BMCR 2014.08.17

Galen: Three Treatises: ‘On My Own Books’, ‘On the Order of My Own Books’, and ‘That the Best Physician is Also a Philosopher’. An Intermediate Greek Reader

, , Galen: Three Treatises: 'On My Own Books', 'On the Order of My Own Books', and 'That the Best Physician is Also a Philosopher'. An Intermediate Greek Reader. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing, 2014. xiii, 165. ISBN 9781940997025. $14.95 (pb).

Full View

Galen of Pergamum has been the subject of increasing scholarly interest in recent years, but the vast and varied nature of his corpus makes him a difficult author to teach to undergraduate students. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of Galen’s writings are only available in the problematic edition of Karl Gottlob Kühn.1 The publication of critical texts through the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum and Collection Budé series have made it possible to introduce a small number of Galenic works to advanced students of Greek literature. But for those wishing to include Galen as part of a more elementary curriculum, there is a discernible lack of resources.

The reader by Evan Hayes and Stephen Nimis represents (to my knowledge) the first attempt to make Galen accessible to intermediary Greek students, and in this respect, their project is highly commendable. Their reader presents three treatises that offer an overview of not only Galen’s prolific literary output but also his distinctive approach to the study of medicine: that is, On My Own Books, On the Order of My Own Books, and That the Best Physician is also a Philosopher. Hayes and Nimis preface the body of their text by summarizing the content of the above works and by providing instructions for the use of the reader. As they explain, each page contains vocabularies glossing “all but the most common words” and short grammatical commentaries– all the basic information required for reading the text. Peppered throughout the volume are notes on both grammatical constructions like conditional statements and genitive absolutes, and historical events such as the fire of AD 192, which destroyed part of Galen’s personal library held in the Temple of Peace. While Hayes and Nimis have endeavored not to make the vocabularies too cumbersome, definitions are often repeated, sometimes even on opposing pages (e.g. the term Σμύρνα is glossed on pp. 22, 23). Moreover, the glossary and lists of verbs and proper names at the back of the reader seem to obviate the need for these page-by-page vocabularies and the analysis of certain verb forms in the grammatical commentary.

The introduction also relates that this volume is a self-published, “Print on Demand” book, which has not been through the typical process of peer review. Owing to this format, Hayes and Nimis’s reader is affordable but has several typographical and factual errors. The most common problem concerns the transcription of the Galenic titles listed in On My Own Books and On the Order of My Own Books. Overall, the names of Galen’s works are recorded in capital letters without accents; this style, however, is not consistently applied, as some titles are partly accented (e.g. ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΤΩΝ ὌΝΤΩΝ ἝΚΑΣΤΟΝ ἝΝ Τ᾽ΕΙΝΑΙ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΛΛΑ, p. 72). There are issues with the accenting of other words as well: πυρκαϊά (‘burning fever’) appears variously as πυρκαία (p. 28) and πυρκαια (p. 163). Examples of other minor errors include misspellings of English words (e.g. necessaary on p. 129) and superfluous punctuation marks (e.g. ἠγγελμαι,, on p. 137). Furthermore, because the notes in the commentary are very brief, they occasionally relay misleading information. For instance, a gloss on the physician Rufus of Ephesus (c. AD 100) states that “a few of his many works have survived in translation” (p. 100). This note makes no mention of Rufus’ extant Greek texts, and therefore appears to suggest that his surviving corpus is only available via Latin and Arabic translations.2

