BMCR 2022.09.34

Hippocratic Commentaries in the Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic traditions: Selected Papers from the XVth Colloque Hippocratique, Manchester

, Hippocratic commentaries in the Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic traditions: Selected papers from the XVth Colloque Hippocratique, Manchester. Studies in ancient medicine, 56. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2021. Pp. xii, 382. ISBN 9789004470194 $142.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In 2015, the triennial Colloque Hippocratique met in Manchester, where Peter Pormann directs a long-term research project on commentaries on Aphorisms in Arabic. The published papers in this volume reflect his group’s multilingual and interlingual focus. But they do much more than this. The majority of the papers address three interconnected questions: (1) the boundary between an exegesis and an exposition; (2) how the genre of the source text influences the commentary (notably in the case of surgical texts); and (3) how commentary can serve to canonize an author, and stigmatize other views and interpretations. The result is a collection of essays that is remarkably coherent and focused.

Elizabeth Craik’s “Reflections on Hippocratic Commentary” serves as a kind of keynote address on the first of these issues. She terms “quasi-commentaries” works like books 3-5 of Galen’s Therapeutic Method, which in substance if not form mirror his lemmatic commentaries on the Hippocratic surgical texts. Quasi-commentary can also take polemic form, notably in the seventeenth century, when attacks on William Harvey by Jean Pecquet and Jean Riolan the Younger take the form of dissertations on Hippocratic passages. But the frontier between exegesis and exposition is particularly uncertain in the works of Galen, the most influential commentator on Hippocrates. Peter Singer’s contribution (“Beyond and Behind the Commentary: Galen on Hippocrates on Elements”) analyses how On the Elements according to Hippocrates disrupts these frontiers, while claiming to respect them. Galen distinguishes exegesis—elucidating an author’s views—from what he calls “demonstration of true and refutation of false doctrines”, or exposition. But On the Elements is a quasi-commentary on Nature of Man, in which Galen seeks not only to elevate this text (or selected parts of it) to the rank of authentic Hippocratic doctrine, but to recruit Hippocrates to support Galen’s own views on the elements in the composition of the human body. Galen’s argument is that hot, cold, wet and dry are not only the ultimate explanatory principles of the body (element-quality theory), but also qualitative parameters of the humours which (in his view) compose all the parts and powers of the human body; moreover, they are homologues of earth, air, fire and water (element-body theory). There is evidence from the London Anonymous that this interpretation of Nature of Man was rejected by many in Galen’s day who called themselves “Hippocratics”. But by casting On the Elements as a “demonstration of true and refutation of false doctrines”, Galen successfully overwrote his views onto the Hippocratic text. Galen’s humoralism and its concomitant element-body theory so dominated the “Hippocratic” medicine of later eras that it is hard even for informed modern scholars to appreciate that it is not as Hippocratic as Galen claims.

Ralph M. Rosen likewise addresses the issue of exegesis versus exposition in “Galen’s Hippocratic ‘Commentary’ on The Capacities of the Soul Depend on the Mixtures of the Body.” Galen systematically calls on Airs Waters Places in this treatise, in a way that suggests that he was “conceptualizing his quotations as if they were lemmas on which his discussion in [Capacities] could serve as a form of commentary” (168). Rosen proposes that we read this part of Capacities as a “proto-commentary” or rehearsal for Galen’s own lemmatic commentary on Airs Waters Places. Moreover, in this commentary Galen refers back to his arguments in Capacities to “explain” what Hippocrates is saying—a strategy Rosen terms Galen’s “exegetical loop”. The commentary does, however, serve to forge a causal link missing in the treatise, namely that the environment affects the body (and hence the soul) because it can penetrate it in various ways.

Daniela Manetti (“Commenting on the Commentary: Galen’s Exegetical Strategies in Difficulties in Breathing“) throws light on another type of quasi-commentary, namely what she terms “synthetic commentary”. In On my Own Books Galen presents Difficulties in Breathing as a product of his study of Hippocratic texts. Instead of an exegesis of a particular treatise, he assembles everything Hippocrates said on this subject of respiratory pathology. But because this is not a commentary, Galen can devote the first part of the treatise to his own views on breathing; the second part details what Hippocrates said in “authentic” works like Prognostic, Aphorisms, Airs Waters Places, Regimen in Acute Disease and surprisingly, Prorrhetic 1. Galen uses many of the exegetical techniques used in lemmatic commentaries (e.g. posing questions, paraphrasing the texts, identifying syntactic and semantic features) but the intention is explicitly to find confirmation for his own theories in Hippocrates.

