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Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 47.2 (2004) 312-314
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In this, his fourth book since he "retired" from the William H.Welch Professorship at Johns Hopkins in 1968, the late Owsei Temkin has included 16 essays, two of which were written for this book. Some of the others, written and published between 1947 and 1981, found no room or were written after the publication of a previous collection, The Double Face of Janus (1977). Readers who wish to know more about Temkin's remarkable scholarship, life, and career should read the revealing 35-page autobiographical introduction to that book. That the present book appeared in Temkin's centennial year is remarkable in itself. He died just a few months before his 100th birthday, but sent a paper co-authored with his daughter to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine just weeks before his death in July 2002.
In the present collection of essays, three reflect on the ethics of medicine and another three on the history of science. There is a long, often-cited essay on [End Page 312] Gall and the phrenological movement of the mid-19th century. Four essays are about the history of therapeutics and nutrition. And a final group of four are about the history of medicine in the 19th century and a loving tribute to his close friend, the late Ludwig Edelstein, whose widely known 1943 monograph on the Hippocratic Oath Temkin now challenges in one of the two new essays written especially for this volume. That the Oath has had a lasting moral power no one doubts, but to ascribe its origin to a small group of ancient physicians who were the followers of the philosopher Pythagoras, as Edelstein did, is too simple an explanation for a still-puzzling document, in Temkin's view.
Throughout his career, and in several essays in On Second Thought, Temkin makes clear that he considered the history of medicine to be a part of medicine. At a 1966 symposium on the teaching of medical history, Temkin noted that the history of medicine comprises all that is historical in medicine as well as all that is medical in history. And as he pointed out in the introductory essay for the present volume, he again reminds us of the continuing relevance of the history of medicine for medicine and for medical education. History, he believed, helps to give us confidence in times of change. Having once been a medical student himself, Temkin was well aware of the profound changes that students experience during their medical education. Thus the need for historical perspective should be ever salient. Not only was Temkin's view of the world influenced by his training and experiences in medicine—brief and as long ago as they were—but he saw in medicine a way to study and to understand the moral nature of mankind. Indeed, he asked, why turn to other fields when the history of medicine is such a rich source? Temkin also saw in the history of disease a connecting link between the scientific present and the thought and institutions of the past.
Temkin was a much-admired teacher because he was masterful in relating the traditions of earlier medicine to the concerns of 20th-century students, for whom he had a great respect, and the students were quick to sense it. His lectures as well as his essays and books were always clear because he was a clear and careful thinker. He was interdisciplinary long before it became fashionable to be so. As early as 1946, he pointed out:
Medical history itself has become broader in outlook and richer in content. At the same time, by connecting the development of medicine with political history, history of religion, fine arts, and science, archeology, sociology and economics, the history of medicine keeps its students in touch with the humanities and...