Scholia Reviews ns 8 (1999) 1.


R.G. Penn, Medicine on Greek and Roman Coins: Aspects of Ancient Classical Coins Series. London: Seaby 1994. Pp. vi + 186, including 7 black- and-white plates and 127 figures. ISBN 1-85264-070- 71. UK£22.50.

J.N. Adams, Pelagonius and Latin Veterinary Terminology in the Roman Empire: Studies in Ancient Medicine, 11. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995. Pp. viii + 695. ISBN 90-04-10227-2. Gld412/US$242.50.

Ivan Garofalo (ed.) tr. Brian Fuchs, Anonymi Medici De Morbis Acutis et Chroniis: Studies in Ancient Medicine, 12. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997. Pp. xxviii + 375. ISBN 90-04-10227-2. Gld249/US$146.50.

Margaret R. Mezzabotta
Department of Classics,
University of Cape Town

These three recent books have considerably extended the resources available to students and scholars of Graeco-Roman medicine. The first, R.G. Penn's Medicine on Greek and Roman Coins, is the work of a medically- qualified collector of ancient coins who has combined his interests to explore what the designs depicted on ancient coins reveal of health and disease in antiquity. Its thirteen chapters offer an engaging study of numerous aspects of ancient medicine.

The introductory chapter (pp. 1-4), focuses on the propagandistic function of ancient coinage. The author's definition of what constitutes a coin 'of medical interest' is broad, encompassing all issues with any bearing at all on the practice of medicine in antiquity. The second chapter, 'Graeco-Roman medicine: A background' (pp. 5-10), places ancient medicine in its historical context, drawing attention to the perceived tension between its rational and non-rational features. A potted biography of Hippocrates represents the contribution of Greek medicine and medical literature, while the summary of Roman medicine touches on the medical role of the paterfamilias, the numina presiding over health and reproduction, and the human suppliers of different kinds of medical assistance ranging from the purveyor of charms to the physician. The chapter ends with biographical data relating to a short list of five writers (Theophrastus, Celsus, Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger) to be mentioned later in connection with the representations on coins. This list could have been expanded to include information on other ancient sources such as Pindar, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Apollodorus and Plutarch, whose work is cited on several occasions later in the book but without further comment. Appropriate contextual information accompanies the citation of numerous other authors such as Aristophanes and Aelius Aristides (p. 36), Sophocles (p. 73), Vitruvius (pp. 35 and 133) and the Veronese Girolamo Fracastoro (p. 56), whose Latin poem on syphilis, describing the symptoms of the disease and deriving its name from the shepherd Syphilus who had angered Apollo, was published in 1530.[[1]]

Three chapters are devoted to coins associated with Aesculapius.[[2]] The first of these, 'Aesculapius: The myth and the coins' (pp. 11-24), begins with an account of the origins and spread of the worship of Aesculapius, the establishment of the major healing sanctuaries and the eventual decline of the cult in the face of competition from Christianity. Several coins depicting Aesculapius are illustrated and discussed. These show him most often as a mature, bearded man, seated or standing, holding a snake- entwined staff and with a himation draped over his shoulder or arm. Some of the depictions may derive from statues of the god in particular temples. The following chapter, 'The attributes of Aesculapius on coins' (pp. 25-43), lists, illustrates, and discusses the many symbols associated with Aesculapius (serpent, dog, cockerel, staff, the omphalos of Delphi) and ends with an excursus on Aesculapian temples and games. The third Aesculapian chapter, 'Aesculapius: The family' (pp. 44-63), focuses on numismatic depictions of the god's relatives. A further chapter, 'Various mythological associations' (pp. 64-78), discusses other mythological figures with healing roles, such as Serapis, Chiron, Medusa, Melampus and Amphiaraus.

The latter part of the book moves away from mythology to materia medica and to medical conditions. Chapter 7, 'Medicinal plants on ancient coins' (pp. 79-89), is devoted to numismatic representations of plants with therapeutic properties. Penn devotes most attention to silphium, frequently depicted on the coinage of Cyrene, where it was grown as a commercial crop of considerable importance. Silphium was used as a condiment and as animal food and both the plant and its juice, laser or laserpicium, were famous for their curative properties. Its botanical identification, however, is uncertain, though André has suggested Ferula tingitana L.[[3]] The balance of the chapter surveys coin representations of other common medicinal plants, pomegranate, hellebore, celery, lily, styrax (from which the aromatic gum, storax, was obtained) and poppy.

Chapter 8, 'Disease and ancient coins' (pp. 91-102), examines coins interpreted as illustrating specific instances of disease or deformity. Acknowledging that numismatic portraiture is an unreliable guide to accurate clinical diagnosis, Penn nevertheless discusses depictions of the physical defects of a selection of historical figures, such as Caesar's baldness, the facial warts of the Parthian kings and the supposed acromegaly and gigantism of Maximinus I. Speculation on coin portraits as possible numismatic case notes continues in Chapter 9, 'Roman emperors and their health' (pp. 103-20), with a survey of coin issues associated with the health of individual rulers (notably Augustus, Caracalla and Philip I) and of members of their families. Chapter 10, 'Roman family pride and medical associations' (pp.121-32), glances chronologically backwards at some Republican coins struck by families that employed medical iconography as one of their means of self-promotion. This section contains a survey of Roman cognomina derived from an ancestor's physical characteristics (e.g. Scaevola, 'left-handed') or from some deformity (e.g. Strabo, 'squinter', Scaurus, 'having puffy ankles', and Cocles, 'one-eyed').