The concern of Hayes and Nimis to produce a low-cost volume seems to have determined their use of Iwan von Müller’s edition, which is in the public domain, as the foundation for their text.3 For a more scholarly edition, they refer the reader to the 2007 Budé version of Véronique Boudon-Millot. 4 The publication of Boudon-Millot’s edition has made Müller’s text obsolete, as the latter is based on inadequate textual witnesses. In the preface to his edition, Müller conceded that his manuscript Ambrosianus graecus 659, which contains the texts of On My Own Books and On the Order of My Own Books, was so lacunose that it preserved fragments rather than books (p. LVI). When preparing her edition, Boudon-Millot, on the other hand, had recourse to the recently discovered Greek manuscript Vlatadon 14 and Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s (d. c. 873 or 877) Arabic translation of On My Own Books, which survives in the eleventh-century manuscript Meshed, Rida, Tibb. 5223. These sources enabled Boudon-Millot to fill in some of the substantial lacunae in Ambrosianus graecus 659, and so her text represents the editio princeps of Galen’s two bibliographical treatises. With regard to That the Best Physician is also a Philosopher, Müller consulted the manuscripts Vaticanus Urbinas gr. 67 (14–15th cent.) and Marcianus gr. App. Cl. V, 4 (16 th cent.) for his version of the text, but did not personally collate them with the most ancient witness, the manuscript Laurentianus plut. LXXIV, 3 (12th-cent.). As Boudon-Millot points out, while his text of this Galenic work is more secure, it has nonetheless a number of errors (p. 276).

Because Boudon-Millot’s edition is still in copyright, Hayes and Nimis have summarized the content of the new material supplied by the Vlatadon and Meshed manuscripts (pp. 47–8, 99). In so doing, they make reference to Boudon’s article in The Unknown Galen, which offers an English translation of the lost passages preserved in Ḥunayn’s Arabic translation of On My Own Books.5 This source is not included in the bibliography at the front of the volume (p. xi). Besides reproducing the lacunae in Müller’s edition, the text of the reader also follows its false conjectures. As a result, the grammatical commentary provides explanations of certain words and phrases that have no textual basis in the surviving manuscripts. An excerpt from On the Order of My Own Books demonstrates this problem: “οὐκ ἀρκεῖ δ᾽οὐδὲ τοῦτο μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ πάθους ἀπηλλάχθαι χρή, καθ᾽ ὃ φιλοῦντες ἢ μισοῦντες τὰς αἱρέσεις οἱ πολλοὶ τυφλώττουσιν ἀμφ᾽αὐτάς” (p. 88). The text of the volume reads Müller’s addition of “χρή” and his emendation “καθ᾽ ὅ” for “καθό”, which is in both the Ambrosianus and Vlatadon manuscripts. Thus, the commentary relates that the infinitive “ἀπηλλάχθαι” should be taken after “χρή”, when it is in fact a subject of the quasi-impersonal verb “ἀρκεῖ”. Furthermore, “καθ᾽ ὅ” is described here as a relative pronoun, although the form attested in the manuscripts (i.e. “καθό”) is an adverb of this compound.

Notwithstanding the issues outlined above, Hayes’s and Nimis’s reader would benefit anyone interested in ancient medicine with rudimentary knowledge of Greek, especially the autodidact. In a classroom setting, the book’s abundant vocabularies and grammatical commentaries might hinder students from consulting lexical tools such as the Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell, Scott, and Jones and more advanced grammars (e.g. Herbert Weir Smyth’s Greek Grammar), with which intermediate readers should begin to familiarize themselves. Additionally, the fact that the notes are below the text rather than at the back of the volume, like the Bryn Mawr Commentaries and Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series, makes it difficult for teachers to test students in class on verb forms, constructions etc. For those studying by themselves, however, these notes will greatly assist in the comprehension of the Greek of Galen’s three treatises.


1. Karl Gottlob Kühn, Galeni Opera, 20 vols., Leipzig, 1821–33.

2. The standard edition of Rufus’s Greek works is Charles Daremberg and Charles-Émile Ruelle, Oeuvres de Rufus d’Éphèse: texte collationné sur les manuscrits, traduit pour la première fois en français, avec une introduction, Paris, 1879.

3. Iwan von Müller, Claudii Galeni Pergameni Scripta minora, vol. 2, Leipzig, 1891.

4. Véronique Boudon-Millot, Introduction générale ; Sur l’ordre de ses propres livres ; Sur ses propres livres ; Que l’excellent médecin est aussi philosophe, Paris, 2007.

5. Véronique Boudon, “Galen’s On My Own Books : New Material from Meshed, Rida, Tibb. 5223, in The Unknown Galen, ed. Vivian Nutton, London, 2002.