabic medical manuscripts in Spain (XI), the [End Page 204] transmission of ideas and texts is set in palpable frameworks, including...


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