The second theme, genre, is explored in two essays on Hippocratic surgical texts. Mathias Witt’s “Types of Cranial Injuries in the Hippocratic Wounds in the Head in Light of the Ancient Commentary Tradition” approaches the commentaries (including Galen’s quasi-commentary in Method of Healing) not as intentional acts of interpretation, but as sources for Witt’s own re-construction of Hippocrates’ meaning. In short, the ancient commentaries are instruments of a modern understanding of the original text. There are some problems with this approach, for example the author’s assumption that statements by Paul of Aegina and other later writers must be derived from Hellenistic commentaries. Amneris Roselli’s analysis of “Galen’s Surgical Commentaries on Hippocrates” forms a satisfying complement to Witt’s paper, in that she focuses on orthopedics and bone surgery. But she also ties the surgical commentaries into the first theme of exegesis versus exposition by pointing out how Galen’s commentaries on Fractures and Joints actually read like a treatise on surgery rather than a gloss on the Hippocratic texts. The lemmata, in this case, become chapter headings. In a close reading of Galen’s commentary on the first lemma of Fractures, Roselli demonstrates how Galen uses two questions (why extend a damaged limb? why extend it in a straight line?) to set out the principles of bone trauma. For all his protestations of exegetical modesty, Galen takes control of the Hippocratic text by systematizing it.

The third theme—canonization and contestation—is addressed in the papers by David Leith (“Asclepiades of Bithynia as Hippocratic Commentator”), Tommaso Raiola (“Sabinus ‘the Hippocratic’: His Exegetical Method in the Commentaries on Hippocrates“), Jacques Jouanna (“Galen as Commentator of Commentaries: the Case of the Hippocratic Epidemics 1 and 3″), James Hankinson (“Galen the Hippocratic: Textual Analysis and the Practice of Commentary”), Véronique Boudon-Millot (“Galen and Pseudo-Galen in Conversation: Epidemics 232 and Aphorisms 4.5″) and Sabrina Grimuado (“Ancient Medicine in the Galenic Corpus: the Story of a Concealment”). Leith’s aim is to reconstruct from meagre testimonia what was evidently a very popular suite of commentaries by Asclepiades on Surgery, Aphorisms and Epidemics 1. Galen claims to have used Asclepiades’ comments on Surgery in his own commentary, notably for verifying the readings of the Hippocratic text, and Caelius Aurelianus and Erotian briefly allude to his glosses on Aphorisms. The most intriguing witness is the recently published papyrus P. Oxy. LXXX 5231: a commentary on Epidemics 1 which criticises Asclepiades’ commentary for indulging in retrospective diagnosis, and particularly for espousing Methodist pathology. In short, Asclepiades (like Galen after him) imported his own medical theory into his exegesis, in the name of “filling in gaps” in the Hippocratic exposition. Leith points to the broader historical implications: commenting on Hippocrates had become contested territory for elite doctors by the end of the Hellenistic period. It was a necessary area of expertise for a first-rate medical author, and a vehicle for establishing one’s command of medical scholarship.

