MS Vlatadon 14: Galenic Medicine, Philosophy, and Christianity—Abstracts

Véronique Boudon-Millot, French National Centre for Scientific Research

“The Vlatadon 14 Manuscript Almost Twenty Years Later: New Perspectives on the Text and Context of Galen’s 'De indolentia'”

Since 2005 and the discovery of "De indolentia" in a Greek manuscript in Thessaloniki, much has been said and written about this fascinating Galenic treatise. However, almost 20 years later, some aspects remain unstudied. It is known from Galen himself how, after the fire in Rome in AD 192 burned the Temple of Peace and many other buildings along the Via Sacra, he lost many of his books stored in a single warehouse before they were published. This conference allows for an opportunity to present a new testimony, preserved in a Galenic treatise lost in Greek but available in an Arabic translation, that provides some substantial elements about the consequences of that terrible fire. Finally, I will add some considerations on the literary genre to which "De indolentia" belongs and, in particular, on its links with “ethical philosophy” as well as biblical literature.

Martin Illert, Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg

“Protomonastic and Monastic Paratexts of MS Vlatadon 14”

Our contribution asks to what extent protomonastic and monastic Greek and Syriac theological texts adopted medical, ethical, and philosophical concepts used in Vlatadon 14 and if the adopted terminology can be related to cultic, that is, eucharistic, baptismal, or exorcistic, contexts. Special attention is to be paid to the concept of freedom from sorrow in the early apologists and some early Apocryphal texts, but also in later, namely, fourth- and fifth-century, writers.

Volker Leppin, Yale Divinity School

"Galen in European Monasteries: Medical Knowledge and Religious Wisdom"

The paper will deal with the use of Galen in monasteries in medieval Latin Western Christianity. Its focus lies more on theology than on medicine itself, which presupposes an allegorical reading of Galen. This will mainly be examined with the case of Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess's extraordinary visionary writings are accompanied by a good number of treatises on nature and medical issues. As the late Heinrich Schipperges has argued, this did not only happen by coincidence but reflects concepts of the human being as a microcosm mirroring the divine macrocosm as transmitted through creation. The paper will focus in particular on the use Hildegard makes of Galen within her respective treatises.

Lijuan Lin, Peking University

"Vlatadon 14 and Galen's 'Ars Medica' in Syriac"

Based on earlier research on the reception of Galen in the Syriac tradition, this paper intends to further discuss the value of the Syriac version of "Ars Medica." Through detailed philological analysis of selected passages that are preserved both in the Greek original and in Syriac, this paper will deal with questions like the translation techniques of the Syriac translator(s), the diverse layers of the Syriac medical text and the value of the Syriac version for editing the original Greek text, and so on. Special attention will be paid to the "Ars Medica" contained in Vlatadon 14, and we will examine to what extent this precious manuscript can contribute to our topic.

Carmen Caballero Navas, University of Grenada

"On Avoiding Diseases of the Soul: The Influence of Galen's 'De indolentia' on Medieval Hebrew Writings Revisited"

Although apparently none of Galen's ethical-philosophical works were translated into Hebrew during the Middle Ages, whole fragments and paraphrases of such works found their way into Hebrew texts through the quotations largely taken from their Arabic versions. The encounter between the Galenic corpus and Hebrew writers occurred mainly through three routes, paved by the Arabic language: texts written in Arabic by Jewish authors from the Islamicate world who excerpted or commented on these works, which would be translated into Hebrew from the thirteenth century onwards; texts written in Hebrew by Jewish authors who, being proficient in Arabic, had access to Galen’s work in that language from which they would record in Hebrew the passages they deemed relevant; and, more circuitously, through the translation into Hebrew of the wide array of (mainly medical) works grounded in Galenism (commentaries, summaries, re-workings, and pseudo-Galenic works) elaborated by Arab scholars and writers. A fourth route through Latin will not be discussed here because it is beyond the scope of the present study.

The aim of this paper is to revisit the influence of Galen’s "De indolentia" on the works of some medieval Jewish authors, focusing on the interplay of ethics and health. That is, it pays attention to the role of ethics and philosophy in the preservation of health, understood both as deterrent and as therapy of the passions of the soul, the last one of the non-naturals. To that end, and in the light of the various editions and translations that have followed the finding of περὶ ἀλυπίας in manuscript Vlatadon 14, a group of ethical and medical texts written originally in Hebrew, but also in Arabic by Jewish authors and later translated into Hebrew, will be examined in search of direct or indirect quotations, but also of hints and echoes of Galen’s therapy of emotions.

Antoine Pietrobelli, University of Franche-Comté

“From the Discovery to the Examination of the Manuscript: New Evidence on the Thessalonicensis Vlatadon 14”

After discovering the famous Galen manuscript from the Vlatadon monastery in Thessaloniki in January 2005, for a long time it was only accessible to me on a microfilm dating from before it was restored in the 1970s. A direct consultation of the manuscript in 2018 has provided me with new insights into the history of this fifteenth-century Byzantine book. The current manuscript differs in form and pagination from the state it was in when it was microphotographed, and I will present an updated description of the Vlatadon codex. Direct examination has not only made it possible to read words that were unreadable on the microfilm, but has also provided codicological information (pagination, watermarks, codicological structure) that can be useful to situate the codex in its production context and trace its subsequent history. A new copyist has also been identified in the manuscript.

