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(PHILOSOPHY, ROME and its EMPIRE – continued)

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ROMAN CONTEMPLATIONS (11 of 12)

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Galen the Physician and Philosopher

Aelius Galen was eight years younger than Marcus Aurelius and of a different mindset. He was interested in philosophy and as a youth was exposed to both the Stoics and Epicureans, but it was the empiricism of the Epicureans he gravitated toward. Galen was to be described as an accomplished medical researcher. His work in medicine was to influence Western medical science for well over a millennium.

Galen's father died when he was 19, leaving him independently wealthy. He then followed the advice of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, written more than five centuries before: he travelled and studied widely. And his studies included the various schools of thought taught at a famous medical school in Alexandria.

Galen wrote "that the best physician is also a philosopher," and he saw himself as both. He believed in grounding medical practice in theoretically sound knowledge or "philosophy" as it was called in his time. Galen was interested in the philosophical disputes among those devoted to medicine. These were disputes that included the value and meaning of generalizations versus specific clues as to the cause of illness.

Galen learned anatomy by getting his hands dirty dissecting monkeys – human disections being illegal in his time. Galen promoted Hippocratic teaching including vein cutting, which was sharply criticized. His understanding anatomy gave him a greater talent, which he communicated at public demonstrations and in debates with medical rivals. It made him famous, and he became physician to the emperor's family – to the son of Emperor Aurelius: Commodus.

Galen was not reluctant to show his contempt for the learning and ethics of his contemporaries in Rome. He criticised doctors for their ostentatious dress and belief that medicine could be learned quickly.

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