Galen is the most important physician of the Roman imperial era. Many of his theories and practices were the basis for medical knowledge for centuries after his death and some practices—like checking a patient’s pulse—are still used today. He also left a vast corpus of writings which makes up a full one-eighth of all surviving ancient Greek literature. Through her readings of hundreds of Galen’s case histories, Susan P. Mattern presents the first systematic investigation of Galen’s clinical practice.
Galen’s patient narratives illuminate fascinating interplay among the craft of healing, social class, professional competition, ethnicity, and gender. Mattern describes the public, competitive, and masculine nature of medicine among the urban elite and analyzes the relationship between clinical practice and power in the Roman household. She also finds that although Galen is usually perceived as self-absorbed and self-promoting, his writings reveal him as sensitive to the patient’s history, symptoms, perceptions, and even words.
Examining his professional interactions in the context of the world in which he lived and practiced, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing provides a fresh perspective on a foundational figure in medicine and valuable insight into how doctors thought about their patients and their practice in the ancient world.