Medicine and the Humanities from Ancient to Modern

The Varied Fortunes of Galen

Claire Bubb



Since the emergence of Greek medicine as an independent field of study in the time of Hippocrates, there has been debate about its status vis-à-vis the humanities. In the second century A.D., the physician Galen took considerable pains to identify medicine as a foundational liberal art rather than as a manual or menial trade. The subsequent fate of his vast corpus—what was read when, how, and by whom—is illustrative of the push and pull of ancient medicine between science and the humanities up to the present day. Unlike the writing of his more literary contemporaries, Galen's corpus had an extensive, pragmatic role in professional training. He formed the cornerstone of medical education until the 17th century and his role there persisted even into the 19th century. It was only as his medical popularity waned that study of him among philologists began to gain momentum. This talk will investigate the issues at stake in Galen's time and then follow the fate of his influence through the ages into the modern debate on the role of humanities in medical education.

Claire Bubb is Assistant Professor/ Faculty Fellow of Classical Literature and Science at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. She received a Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard University in 2014 with a dissertation considering the audience of Galen’s anatomical text, ‘On Anatomical Procedures.’ She was subsequently a Visiting Assistant Professor at ISAW and a Faculty Fellow at the NYU Classics Department, where she remains associated. Her main research interests center on medicine and the biological sciences in the Graeco-Roman world, with a particular focus on Galen and Aristotle. She is currently working on a book about the practice of dissection in the Roman Empire, including its extended afterlife through Arabo-Latin translation and into the Early Modern period in Europe. Some of her other current projects consider physiology in Aristotle’s Parva Naturalia and Galen’s views on plagiarism and intellectual property. She also maintains interests in the literature and society of the high Roman Empire, ancient education, animals, and the social history of science and looks forward to a new project on the interest in and dissemination of scientific knowledge among laymen in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

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