Galen and the Gateway to Medicine

Book cover: 'Galen and the Gateway to Medicine'
Jeanne Bendick
Bethlehem Books
Number of pages: 
123 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Jeanne Bendick's second title in Bethlehem Books' "Living History" series (after Archimedes and the Door of Science) brings to life the 2nd century (A.D.) Roman doctor whose work in learning to understand the human body became the standard authority on human physiology for over a thousand years. Although many of his theories were corrected through advancements in science since the middle ages, his story is interesting both for its own sake and for the light is sheds on Roman history and culture and the Hippocratic tradition of medicine.

Galen was born in 129 A.D. in present day Turkey (at that time part of the Roman Empire). When he studied medicine, medical training was very haphazard, but in his lifetime he revolutionized the idea of what a doctor should be, both by his example as a renowned doctor and his extensive writings on anatomy and pharmacology (some of which are still in existence today). His experience in treating patients from wounded gladiators to the wealthy of Rome to Roman emperors, extensive study of medicinal plants, dissection of animals, etc. led to his remarkable success as a doctor and the respect with which his writings were treated.

The medical aspects of the book largely focus on the quest to understand the purpose of each of the organs and the workings of the circulatory system. The author also provides us with a final chapter which summarizes the medical advancements after Galen that led to our current understanding of how the body works. Like Archimedes and the Door of Science, this story will be best understood by ages ten and up and takes a certain amount of concentration to follow the story and absorb its content well. However, the rewards are great in acquiring a deeper understanding of Roman culture, medicine, and the respect for life that has been passed down from the Hippocratic tradition.

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