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CLAUDIUS GALEN (131-201)

 

WHO WAS CLAUDIUS GALEN?

Claudius Galen, was physician to five Roman emperors. He was a teacher, philosopher, pharmacist and leading scientist of his day. During his life he produced five hundred books and treatises on all aspects of medical science and philosophical subjects and his ideas were to formulate many of the scientific beliefs which dominated medical thinking for about 1 500 years. Galen was the great compiler and systemiser of Greco-Roman medicine, physiology, pharmacy and anatomy. Because he displayed a view of God and nature shared by the Christians of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, he was regarded by them as a fellow-Christian. This goes some way to account for the attitude of the Church towards free thinkers such as Paracelsus who challenged Galen's teachings.

Galen's influence can be still seen today. The word " galenic" is used to describe drugs and medicines made from vegetable and animal ingredients using prescribed methods.

 

WHERE WAS HE BORN?

Galen was born at Pergamum, Asia Minor on the 22 September 131 and was educated by his father, who decided his son should enter the medical profession. This was a wise choice as his son went on to become extremely famous.

 

WHAT DID GALEN DO?

At first Galen studied philosophy, in particular Aristotle but when seventeen began to specialise in medicine. While studying medicine Galen travelled extensively throughout Greece, Asia Minor and Palestine to gain experience and skills. Aged 28, he returned to Pergamum and obtained a position as doctor to the gymnasium attached to the local sanctuary at Asklepios. Galen remained there for five years then moved to Rome to teach medicine. While there his fame spread rapidly and brought him the post of physician to Marcellus Aurelius and his son Commodus. While he was physician to the emperor, Galen also had responsibility for the treatment of wounded Gladiators. This gave him a wonderful opportunity to study anatomy in detail and to carry out surgery. He performed vivisections and post-mortems on the Barbary ape, but never on humans.

 

WHAT WERE GALEN'S THEORIES?

Galen put forward the theory that illness was caused by an imbalance of the four humours: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. He recommended specific diets to help in the "cleansing of the putrefied juices" and often purging and bloodletting would be used. This theory was accepted until challenged by Paracelsus who believed that illness was the result of the body being attacked by outside agents.

With the use of experiment Galen showed that the arteries carried blood and not air as was commonly believed. He also understood the value of the pulse in diagnosis.

However Galen also believed (incorrectly) that blood was continuously being made and used up.

As well as running a busy medical practice he ran his own pharmacy, stocked with his own medicines made from animal and vegetables extracts, many of the plants being grown in his own garden. Galen catalogued in great detail various remedies including how each was made and the correct doses to be given.

Galen died in the year 201