Galen on Herophilus
Herophilus ‘attained the highest degree of accuracy in things which became known by dissection and he obtained the greater part of his knowledge, not like the majority from irrational animals, but from human beings themselves.’ – by Galen
Galen was born in 129 AD in Pergamum, on the Aegean coasts of modern Turkey, but he lived much of his live in Rome. He deplored the laws that forbade human dissection: at least three of his many treatise were devoted to human anatomy, ostensibly as understood by the Alexandrians.
He received medical training in Smyma and Alexandria.
Galen served as a physician to the gladiators, and he may have taken advantage of gaping wounds to observe internal structure.
A great experimenter, he dissected animals, both living and dead, his preferred subjects being a pig and the rhesus monkey.
He extrapolated from animals to humans and devised elaborate theories concerning anatomical strictures, the motion of blood, and the origin and sustenance of life.
Galen’s genius was evident in the physiological experiments he conducted on animals. The work On the Use of the Parts of the Human Body comprised seventeen books concerning this topic. To study the function of the kidneys in producing urine, he tied the ureters and observed the swelling of the kidneys.
Some observations were accurate for animals but missed their marked when applied or humans, for example, he ascribed five lobes to the liver and a vascular network in the brain called the rete mirable.
Galen’s writings are authoritative and bragging, and his teleological perspective allowed him to conceive of all structures as having been created for a purpose.
His immediate successors may have carried out some human dissection, but anatomies became rare and ritualized exercise for endorsing Galen’s authority, not for seeking truth.
Galen spent the rest of his life at the Court writing an enormous corpus of medical works until his death in 201 AD.
Galen on Herophilus
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