BMCR 2019.10.59

Celsus und die antike Wissenschaft: lateinisch-griechisch-deutsch. Sammlung Tusculum

, Celsus und die antike Wissenschaft: lateinisch-griechisch-deutsch. Sammlung Tusculum. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. 911. ISBN 9783110441659. €79,95 (hb).


The welcome period in publications for students of Celsus continues as this volume in the Sammlung Tusculum joins another recent German translation and an innovative French monograph.1 Since Celsus has been read by a medical audience primarily in selected passages in anthologies, “[d]ie vorliegende Neuarbeitung greift dieses Tradition auf und versucht sie zugleich tendenziell zu überwinden” (766) by historical contextualization of other relevant primary texts and by increasing attention to Celsus’ Artes beyond medicine. Including the other Artes, contextualizing passages, and attending to the text’s reception, in addition to aiming for a medical rather than primarily historical audience, distinguish this volume from competing translations on the market.

Golder’s book is therefore not a complete translation but a very substantial selection of Celsus’ De Medicina. The introduction briefly contextualizes Roman encyclopediaism and medicine, as well as introducing what we know of Celsus himself. Golder’s are standard contemporary views, with the exception of the name of Celsus’ encyclopedia. Golder refers to it (12-13) as though the title were Artes liberales but the tituli of the manuscripts and Quintilian’s testimony have unanimously persuaded scholars that the title was Artes. Translated passages are anthologized in an order directed at a medical readership: the preface, then anatomy, health, diagnosis, pathology (including surgery), physical therapy, and pharmacotherapeutics, followed by historical issues of Celsus’ relation to other ancient medical authors, possible sources, the Artes, and the reception of the text. A fair amount of Hippocrates and Galen are translated in order to contextualize the Celsian passages. The Latin text of Celsus is principally a reprint of Marx’s CML (769); the facing German translation is fluid and clarifying but there are some occasional mismatches.2 One (304-7) of the two chapters of the Toledo supplement is translated (but U. Capitani Maia 26 (1974): 170.38-172.9 is ignored). Passages on reception and the Artes beyond medicine benefit from scholarly advances since Marx’s edition.

Consider Golder’s translation (620-3) of Celsus De Medicina 7.7.6B-C as a specimen of his craft:

Man muss es wagen, weil die Operation ziemlich oft gut ausgeht. Man bringe also die Sonde mit dem Stiel nach vorne ein und trenne damit die Augenlider voneinander. Dann setze man kleine Bäuschchen zwischen die Lindränder ein, bis die Vereiterung an dieser Stelle sich zurückgebildet hat. Wenn aber ein Lid mit dem Weißen des Augapfels verwachsen ist, muss man nach einer Empfehlung des Herakleides von Tarent die Adhäsionen mit der Vorderseite des Messers trennen, dabei jedoch sehr darauf achten, dass weder vom Augapfel noch vom Augenlid etwas abgeschnitten wird. Und wenn unvermeidbar, dann nehme man eher etwas vom Lid weg. Anschließend soll man das Auge mit Medikamenten salben, die die Rauigkeit beseitigen. Außerdem soll das Lid jeden Tag umgestülpt werden, und zwar aus zwei Gründen, nämlich nicht nur um das Mittel mit dem Geschwür in Kontakt zu bringen, sondern auch um zu verhindern, dass es wieder verwächst. Man muss auch den Patienten selbst dazu anhalten, das Augenlid immer wieder mit zwei Fingern anzuheben. Ich kann mich nicht erinnern, dass je einer auf diese Weise geheilt worden ist. Meges hat berichtet, dass auch er selbst viel versucht habe, jedoch niemals erfolgreich sei, weil das Augenlid immer wieder von neuem mit dem Augapfel verwachsen sei.

Golder turns Celsus’ compressed technical language into sensible, everyday German instruction ( auersum specillum inserendum into ‘bringe also die Sonde mit dem Stiel nach vorne ein’). He makes explicit and clarifies the Latin for contemporary readers at the expense of strict literalism (‘die Adhäsionen, zwar aus zwei Gründen, dann nehme man etwas weg’ are all not in the Latin). Golder chooses not to equate Celsus’ aspritudo with the condition trachoma (Ger. Trachom), as do Spencer and Mazzini in their respective translations, but offers instead a non-technical sense for the Latin (‘die Rauigkeit’). The historical caution seems an impediment to the reader, since in his note on the passage Golder glosses it with the technical meaning. Golder’s particles bring out Celsus’ criticism from the way Celsus has structured the contextual ring of the operation, stretching from its announced success to his and Meges’ doubts about Heraclides’ technique (‘je einer’). Golder’s translation strategy of explication loses something of Celsus’ Latinate swiftness and punch. While the loss is clearest in Celsus’ moralizing passages, e.g. 7. pr.4 (124-5), Golder can replicate Celsus’ pathos if not his speed in asyndeton, as in 2.4.3 (210-1), a passage where Golder’s German surpasses Spencer’s English Loeb in feeling. The overall translation of Celsus is a success in the evaluation of this foreign speaker of German.

The volume ends with the barest historicizing commentary on selected passages; a bibliographic overview pursuant to each section; a Stellenverzeichnis of all ancient, medieval, and early modern passages; the register of parallels in Celsus and Hippocrates; a Greek-Latin glossary; an index nominum; and an index rerum. While pedagogical illustrations to aid reading the technical anatomy and surgery were prominent in Marx’s and Spencer’s editions, Golder follows other recent editions in avoiding illustrations: this is perhaps a lost opportunity given the intended medical audience. The bibliography in modern European languages is mostly of good quality, although reference is given to several outdated works. The following would be useful additions:

Conde Parrado, P. 2003. Hipócrates Latino: El De Medicina de Cornelio Celso en el Renacimiento. Valladolid.
Mudry, P. 2006. Medicina soror philosophiae. Regards sur la littérature et les textes médicaux antiques (1975-2005). Lausanne.
Weber, G. 1994. “Di Celso, segreto nel De abditis” in Antonio Benivieni: De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis. Firenze.

As with all editions in the Sammlung Tusculum, the book is elegantly printed and glued in hardcovers with a ribbon bookmark. Printing mistakes are rare. The volume will be more profitable reading to medical practitioners than historical scholars. Still, I hope that its selection and linguistic accessibility spurs some enterprising practitioner to dig deeper and ultimately to update the 1846 German medical commentary of Scheller (reprinted by Friboes in 1906) on all of Celsus’ De Medicina.


1. Lederer, T. 2016. A. Cornelius Celsus De Medicina: Die medizinische Wissenschaft, eingeleitet, übersetzt und kommentiert. 3 Bände. Darmstadt, reviewed by B. Maire Museum Helveticum (2016) 73.2: 236-7; Gautherie, A. 2017. Rhétorique et thérapeutique dans le De Medicina de Celse. Turnhout, reviewed in BMCR 2018.02.47.

2. For example, in 1. pr. 49 (100-1) J’s quaedam, not quae, must be printed for the translation ‘eine Frau’; and arente must be printed for the translation ‘Gangrän’, whereas the printed text haerente points to a uterine inversion per Capitani.