Dr Caroline Petit (University of Warwick)
The Transmission of Galen's On Simple Drugs
At the heart of ancient pharmacology, at the crossroads between Dioscoridean knowledge and Aristotelian logic, lies Galen’s treatise On simple drugs, in eleven books. A monumental work on simple (i.e. ‘not compound’) remedies and how to use them according to the right method, Simples has encountered typical problems of transmission faced by most ancient technical treatises of this size and ambition. From late antiquity to early modern times, a long stream of rewritings, translations, excerpting and copying has characterized the history of its textual transmission. It nevertheless played a crucial role in elaborating botanical and pharmacological terminology and knowledge, principally in the Islamic world, where part of Galen’s material is still in use.
In this paper, I will highlight key moments in the textual transmission of Simples, with special emphasis on its fate in the late antique East and in Byzantium. I will argue that we are left with remnants of a once considerably richer range of Greek manuscripts, and that the indirect tradition (through late antique compilations, Latin, Syriac and Arabic evidence) may prove crucial in reconstructing the original text. In order to illustrate the difficulties of the task, I will examine passages from Galen’s preface to Book VI, at the opening of the ‘catalogue’ of simple drugs, where Galen explains his understanding of the (mine) field of pharmacology in the late 2nd c. AD: reviewing past authorities on drug lore, Galen also launches an attack on oriental-minded quacks who include astrological and magical knowledge in their prescriptions.
Dr Caroline Petit is a classicist with a special interest in the textual transmission, translation and interpretation of ancient medical texts. Since 1999, she has been working on Galen, Pseudo-Galenic texts, medical rhetoric, pharmacology and, on occasion, studies on the reception of medical texts from late antiquity to the Renaissance. She has also studied ancient theories of rhetoric and Hermogenes’ spurious Progymnasmata. She has published an award winning critical edition of The Introduction, or the Physician, an important ancient medical handbook ascribed to Galen. She is now a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Classics at the University of Warwick, where she is leading a project on ‘Medical Prognosis in Late Antiquity’. This involves the first critical edition of five texts from the Galenic corpus devoted to various aspects of diagnostic and prognostic, and a monograph on medical prognostic in late antiquity.