GalenGalen, who was responsible for the first major classification of plant medicines into groups, was born at some time between 129 and 131 A.D. at Pergamum (now Bergama) in Turkey, which was then under Greek rule. His father was an architect, who recog­nised and encouraged his son's interest in medicine.

Pergamum was the site of a shrine to Aesclepius, the Greek god of healing, and there was a medical school attached to the shrine, where the young Galen studied. Here he met many influential physicians and was able to observe the treatment of a wide range of diseases. He went on to study at Smyrna, in several cities in Greece, and at Alexandria in Egypt. He became physician to the school of gladiators in Alexandria, and it is recorded that, such was his skill, not one gladiator died of wounds during Galen's term of office.

In 161 A.D. he went to Rome, and rapidly gained a reputation for curing people previously given up as incurable by other physicians, and eventually was appointed personal physician to Marcus Aurelius.

His lasting influence on the development of plant medicine, though, was through his eleven books. In these he described a vast number of 'simples' and formulae for combining them in remedies. He divided the plants into specific categories which became the basis of plant medicine for many centuries. The plant categories were called 'galenic' and still exert an influence on herbal medicine.

His books were translated into Arabic in the 9th Century and had an important influence on the flowering of Arab medicine. In the 12th Century these Arabic versions were translated into Latin, making his knowledge more widely available to mediaeval scholars. In the 15th and 16th Centuries, new translations of his books were made, going back to the original Greek texts. Galen was a very important influence during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, his system of description and classification being reflected in many of the great herbals of the period, some of which were, in fact, little more than translations of his work, with commentaries added by later authors.

Not much is known about Galen's later years, but he is thought to have died in 199 A.D.
One of the formulae invented by Galen is the original 'cold cream' known as GALEN'S COLD CREAM, the receipe for which you will find elsewhere in this database.

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