Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.10.40

David Langslow, Brigitte Maire Langslow (ed.), Body, Disease and Treatment in a Changing World: Latin Texts and Contexts in Ancient and Medieval Medicine.   Lausanne:  Éditions BHMS, 2010.  Pp. xvii, 403.  ISBN 9782970064008.  €55.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fabio Stok, Università di Roma Tor Vergata (

[Table of contents follows this review]

The conference held at Manchester in 2007 was the ninth of a series begun in 1984 at Macerata (proceedings of the previous eight are cited on p. 388). The 26 papers (in French, English, Italian, Spanish, German) deal with, as in the former conferences, two principal topics, Roman medicine and Latin medical texts. The level of the contributions is generally good, in some cases remarkable.

Among the papers on Roman medicine, the first and the last of the volume, both concerning Cornelius Celsus’s De medicina, are very interesting. Heinrich von Staden stresses Celsus’s anatomy. Generally precise and accurate, Celsus reveals some surprising errors in cerebral and cardiac anatomy and seems to ignore acquisitions of Hellenistic medicine: he quotes the meninx as singular (membrana cerebri) instead of plural as used by the Greek physicians from at least the fourth century BC; he never refers to the nerves discovered by Herophilus and Erasistratus; he is vague about the relations between soul, mind and body; he shows little interest in the heart’s anatomy and in the connection between heart and pulse. The result is a body as a ‘sum of parts’, instead of the ‘whole body’ of Greek medicine. A ‘Latin body’, as von Staden concludes; its explanation, in my opinion, is to be found in Celsus’ philosophical approach. Philippe Mudry points out a relevant discrepancy between Celsus and Galen on the role of conjecture in medical practice, a topic already discussed at the time of Plato. In Galen the ‘technic conjecture’ concerns the status of medicine and its position between theory and practice. For Celsus medical conjecture is due to the variety of natural bodies, and doesn’t prevent the physician from avoiding failures. Mudry attributes this view to the Academic philosophy adopted by Celsus and also to his personal dislike of the Methodist School.

Physiological topics are explored by Frédéric Le Blay, who examines the medical fortune of the Empedoclean theory of the pores (invisible channels which are said to connect the human body with the environment), and by Raffaele Passarella, who examines the vocabulary of digestion in Latin medical terminology from Celsus to Cassius Felix.

Several other papers also deal with medical vocabulary: Cristina De la Rosa Cubo examines the use of the terms amo and amor in the medical treatment of sexuality and reproduction; Ana Isabel Martín Ferreira notes the nomenclature of childhood in Latin medical texts from Antiquity to the Renaissance; the paper of Muriel Pardon-Lanonnelie concerns the Latin use of the Greek medical term ἐπιφορά (defluxion of humours from the eye): she examines orthographic and semantic fluctuations in the use of the term by the medical authors and also in inscriptions carved on the collyrium-stamps. José Pablo Barragán Nieto explores the semantic evolution of the term haemorrhois from Celsus to Renaissance physicians; Valérie Gitton-Ripoll examines several Latin verbs meaning ‘pound, pulp, grind’ used as pharmaceutical instructions.

Some papers consider the presence of medicine and medical topics in Latin literature: Maurizio Baldin examines medical terminology in Plautus, Sallust and Juvenal; Daria Crismani revisits the symptomatology of love in Apuleius and other ancient novelists, focusing on their medical sources and the therapeutic properties assigned to the novels themselves in the treatment of lovesickness; Patricia Gaillard-Seux discusses Pliny the Elder’s references to remedies for the effects of bites and poisonous substances: she notices Pliny’s adherence to the pseudo-Democritean theory of sympathies and antipathies.

Gabriele Marasco’s overview of medicine in late antiquity stresses the influence of the Christian religion and of its practice of charity towards the poor and all people. Innocenzo Mazzini presents a collection of Latin medical terms presented as ‘popular’ in ancient sources or which would seem to be of ‘popular’ origin.

The first section is completed by the stimulating paper of Brigitte Maire on the image of the female body in the Gynaecia by Mustio (a Latin translation of Sorano’s gynecological treatise), a study which highlights the interaction between medicine and the social and cultural dimension.

The second section concerns the transmission, textual criticism and reception of Latin medical texts, a field of great interest considering that several medical texts of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages are unprinted or not critically edited.

Vivian Nutton’s paper regards an edition which he is preparing, that of De virtute centaureae, the Latin translation by Niccolò da Reggio of a lost pseudo-Galenic treatise. The identification of the name of Themison, in a part of the manuscript tradition, enables Nutton to identify this text as a work of the Methodist School datable to the early empire.

Other editions which are being prepared are those of the ancient Latin translation of Hippocrates’ Aphorisms, presented by Manuel Vásquez-Bujan; and of the medico-botanical glossary Agriocanna, on which Aljeandro García González is working. The latter shows that in a part of the manuscript tradition of the glossary one can see the influence of the XII Century’s Salernitan medical terminology.

Gerd Haverling’s paper considers the manuscript tradition of the ancient translation of Hippocratic Aphorisms, but from a linguistic point of view; also taking into account the Old Commentary which accompanied the translation in the manuscripts, Haverling notes the linguistic stratification shown by the text, from the good Late Latin of the translation to the vulgarisms prevailing in the Commentary and in the variations due to Medieval scribes.