The conference will be an opportunity to present and publish all these discoveries, as well as to understand the reasons for the existence of the manuscript, which represents an attempt to safeguard the Galenic corpus shortly before the fall of Constantinople. My aim is to show that the genesis of this manuscript can be understood in the context of exchanges between the Latin and Byzantine worlds and that its subsequent history shows the interactions between Byzantine scholars and Ottoman culture.

Clare Rothschild, Lewis University, Stellenbosch University

“Galen’s Lost Letter: Two Decades of Research on 'De Indolentia'”

This paper reviews nearly two decades of multifaceted research undertaken since the discovery of Galen’s long-lost letter, De indolentia. It attempts to shed light on the text’s profound implications for our understanding of Galenic thought and its enduring relevance in modern medicine and philosophy. The paper offers an analysis of the themes and concepts of the text, exploring Galen’s nuanced exploration of pain, pleasure, and the intricate interplay between physical and psychological well-being. The study draws upon analytic comparison with Galen’s other works, highlighting both continuity and innovation in his philosophical and medical doctrines. The text’s importance is highlighted through its contributions to contemporary debates about popular philosophy in the late imperial period, including implications for Christians.

P. N. Singer, Einstein Center Chronoi, Berlin, Birkbeck, University of London

“Biography and Bibliography: Galen on His Own Works”

Galen is one of the most assiduous catalogers of his own writings known to us from the ancient world; he also gives us some of the most detailed insights we have into ancient practices of book composition, editing, and dissemination. In this paper, I consider the evidence Galen gives for his attitude to his own books, his practices of self-editing and self-publicism, his relationship with his intended or imagined readers—and what these things tell us about such authorial practices in the ancient world more broadly. The focus will be on Galen's two works of “auto-bibliography,” works consisting of a description and detailed list of his life's works—“My Own Books” (De libris propriis) and “The Order of My Own Books” (De ordine librorum propriorum)—two of the four Galenic texts which appear in the Vlatadon 14 codex, and in fuller form than in the previously available Greek manuscript.

The works present a number of apparent paradoxes. The author makes the repeated claim that he originally intended none of his works to reach a wide audience—but proceeds to list them in an appropriate paedagogic order for use by students and any interested reader; he describes the loss of his entire personal library in the catastrophic fire of AD 192 in the Roman forum—yet a large number of his works survive; he dedicates texts to named individuals, as if intended for their private use alone—yet many of these works form the core of his medical curriculum. By teasing out these paradoxes, we explore the nature of text dedication and circles of readership in imperial Greek literary culture, as well as the detailed processes whereby texts were distributed—with and without the author's consent—edited, and re-edited, and (in some cases) preserved, archived, and used in subsequent generations. This paper aims to shed light on a fascinating individual literary figure, as well as an important episode in the history of the book, with important implications for ancient and late antique literary and intellectual history more broadly.

T. L. Tieleman, Utrecht University

“Galen’s ‘On His Own Opinions’ (with particular reference to Galen’s ideas on God and the soul)”

Galen’s “On His Own Opinions” has been called, not inappositely, his “philosophical testament” (V. Nutton). Its complete Greek text became available through the recovery of Vlatadon MS 14 (2005). I will undertake a characterization of this treatise, which is somewhat elusive in terms of its scope, method, and purpose, paying attention to its place in Galen’s work, its relation to the so-called Placita tradition, and the philosophical position underlying Galen’s determination of the epistemic status of his views. Next, I will illustrate his procedure by focusing on the attitude he takes here to the issues of God, or gods (ch. 2), and the soul (psychê) (ch. 3). I shall argue that the treatise reveals both shifts and continuity in Galen’s positions regarding the main issues of philosophy and medicine.

Elvira Wakelnig, University of Vienna

“The Pseudo-Galenic Introduction and Ḥunayn’s 'Medical Questions'”

Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (d. 873) was not only the most prolific Arabic Galen translator but also a physician and author in his own right. His most influential treatise is an introduction to medicine, the “Medical Questions for Students” (Masāʾil fī l-ṭibb li-l-mutaʿallimīn) whose Latin version was aptly named Isagoge. There is, however, so far one Arabic manuscript known that contains a shorter version of Ḥunayn’s “Medical Questions” entitled Isagoge as well and attributed to Galen (Kitāb Īsāġūǧī li-Ǧālīnūs). This raises the question of the relation between Ḥunayn’s “Medical Questions” and the Pseudo-Galenic “Introduction” (Isagoge) also contained in MS Vlatadon 14. The question becomes even more interesting when we take a later marginal note in the Arabic manuscript into consideration according to which Ḥunayn plagiarized Galen. May we deduce from this comment that the Pseudo-Galenic “Introduction” was translated into Arabic? Or was its Greek version only known to Ḥunayn, who used it when composing his “Medical Questions”? And how much material of the “Introduction” is taken up in Ḥunayn’s treatise, and what influence did it have on the development of the Arabic medical tradition?

Annette Weissenrieder, Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg & Lutz Richter-Bernburg, Eberhard-Karls University, Tübingen

"Galen on Christians and Christians on Galen"

Galen of Pergamon is one of very few non-Christian sources for second-century Christianity. This paper will examine areas of agreement between Galen and Christian—and possibly Jewish—beliefs in Greek, Arabic, and Latin sources.