- Galen’s De Indolentia: Essays on a Newly Discovered Letter ed. by Clare K. Rothschild, Trevor W. Thompson
Galen’s On Not Feeling Pain is a long-lost book about the loss of books. How “meta” can you get? It is long lost in the sense that its existence was known, thanks in part to Galen himself, who in his De Libris Propriis (19.4 K) lists περὶ ἀλυπίας among his ethical treatises; and also to its having survived in part in translations into Arabic (from Syriac) and Hebrew in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; see Daniel Davies’ account in Rothschild-Thompson. It had been lost but now is found because a young French scholar, Antoine Pietrobelli, while waiting to view a manuscript in the monastery of the Vlatades in Thessaloniki, thumbed through the rare catalogue of their Greek manuscripts, only to discover evidence for otherwise unknown Galen texts. With no time left to investigate further himself, he informed his professor back in Paris, Véronique Boudon-Millot, who, along with the preeminent historian of Greek medicine Jacques Jouanna, went to the monastery to view the manuscript—only (and twice over on two subsequent visits) to be denied this privilege by the monks, who sat them down with a not completely legible microfilm. Doing the best they could, and with admirable speed, they produced a Budé edition of De Indolentia (2010), having, along with Pietrobelli, in several articles informed scholars of its existence. In Boudon-Millot’s own words in her exciting account of its discovery in Rothschild–Thompson, the new texts are “true gems,” and their announcement was a “bombshell.” (She also details how this manuscript is our only witness, complete or partial, for three other Galenic treatises.) The Greek monks later allowed the manuscript to be viewed by two Greek scholars, whose improved text has been the basis for some other editions and commentaries, although textual problems remain. One of these scholars, Paraskeví Kotzia, provides in Rothschild–Thompson the background of consolatory literature to De Indolentia, especially similar works by Plutarch and Seneca. [End Page 274]
But it is a treatise of consolation only at first glance; in fact it is rather a work on how not to need consolation in the first place. This calls upon many of the same tropes of consolation literature, but produces out of Galen’s own life a philosophical scheme that is very much his own, whether one calls it “personal,” as does Elizabeth Asmis, or “confused,” as does Ralph Rosen, in two of the finer essays here. The first third of De Indolentia is devoted to the general argument that since Galen did not feel pain at previous losses (including during a period of plague), he knows how to endure the even greater loss of (among some other objects) his books during the great fire in Rome of 192 c.e., included in which devastation were also the Palatine and some other libraries. Galen demonstrates his sangfroid by detailing his books lost in the fire, thus providing his new modern audience with a vivid picture of a working physician/scholar/bibliophile/philosopher’s composition, editing, use, and ownership of his books. Whether he truly managed to convince himself that he felt this way is beautifully questioned by Rosen. Among the losses are works by Aristotle and Theophrastus, as well as Galen’s “improved” versions of some medical texts: he would, it appears, give his heavily annotated copies to a professional scribe, thereby producing a new edition—a practice long known but never so explicitly expressed by a practitioner.
Rothschild and Thompson, two scholars of Early Christianity, have commissioned a number of scholars to describe the manuscript and its discovery, its interest to historians of the book (and booklovers in general), its place within Galen’s broad corpus of medical and philosophical writings, and its genre within ancient literature in general. There is also their own...