BMCR 2005.03.15

The Fragments of the Methodists. Methodism outside Soranus. Vol. 1: Text and Translation. Studies in Ancient Medicine, 24/1

, The fragments of the Methodists. Studies in ancient medicine ; 24. Leiden: Brill, 2004-. volumes 1- ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9004124519. €130.00.

Once again Brill’s series on Ancient Medicine offers us a valuable new work, the result of a research project sponsored by the Wellcome Trust. This first volume in a planned series of three contains the first comprehensive collection of the fragments of the Methodists, a medical “sect” ( hairesis) that came into being in the 1st century BC and was made familiar by authors like Celsus, Pliny and, above all, Galen.

More than 300 fragments concerning this medical “school” or “sect” constitute the surviving testimonial of a group of authors belonging to what until now has been a quite obscure stage in ancient medicine. The fragments are accompanied by a textual apparatus and an English translation. The complete work will have two more volumes: the second will consist of the commentary to the fragments of the first volume and the third will be devoted to the fragments of Soranus. According to the subtitle of the book, Methodism outside Soranus, Soranus (and Caelius Aurelianus) are used here as sources for the work of other Methodist authors but not presented as Methodist authors themselves. Our knowledge of Methodism is both slanted and partial. Today we can only approach the Methodist theory obliquely, through direct quotations or indirect allusions made by ancient authors. Nevertheless, these allusions are quite frequent, and they have turned Methodism into a familiar subject, even if out of all the Methodist doctors only the writings of Soranus and the much later Caelius Aurelianus have survived. Soranus’ works have been widely studied, but attempts to locate his work in the context of Methodism are less frequent, as he is normally viewed more as a prestigious gynaecologist than as a Methodist. Tecusan’s study therefore fills a gap in this field.

The second problem posed by Methodism is that its recovery has to be based on indirect testimonies, a high number of which come from Galen. Accordingly, the picture of Methodism we are offered by the fragments is the one Galen wanted to transmit, and that is why in assessing and evaluating Galen’s opinion of the Methodists and Methodism one has to be cautious. No objectivity can be expected from a Galen full of personal animosity against Methodist doctors, whom he considers his bitter enemies. His statements, therefore, should always be judged with this in mind.

The aim of Tecusan, as stated at the beginning of the introduction, is to offer an exhaustive collection of the testimonies relating to Methodism, a corpus which will be the basis of future studies in the field. But she also wants to give her own reconstruction of Methodism, based on her interpretation of the fragments. (For that we will have to wait for the forthcoming second volume, which will consist of the commentary to the present selection.)

Tecusan starts with some statements and questions which set out the problem. Put briefly, everybody agrees that the Methodists were important, but nobody actually knows why. It is not clear whether their contribution to the medical profession was really essential or if they just became popular because their counterparts found them too outrageous.

Concerning the selection of the fragments, the criterion used has been the existence of explicit allusions to Methodism, and only texts containing these have been included; implicit references have been systematically excluded, as they may constitute controversial problems in themselves rather than enlarging the overview. The corpus is intended to contain all the extant references to the “sect”, with the exception of two types of testimonies, firstly the commentaries on Galen by late authors like Agnellus of Ravenna or Johannes of Alexandria, as they offered too many repetitions and close parallels, and secondly the works of translators and compilers of Soranus and Caelius Aurelianus. There are over 30 fragments considered as Dubia, because they refer to Methodist authors whose identification as subjects of those texts is at least problematic. They normally concern common names such as Dionysius or Philo, who are hard to identify. The volume also contains an appendix where all the Dubia referring to the different Methodist authors are listed and commented on.

The fragments are neither arranged by themes, as one might expect, nor by chronology or author. The special characteristics of the material made the alphabetical order of the sources the most convenient choice. Nevertheless, a thematic synopsis follows the list of the fragments and their sources, thus providing readers with an ordered guide as to how to approach the fragments. This thematic synopsis is organised in four sections: History, Philosophy, Medical Theory and Medical Practice; each section is divided into two parts, the first devoted to the references to Methodism in general, and the second listing the fragments in which allusions to the various authors appear.

Unfortunately, the thematic synopsis is not really helpful in providing an overview of particular topics (and also the typography is hard on the eyesight). If a reader wants to select, for instance, the passages dealing with the aetiology and causes of disease, he/she is forced to go through the thematic synopsis in search of those or any similar terms. It is true that this search will not take long, as it only requires glancing through some 30 pages, but one misses a thematic alphabetical index. Maybe the introduction of such and similar indexes — one of Greek and Latin words used in the testimonia would have been particularly useful to scholars interested in medical vocabulary — is planned for the second volume. Such tools would undoubtedly make the collection more accessible to any scholar interested in the field.

Much importance is attached to the context of a fragment. Tecusan’s decision to keep every item of material as a whole without splitting it into more fragments has resulted in some of the texts being extremely long. Most of the passages run from a few lines to three pages, but in the case of fragment 111, a whole work by Galen of some 40 pages — Adversus Iulianum — is included. Also very long quotations from the Galenic books De Methodo Medendi (pp. 461- 489) and De Sectis (pp.539-563), as well as the pseudo-Galenic De Optima Secta (pp.701-745) each constitute single fragments.

In the part of the introduction devoted to the context Tecusan also enumerates and analyses Galen’s different ways of distorting the words and thoughts of others. These procedures range from reductivism to manipulation of quotations and are described in detail. Undoubtedly, the context is very helpful for assessing the intention of the source authors when they mentioned the Methodists, particularly in such “negative” contexts as those described above in the case of Galen. However, the reader may wish there was some kind of typographical help, such as the use of different type sizes or bold type, to distinguish between the fragment proper and the context and to locate information quickly. In the case of a search for a reference, it would have been helpful if somehow the explicit reference to Methodism in the text had been marked, so making the use of the collection easier.

Tecusan gave up her original intention of establishing the text of every single fragment after carrying out a study of its manuscript tradition, once she had done some work in this direction. Tecusan’s text, therefore, draws on the manuscript readings provided by the editions available, and on alternative writings when she considers it appropriate. For some sources, Tecusan has relied upon forthcoming critical editions, such as Cassius Iatrosophista’s Quaestiones Medicae (by Antonio Garzya), Pseudo-Democritus’ Liber Medicinalis (by Klaus-Dietrich Fischer) and Pseudo-Dioscorides’ De venenis (by Alain Touwaide).

Galen is the source of over 100 fragments, and about 85 of them come from treatises for which Kühn’s edition is the only one available. Books like De Methodo Medendi and De compositione medicamentorum secundum locos provide a very high number of testimonia, and, when going through the lists of the fragments and of the editions of the sources, one is made aware of how much work remains to be done on producing critical editions of most of the works of Galen. But such a responsibility is not part of Tecusan’s study, as the critical edition of any of the Galenic books mentioned above would be a project on its own and take some years. Tecusan departs, then, from Kühn’s text, introducing some conjectures and emendations where she thinks it appropriate.

The volume also provides an English translation of all the passages on facing pages. Some of the texts have not been translated into a modern language before, and the fact that all the translations are by Tecusan, and not a reproduction of other scholars’ translations, will surely be appreciated by non-classicists, as it gives the collection homogeneity.

The benefits of such a work are very clear: there was no Methodist collection before and Tecusan’s will undoubtedly be the standard edition of the remaining evidence of Methodism for a long time to come. It will be the basis of any future research in this field, as a wide variety of scholars, classicists, philosophers and medical historians, now have at their disposal the necessary materials. Anyone interested in ancient medicine in general will eagerly await the next two volumes.