The name of Galen is so closely linked to the history of medicine that all physicians today know his name. After Hippocrates, he is considered the most famous representative of the field of health in ancient times.
His contributions were decisive for the medical sciences as they are known today. Galen’s concepts have guided medicine for over a thousand years. His studies of the human body laid the foundation for all anatomy.
Among his many contributions is the discovery that air does not circulate in the veins, but in the blood. He also described the heart valves, kidney and bladder functions, and some brain basics.
Galen was also one of the first to witness and describe an epidemic : the plague of Antonine, also known as the “plague of Galen”. He divided the history of the ancient world into two, and although doctors never fully understood it, all of them left important data on it.
Galen, a predestined?
Galen was born in the year 129 or 130 AD, in Pergamon, a city then under Greek rule and which is now part of Turkey. He was born into an aristocratic and wealthy family. His father, Aelius Nicón, was a successful architect and landowner. Little is known about her mother, other than that she had a difficult temper.
Galen’s parents wanted their son to have a solid education. It is said that his father dreamed one night of Asclepius or Aesculapius, the god of medicine. In this dream, the god himself told him that his son should study medicine. Whether for this reason or for another, the father encouraged his son to practice this profession.
Galen first studied at the Aesculapius of Pergamon, who was in a way a temple of healing. There, the medical knowledge of the time was combined with religious beliefs. Later, the future doctor left to study in Smyrna and Corinth, where he learned about the work of Hippocrates, which would decisively influence his training.
An eminent doctor
Later, Galen went to Alexandria, which at that time was the true Mecca of knowledge. There, he completed his training, mainly in anatomy and physiology. In this metropolis, it was possible to dissect corpses; this allowed him to better understand the functioning of the human body.
When his father died, he returned to his hometown. There, he became a doctor at the gladiatorial school where he learned about blows and injuries. After four years, his reputation as an effective healer grew more and more.
In 162, he moved to Rome, “the capital of the world” at that time. There, his prestige grew to the point that he became the personal physician of several emperors. Marc Aurèle, Commode and Septimius Severus. His stay in Rome allows him to free his role as a researcher. It is believed that during this period he wrote about 400 works, of which only 150 have been preserved.
A definitive imprint
In Rome, dissections are prohibited. Galen must therefore do his research with animals, sometimes alive, sometimes dead. This allowed him to understand the basic functioning of the kidneys and spinal cord. Sadly, much of his work was burned in a fire in 171.
His main work is Methodo medendi , a treatise in full force for 15 centuries. The work of this doctor is also considered to be the essential basis of pharmacopoeia.
One of his great virtues is to have been a devoted experimenter. That is, a man of science who was looking for evidence to build knowledge based on it.
Galen was also convinced that medical knowledge could not arise or be exercised if it was not accompanied by a deep ethic. He believed that medicine was above all a philanthropic art. He believed that the doctor should be virtuous and disciplined and, above all, that he should be characterized by his temperance.
After returning to his native country, Pergamum, this famous doctor died around the year 216. Without Galen, neither medicine nor pharmaceutical chemistry would have progressed so quickly.