Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.12


RESPONSE: Sluiter on Slater on Sluiter


For all the obvious reasons, I read Professor Slater's review of the "Festschrift" for Dirk Schenkeveld (BMCR 95.10.1) with great interest. I appreciate the attention he paid to all the individual contributions in the book, even though I do not always agree with his judgement of their relative value. Although as co-editor I feel a proprietary interest in the work as a whole, I will restrict this reaction to Slater's evaluation of my own article, because I think there is a misunderstanding about its aim. The article is not about Galen's literary theories (which, I agree, are fairly commonplace), but about his rhetorical use of literary and poetical concepts. He uses them for two purposes: to put Hippocrates on the literary map among the acknowledged literary classics, and to conquer a place as a literary genre for what he calls the epistemonike didaskalia. Galen very much constructs his own "Hippocrates", as a combination of the greatest medical authority ever and the best Greek prose-writer. He uses two traditional genres as a foil: poetry and historiography. In both cases, he differentiates between these genres and that of Hippocrates' epistemonike didaskalia by referring to the traditional distinction between truth and fiction. In the case of historiography, this means Galen had to downplay its traditional element of "truthfulness and instruction" and to stress that of "fiction and entertainment": only in this way can he uphold his claim that the genre of scientific instruction is uniquely distinguished by its insistence on imparting truthful information. In my view, the two pages I devote to this matter (205-6) do not constitute getting "lost in the wilderness of historiographical theory". I use Lucian's On How to Write History" as a representative of historiographical theory, because his work is the only complete one on this issue that has come down to us -- this does not mean I claim his work is original. Nor does my paraphrase of Lucian's allegation that many contemporary historians confuse writing history (= writing the truth for purposes of instruction) with engaging in encomiastic literature imply that I believe him. The point is that his views (i.e. the traditional ones) on the relevance of truth (instruction) and fiction (entertainment) for the genre of historiography differ radically from those of Galen -- and this can be explained by Galen's rhetorical purpose.