Author(s): J. C. McKeown
There are few disciplines as exciting and forward-looking as medicine. Unfortunately, however, many modern practitioners have rather lost sight of the origins of their discipline. A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities aspires to make good this lapse by taking readers back to the early days of Western medicine in ancient Greece and Rome. Quoting the actual words of ancient authors, often from texts which have never been translated into English, it gives a glimpse into the beginnings of such fields as surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, preventive medicine, and pharmacology, as well as highlighting ancient views on such familiar topics as medical ethics and the role of the doctor in society.
The hundreds of passages quoted from Greek and Roman authors give a vividly direct picture of the ancient medical world, a world in which, for example, a surgeon had to be strong-minded enough to ignore the screams of his patient, diseases were assumed to be sent by the gods, medicine and magic were often indistinguishable, donkeys might be brought into the sick-room to ensure a fresh supply of milk, human anatomy and microbes were equally mysterious, and no qualifications were required before setting up as a doctor. As will be evident from this list, the approach taken in the book is not an entirely serious one. Even so, despite its lighthearted approach, it does aspire, however modestly, to engage the reader in a thought provoking way about many of the issues still current in medicine nowadays.
J.C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-editor of the Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature, and author of Classical Latin: An Introductory Course, A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, and A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities.