The Alphabet of Galen: Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

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Press: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division; 1 edition (May 30, 2012)
Publication Date:2012-5
Author Name:Everett, Nicholas


The Alphabet of Galen is a critical edition and English translation of a text describing, in alphabetical order, nearly three hundred natural products - including metals, aromatics, animal materials, and herbs - and their medicinal uses. 
A Latin translation of earlier Greek writings on pharmacy that have not survived, it circulated among collections of 'authorities' on medicine, including Hippocrates, Galen of Pergamun, Soranus, and Ps.
This work presents interesting linguistic features, including otherwise unattested Greek and Latin technical terms and unique pharmacological descriptions.
Nicholas Everett provides a window onto the medieval translation of ancient science and medieval conceptions of pharmacy.
With a comprehensive scholarly apparatus and a contextual introduction, The Alphabet of Galen is a major resource for understanding the richness and diversity of medical history.


Medical Books,Pharmacology,Pharmacy,History,Health, Fitness & Dieting,Alternative Medicine,Herbal Remedies

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Comment List (Total:2)

  •     The Alphabet of Galen wasn't written by the Galen (c. 129-217 CE) but predates him by probably one or two hundred years. Someone a few centuries down the line gave it that name - who knows why? The translator was able to see eight manuscripts dating from the seventh to the twelfth centuries (none identical, some fragmented), along with the first printed edition (1490). Although I can't read Latin, I'm still jealous. I do own several pairs of white cotton gloves...The first third of the book is discussion of the history, sources, translation/dating and the manuscripts themselves. The last fifteen percent or so is an extensive bibliography and index. In between are the 302 entries with Latin on the left and English on the right. It's extensively footnoted.Yes, some of the entries scared the bejeezus out of me. Bathing in lye, anyone? The same fragmented entry mentions something about "[...] true for the internal uses [...]"! Others made me a little queasy - I'm not sure I'd ingest a skink's inner flesh (in a twelfth of a pint of wine) as an aphrodisiac. Yet others, however, told of properties we still know today, such as St. John's Wort "heals burns when applied topically by means of a compress".Mr. Everett did a wonderful job not only translating but cross-referencing this Materia medica with other well-known writers such as Dioscorides and Pliny.It's a fascinating glimpse into far-ancient times. Unlike many of its contemporaries, there isn't a spot of superstition or magic. It's all "fact".
  •     This book is a real find: a full scholarly edition, in Latin with translation, of a work that is incredibly important historically but almost totally unknown to modern readers. It is an herbal, roughly contemporary with Dioscorides (1st century CE) and drawing on the same general store of knowledge, but not derivative of Dioscorides. It is also separate from Pliny, and in spite of the name has nothing to do with Galen. (The name is one of those medieval labels to give prestige, like the naming of a roughly contemporary Chinese herbal after the God of Agriculture.) The book is an alphabetical guide to major drugs, mostly herbal, many mineral, a few animal. It is a memory aid for practitioners, not a full textbook like Dioscorides, and therefore gives very brief accounts--often describing the plant merely by saying it "is known to everyone." Medicinal values are very briefly indicated. The book is practical and accurate when it does give details; most of the indications are not too far from modern biomedical findings, and the few excursions into magic and exaggeration are rather trivial. On the other hand, the book would be unusable to a non-expert, because compounding and quantities are not generally indicated.The real point here is that the book was known for centuries, and ranked with various editions and extensions of Dioscorides as the basis for learning drugs and medicines in medieval Europe. It was a slender reed, but thousands (or millions) leaned on it.What really astonishes me, personally, though, is that we have here a full scholarly edition of a major medical work that is actually offered in paperback at an affordable price! Usually, such editions forthcome from scholarly European presses, at prices that bankrupt even large university libraries and result in the books becoming unavailable to students or researches. A million thanks to University of Toronto Press for making this one available even to people like me.

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