Competitive commentary is also the theme of Raiola’s essay on Sabinus (1st/2nd c. CE), probably the most famous Hippocratic commentator before Galen, but now known only through Galen’s disparaging remarks. In his own commentary on Epidemics 3 (which only survives in Arabic) Galen chides Sabinus for using metaphors, for terminological inaccuracy, for arbitrarily altering the reading of the texts, and for obsessive concern with Hippocrates’ details about the location and social circumstances of patients. But in On my Own Books Galen recommended Sabinus’s commentaries for texts which Galen had not commented on. Jacques Jouanna offers a complementary perspective on Galen’s Epidemics 1 and 3, pointing out that the commentary on Hippocrates often shifts to being a commentary on previous commentators, notably Sabinus. James Hankinson also considers how Galen criticises the Hippocratic exegesis of his predecessors, using his commentary on Nature of Man as an example. Nature of Man is a text which Galen thought was authentic only in part, notably the part which aligned with Galen’s own doctrinal commitments. Hence he reads the text’s refutation of monism not as a rejection of element theory, but as a rejection of the notion that the human body is composed of only one element. A major target is Sabinus, whose additions to Hippocrates’ text to explain the origins of various monisms are roundly critiqued. Indeed, Galen assails Sabinus even when Sabinus holds views which Galen considers correct. Véronique Boudon-Millot contrasts how Galen handles certain passages from Epidemics 2 and Aphorisms 4.5 in his commentaries, and how they are treated in the pseudo-Galenic Theriac to Piso. What this comparison reveals is that pseudo-Galen seems to be one of the “Hippocratics” contemporary with Galen, who were his closest competitors as interpreters of “genuine” Hippocratic doctrine. This is most evident in the way Galen concealed his debts to a Hippocratic text whose authenticity he rejected, Ancient Medicine. As Sabrina Grimuado observes, Galen rigorously avoids using this text, even when it supports his argument, but there are covert references in Thrasyboulus re: history of gymnastics and hygiene, as well as Galen’s notion of technikòs stokhasmós (conjecture founded on art).

The remaining papers fall into two groups. Those by Caroline Magdelaine and Jean-Michel Mouton (“New Fragments of a Commentary on the Oath Attributed to Galen”), Giulia Ecca (“A New Anonymous Prologue to the Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms in the Harleianus 6295″), and Kamran I. Karimullah (“On the Authorship of the Syrian Prognostic“) report on recent discoveries of Arabic, Greek and Syriac materials that hint at riches yet to be discovered in these languages. The two final contributions discuss Renaissance commentaries on Epidemics: María Teresa Santamaría Hernández (“The Latin Commentary by Pedro Jaime Esteve on the Second Book of the Hippocratic Epidemics (Valencia, 1551)” and Jesús Ángel y Espinós, “The First Complete Renaissance Commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics.”

Taken as a whole, this is a very satisfying volume, with a thematic unity both unusual in proceedings of this kind, and original.

 

Authors and Titles:

 

Introduction, Peter E. Pormann

Reflections on Hippocratic Commentary, Elizabeth Craik

Asclepiades of Bithynia as Hippocratic Commentator, David Leith

Sabinus ‘the Hippocratic’: His Exegetical Method in the Commentaries on Hippocrates, Tommaso Raiola

Galen as Commentator of Commentaries: The Case of the Hippocratic Epidemics 1 and 3, Jacques Jouanna

New Fragments of a Commentary on the Oath Attributed to Galen, Caroline Magdelaine and Jean-Michel Mouton

Beyond and behind the Commentary: Galen on Hippocrates on Elements, Peter N. Singer

Galen the Hippocratic: Textual Analysis and the Practice of Commentary, R.J. Hankinson

Galen’s Hippocratic ‘Commentary’ on The Capacities of the Soul Depend on the Mixtures of the Body, Ralph M. Rosen

Commenting beyond the Commentary: Galen’s Exegetical Strategies in Difficulties in Breathing, Daniela Manetti

Types of Cranial Injuries in the Hippocratic Wounds in the Head in Light of the Ancient Commentary Tradition, Mathias Witt

Galen’s Surgical Commentaries on Hippocrates, Amneris Roselli

Galen and Pseudo-Galen in Conversation: Epidemics 2.3.2 and Aphorisms 4.5, Véronique Boudon-Millot

Ancient Medicine in the Galenic Corpus: The Story of a Concealment,  Sabrina Grimaudo

A New Anonymous Prologue to the Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms in the Harleianus 6295, Giulia Ecca

On the Authorship of the Syriac Prognostic, Kamran I. Karimullah

The Latin Commentary by Pedro Jaime Esteve on the Second Book of the Hippocratic Epidemics (Valencia, 1551), María Teresa Santamaría Hernández

The First Complete Renaissance Commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics, Jesús Ángel y Espinós