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Medical Humanities and Greco-Arabic Studies

Ancient medicine is a booming area in Classics and ancient history. In the last two decades, the field has changed beyond recognition with the publication of new reference tools such as critical editions and translations and many new studies on the historical, linguistic, philosophical and social aspects of ancient medicine. At Warwick, we (Caroline Petit, Simon Swain, Uwe Vagelpohl) specialise in the following aspects of the history of medicine:

  • Galen and his legacy:

The life and work of Galen of Pergamum (129-c.216 AD) are currently the focus of much scholarly attention. Galen’s work and legacy are fundamental to our understanding of the history of medicine (both ancient and in the long term). But Galen is also a towering figure in imperial literature and philosophy. He offers a wealth of information on Greco-Roman society of the imperial period and therefore now features prominently in studies on the Roman empire. Warwick offers expertise on the literary and linguistic features of Galen’s texts (C. Petit).

Research at Warwick also includes other important medical authors of the Roman period, e.g. S. Swain’s studies on Rufus of Ephesus and ancient physiognomy and C. Petit’s work on the pseudo-Galenic Introduction, or the Physician. In addition, C. Petit has a strong commitment to the study of the Latin tradition of Galen’s works, while U. Vagelpohl and S. Swain work on the Arabic tradition.

  • Edition, translation and commentary of Galenic and Pseudo-Galenic texts:

Galen’s works (and the many other works attributed to him throughout history) have long been difficult to access: many texts lack reliable editions and translations into modern languages. This situation is now improving. Landmark editions and translations of Galenic material have been produced by Warwick members of staff, including the Physician (2009) by C. Petit.

Current editorial projects the first critical edition, translation and commentary of Galen’s On Simple Drugs (C. Petit, arising from earlier funding provided by the Wellcome Trust), and the first critical edition and translation of the Arabic version of Galen’s commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics, Books 1-2 (U. Vagelpohl, S. Swain).

Members of the department were able to acquire funding from the Wellcome Trust that will enable us to publish a number of other such texts: five pseudo-Galenic works (De urinis/De urinis compendium/Ad Antonium de pulsibus/Compendium pulsuum/Prognostica de decubitu infirmorum ex mathematica scientia), to be edited and translated by C. Petit; and Book 6 of Galen’s commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics by U. Vagelpohl (see the ‘Warwick Epidemics’ page).

  • Reception of ancient medical texts in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance:

In the West: The reception of ancient medical texts in the medieval and early modern period is a complex and demanding topic in which Warwick has considerable expertise, not least thanks to V. Nutton’s long-standing research in this area. C. Petit regularly publishes on Latin translations (ancient, medieval and early modern) of medical, especially Galenic, texts. Recent and current research on medieval and Renaissance readers of ancient medical texts include studies on Simon of Genoa (C. Petit), Guillaume de Baillou (C. Petit) and Prospero Alpini (C. Petit).


  • AHRC Research Grant (2012-2017) Nemesius’ On the Nature of Man: Edition, Translation, and Study of the Arabic Version (S. Swain)
  • Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award (2013-2017) A Literary History of Medicine: The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians by Ibn Abi Usaybi’ah (d. 1270) (S. Swain, E. Savage Smith)
  • Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship (2012-2018): ‘Galen’s Commentary to the Hippocratic Epidemics, Book Six: An Edition and Translation of the Extant Arabic Translation’ (U. Vagelpohl)
  • Wellcome Trust University Award (2013-2018): ‘Medical Prognosis in Late Antiquity’ (C. Petit):

This five-year project is funded through a Wellcome University Award (2013-2018). C. Petit will complete a thorough exploration of late antique evidence on diagnostic and prognostic tools and theories in order to assess the Hippocratic and Galenic legacy in this crucially transformative period for the history of medicine. The project outcomes will include a monograph on Medical Diagnosis and Prognosis in Late antiquity and the first critical editions of five texts of dubious authorship and date, presumed to be late antique takes on prognostic strategies such as uroscopy, sphygmology and astro-medical observation (see above).

The project will also include conferences that highlight several key issues at stake in the project:

*late antiquity as a period of transformation and transition of the Hippocratic and Galenic legacy towards the various trends of medieval medicine (Islamic, Byzantine, Western)

*the insufficiently explored correspondences between various ancient predictive strategies (medical, divinatory, astronomical, astrological…)

*the formation and the development of the Galenic corpus after Galen’s death, through the case of several texts once ascribed to Galen, now deemed inauthentic

vivesection galen

Read more about Caroline Petit's research into the Medical Humanities on the

Medicine, Ancient and Modern