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The Fatal Embrace: Galen and the History of Ancient Medicine

  • Vivian Nutton (a1)


The influence of Galen on the subsequent interpretation of the history of ancient medicine has been substantial. This paper explores the consequences of adopting a non-Galenic perspective in two different areas of research. It argues that Galen's own career, and his own views of the ideal physician, cannot be taken as typical of most ancient medical practitioners; and that the theory of the four humors, blood, bile, black bile, and phlegm, did not become a universal standard until after Galen. That theory was merely one of several variations on the theme of body fluids, and entered Greek medicine relatively late. Hippocratic contemporaries of Galen accepted it alongside other theories from the Corpus, e.g. Diseases I, that modern scholars have viewed as incompatible.

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Science in Context
  • ISSN: 0269-8897
  • EISSN: 1474-0664
  • URL: /core/journals/science-in-context
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