The physician, Claudius Galenus, better known as Galen of Pergamon, was the most famous doctor in the Roman world of the 2nd century AD and probably the most famous of antiquity.
The influence of Dr Galen lasted for many centuries as his works were translated first into Arabic and later into Latin. His comprehension of the anatomy and physiology of the human body was not surpassed till the 17th century. He had borrowed his philosophy from works of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus and he also wrote an analysis of dreams, seventeen centuries before Sigmund Freud. Renowned Islamic physicians, pharmacologists and botanists heavily leaned on Galen’s studies. Over the centuries, many scholars translated his books reviving his vast field of knowledge that was by the 11th-12th century taught at the newly founded European universities like
Oxford, Paris and . Bologna
It is obvious that after almost two thousand years, Galen’s legacy has been disseminated among monasteries, medressas, museums, universities and private collectors worldwide. This makes it difficult to get a complete list of his works and almost impossible to know to what extend the books we have are really complete. Lady Fortune plays an important role in such matters and from time to time new works or unknown passages are discovered.
Papyri and parchment were expensive commodities in antiquity but also in the Middle Ages and thrifty monks in search of writing support for their prayers effectively reused old parchment. They simply scraped off the old manuscripts to overwrite them with their Christian psalms and hymns perpendicularly to the initial writing. This process is called Palimpsest.
One such Palimpsest appeared in
at the beginning of the 1900s and its origin has been traced back to the
Monastery of St Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.
Close examination with special X-ray imaging has revealed an underlying text in
Syriac from the 6th century which constitutes the most complete
surviving copy of an original book by Galen.
This text was erased and written over in the 11th century.
Thanks to modern imaging and digital processing techniques, scientists and scholars are uncovering and studying the Roman physician’s original text over the past decade. Eventually this precious evidence will be added to the already existing high-resolution images which are made available online by the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the
. This institution is in the process of
collecting leaves from the same Syriac manuscript that made their way to different
locations such as the libraries at University of Pennsylvania
University, Paris, and the
to name just a few. Vatican
The intention is to digitally reconstruct Galen’s book. This is a long-term project considering that it takes about ten hours to scan one single page. Only when these complex scans are completed the research team will be able to start analyzing the words and thoughts of this great physician in order to fit them in the context of the pages that are kept elsewhere.
Details on this time-consuming research can be found in this article “HiddenMedical Text Read for the First Time in a Thousand Years” by Amanda Solliday".