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Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing

, 300 pages
July 2008


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Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing

Galen is the most important physician of the Roman imperial era. Many of his theories and practices were the basis for medical knowledge for centuries after his death and some practices—like checking a patient’s pulse—are still used today. He also left a vast corpus of writings which makes up a full one-eighth of all surviving ancient Greek literature. Through her readings of hundreds of Galen’s case histories, Susan P. Mattern presents the first systematic investigation of Galen’s clinical practice.

Galen’s patient narratives illuminate fascinating interplay among the craft of healing, social class, professional competition, ethnicity, and gender. Mattern describes the public, competitive, and masculine nature of medicine among the urban elite and analyzes the relationship between clinical practice and power in the Roman household. She also finds that although Galen is usually perceived as self-absorbed and self-promoting, his writings reveal him as sensitive to the patient’s history, symptoms, perceptions, and even words.

Examining his professional interactions in the context of the world in which he lived and practiced, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing provides a fresh perspective on a foundational figure in medicine and valuable insight into how doctors thought about their patients and their practice in the ancient world.

Susan P. Mattern is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia.

"An illuminating portrait of a man and his patients in a particular historical context. A rich, nuanced, and entirely original approach, this book leaps across disciplinary boundaries to introduce those working on medicine in other historical periods to the richness of the sources for Rome in the age of Galen. "

"Rich, colourful material for a medical historian and indeed for a narratologist... provides a useful collection of material and, for a wider audience, an entertaining introduction to the world of Galen."

"Mattern's work is well-organized, well-argued, and clearly presented... The book will appeal equally to historians, whether of ancient medicine in particular or of the social history of the time period, and to the general reading public"

"It is difficult to make a highly scholarly analysis an enjoyable and entertaining tale, Susan P. Mattern, however, skillfully dissects the rhetorical structure of Galen's case histories of his patients to offer a delightfully intriguing view not just of the great physician's medical practice but of his character and his social world... A fascinating journey into the past."

"A nuanced, detailed, and most enjoyable narrative."

"Susan Mattern's contribution to the ever-growing scholarship on Galen is worthy of commendation. Mattern has provided a rich reading of Galen's writings and the ways in which his medical reality existed within the Roman social context."

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