Two papers examine the indirect tradition of the Compositiones by Scribonius Largus. Sergio Sconocchia (editor of the Teubner text) presents four unpublished medieval versions of the Antidotos hiera (Scrib. 97-107), of which Sconocchia offers here a critical text. This excerpt is also of interest from a textual point of view: in at least one case it offers a good reading, polion (already conjectured as polii by Sperling), preferable to the folii printed by previous editors. Klaus-Dietrich Fischer examines the tradition of the famous Antidotos Zopyri and shows that it was present in a lost section of the Compositiones, from which the excerpt, found in two medieval manuscripts, derives.

Two papers deal with the works of Caelius Aurelianus. Anna Maria Urso supposes that some readings legible in the margins of the Rovilliana edition (1566) are not conjectural, as is commonly thought, but could derive from a lost manuscript. Federico Messina shows the presence of excerpts of the Gynaecia by Caelius Aurelianus in the Latin translation of Oribasius’ Synopsis ad Eustathium; these excerpts can improve the text of the Gynaecia edited by Drabkin in 1951.

Latin translations of Dioscorides’ Materia medica are examined by Marie Cronier, who explores an alphabetical re-elaboration derived from the lost translation B. Arsenio Ferraces Rodríguez presents two unpublished medieval texts: the first is an excerpt from a late antique Latin Translation of Dioscorides’ Materia medica; the second is based partly on a late antique Latin translation of the De plantis attributed to Thessalus of Tralles.

The section concludes with an inquiry by Pedro Pablo Conde Parrado and Maria Jesús Pérez Ibáñez into the use of Celsus’ De medicina in the Thesaurus linguae Latinae by Robert Estienne (Stephanus).

The volume is well edited and decorated with the reproduction of a splendid illuminated folium of Ms. Bodley 130. The Bibliography, at the end of every paper, is somewhat redundantly doubled at the end of the volume. The indices of passages quoted and of Greek and Latin words are useful.

Table of Contents

D. Langslow, Preface (XIII-XVII).
I: Graeco-Roman medicine, medical language & sociolinguistics.
H. Von Staden, How Greek was the Latin body? The parts and the whole in Celsus' Medicina (3-23).
F. Le Blay, Les pores de la peu : une entité physiologique problématique (25-36).
G. Marasco, La letteratura medica fra il tardo antico e l'età moderna (37-47).
B. Maire, Apport du Mustio à la représentation de la femme antique (49-59).
I. Mazzini, Il vocabolario medico latino dei ceti medi e inferiori (61-72).
M. Baldin, Valenze della terminologia medica in autori non medici : Plauto, Sallustio, Giovenale (63-87).
D. Crismani, Non solo mal d'amore (89-101).
II: Texts, transmission & reception
G. V. M. Haverling, On textual criticism and linguistic development in the Late Latin translation of the Hippocratic Aphorisms (105-18)
M. E. Vásquez Buján, Éléments complémentaires en vue de l'édition critique de l'ancienne version latine des Aphorismes hippocratiques (119-30).
S. Sconocchia, L'antidotos hieria di Scribonio Largo e i suoi rifacimenti attraverso il tempo (131-45).
K.-D. Fischer, Die Antidotos des Zopyros und andere Fundstücke zu Scribonius Largus (147-59).
A. M. Urso, Possibili varianti di trasmissione nei margini dell'editio Rovilliana di Celio Aureliano (161-72).
F. Messina, Nuovi frammenti dei Gynaecia di Ceio Aureliano nelle traduzioni latine della Synopsis ad Eustathium di Oribasio (173-88).
M. Cronier, Le Dioscoride alphabétique latin et les traductions latines du De materia medica (189-200).
A. Ferraris Rodriguez, Tradición indirecta del De materia medica de Dioscórides y del De plantis atribuido a Tésalo de Tralles : la reutilización de dos fragmentos en traducción latina (201-12).
V. Nutton, De virtute centaurae : a neglected Methodist text? (213-21).
M. García González, Agriocanna, a new medico-botanical glossary of pre-Salernitan origin (223-35).
P. P. Conde Parrado & M. J. Pérez Ibáñez, Aspects of the presence of Celsus, De medicina in Renaissance lexicography : the Thesaurus of Robert Estienne (1531) (237-48).
III: Words, meanings & lexical fields.
C. De La Rosa Cubo, Amo y amor en los textos médicos latinos. Apuntes sobre medicina y sociedad (251-62).
A. I. Martín Ferreira, The nomenclature of childhood in Latin medical texts : puer and infans (263-73).
R. Passarella, The vocabulary of digestion in Latin medical texts (275-81).
M. Pardon-Labonnelie, L'évolution des hellénismes translittérés dans la langue médicale latine : l'exemple du terme επιφορά (283-94).
J. P. Barragán Nieto, Origin and evolution of a Latin medical term : haemorrhois (295-304).
P. Gaillard-Seux, Morsures, piqûres et empoisonnements dans l'Histoire naturelle de Pline l'Ancien (305-17).
V. Gitton-Ripoli, Comment préparait-on les médicaments? Le sens et la traduction des verbes signifiant «écraser, broyer, piler» (319-35).
Ph. Mudry, Ratio et coniectura dans les textes médicaux latins (337-47).
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