Galen was born in 129AD and died 200AD. He was a Roman (with Greek ethnicity) physician and surgeon. He contributed greatly in fields of anatomy*, physiology*1 and pathology*2. Because he was the son of Aelius Nicon, a wealthy architect, Galen received a comprehensive education, which would help him as a physician in his later life. He travelled far and wide, which helped him learn about many medical theories, before settling in Rome where he was a personal physician to several emperors.
Galen throughout his life dissected animals to know how the body worked. He discovered that urine was produced in the kidneys, not the bladder which was common belief. Although he discovered many scientific breakthroughs within anatomy, his most important discovery was that arteries carried blood, but he did not discover circulation. Even though he made fantastic discoveries, he did make mistakes. For example he said that the jaw bone was made up of two bones, when actually it was made up of one bone. Another would be when he said that blood was created in the liver (when actually, it is not) and that blood was fuel which was burnt up for muscles.
Hippocrates’ theory of the four humours helped Galen understand how the body worked (though he made some mistakes), but he knew that Hippocrates’ theory wouldn’t help make treatments for the ill. Due to this, Galen made his own theory called ‘Theory of Opposites’. This theory was a development of Hippocrates’ own theory. This theory was used for nearly 2000 years to treat the ill. One example of the theory was when, if you have a cold (too much phlegm), you should have something hot, like pepper. This would help to restore the body’s natural balance. This theory was wrong, but even if this theory was wrong, it helped physicians in the future to know how to actually treat patients.
The judgement of this person is that, even though he made many mistakes, he did help physicians and surgeons in the future learn how to actually treat patients. So Galen is definite one of the most important figures in medicine.
By Aynan Muse
*Anatomy is the study of the structure of animals
*1Physiology is the study of living thing’s bodily functions
*2Pathology is the study of the causes and effects of diseases.
Picture does not belong to Medical History 101