In the next chapter, 'The water supply of Rome' (pp. 133-40), Penn describes the engineering measures used to construct the aqueducts that provided clean water for Rome and illustrates a number of coin issues depicting them. He also discusses the latrines and the drainage system that protected public health by disposing of sewerage. Mention is made of some of the springs believed to have curative powers. The penultimate chapter, 'Various medical associations' (pp. 141-58), collects together an assortment of numismatic representations of objects or people associated with the practice of medicine in antiquity, ranging from cupping vessels and an outline of the humoral theory on which their use depended, through a portrait of Mithradates VI, ruler of Pontus from 120-63 BC and creator of a compound antidote reputed to be effective against all poisons, to a depiction of Trajan's column on a denarius, alluding to the scene on the frieze showing first aid being administered to wounded soldiers on the battle field (Plate 1, p. 10). The final chapter, 'Medical terminology and ancient coins' (pp. 159-71), focuses on coins that illustrate subjects from which modern medical vocabulary derives. Thus, for example, the fibula, the slender leg bone adjacent to the thicker tibia, is named from its resemblance to the pin of the fibula, a brooch used to pin clothing. Several such fibulae are illustrated on imperial coin portraits. Exerting all the fascination of a game of Trivial Pursuit, this chapter sets out numismatic depictions of objects from which medical terms such as biceps, hippocampus, staphylococcus and talus are derived, with an explanation of how each term came into being.

All the coins mentioned and illustrated are listed at the end of each chapter with references to the appropriate catalogues. The book is provided with a bibliography (pp. 174-81) in four parts covering general items, classical and secondary sources and coin catalogues. With the exception of the coin catalogues the bibliography is limited to works in English.[[4]] A glossary (pp. 172-74) explains several technical terms but, for numismatic novices, a second edition should include definitions of the entire range of coin denominations mentioned in the book. The text is marred by the occasional spelling mistake and sometimes has a cramped appearance due to the omission of spaces between words and after punctuation marks. More rigorous proof-reading should have eliminated these irritations.

These cavils excepted, Penn's book provides an novel introduction for the general reader to the religious and empirical practice of ancient medicine. The author's numismatic knowledge and medical expertise constitute the strengths of the book, while the reader will warm to the enthusiasm with which Penn relates myths and historical and medical anecdotes.

The magisterial Pelagonius and Latin Veterinary Terminology in the Roman Empire not only incorporates the findings of J.N. Adams' previously published articles on Latin veterinary vocabulary but also places Pelagonius' Ars Veterinaria and the treatises of other ancient veterinary writers in their wider context. As Adams states in his preface, the work 'in effect comprises two books in one' (p. vii). The first chapter, 'Introduction' (pp. 1-65), provides an introduction to Pelagonius' Ars Veterinaria and its relationship to other veterinary treatises, discusses its epistolary form and the structure of its recipes, summarises the magical and medical theories underpinning Pelagonius' therapies and presents some testimonia relating to veterinarii of the Imperial period. Many of the themes touched on here are expanded in later sections of the book. Chapter 2, 'Self help: Non-specialist treatment of animals' (pp. 66-102), makes the point that veterinarii were scarce in antiquity and that most owners treated their sick animals themselves, as best they could, relying on the accumulated experience of pastores, rustici and magistri pecorum and on remedies contained in works by non-professionals, such as Virgil, Cato, Varro and Columella. Chapter 3, 'Latin veterinary treatises: Addressees, readership, patients' (pp. 103-48), examines the attitudes to their work, the types of animals treated and the readership of each of the writers of the three extant Latin veterinary treatises, Pelagonius, 'Chiron' and Vegetius.

The present text of Pelagonius' Ars Veterinaria is the result of extensive editorial revision since Pelagonius' time. In Chapter 4, 'Pelagonian and 'non- Pelagonian' elements in the Ars Veterinaria attributed to Pelagonius' (pp. 149-208), Adams applies stylistic criteria in an attempt to distinguish between the authentic passages of the treatise and the modified material, while Chapter 5, 'Pelagonius and Apsyrtus' (pp. 209-38), deals with Pelagonius' use of one of his sources, the Greek veterinary writer Apsyrtus, parts of whose work are preserved in the Corpus Hippiatricorum Graecorum.

Pathological nomenclature is investigated in Chapter 6,'Some names of diseases' (pp. 239-360), and anatomical vocabulary in Chapter 7, 'Anatomical terms' (pp. 361-429). These chapters explore the origins of such terminology and the semantic shifts that took place over time. Several terms were taken over from the language of human medicine but acquired different meanings in a veterinary context. Adams examines many words which illustrate this characteristic, including planta and articulus. Articulus in non- veterinary Latin generally denoted 'joint' but acquired the specialised meaning 'fetlock joint', while planta, signifying the sole of the human foot, indicated the fetlock (tendons, flesh and joint) in a horse. Adams observes that the richness of the vocabulary relating to the feet and legs of equines suggests that veterinarii possessed a detailed knowledge of their structure. Terminology relating to the alimentary tract is, by contrast, less well differentiated. Chapter 8, 'The language of Pelagonius' (pp. 430-661), is a book- length study of stylistic features of Pelagonius' text, with particular emphasis on syntax, word order, morphology and vocabulary. A brief end piece, 'Epilogue: Pelagonius, veterinarii and technical vocabulary' (pp. 662-71), draws together and summarises the conclusions reached in the body of the book, which closes with an extensive bibliography (pp. 672-84) and indices of the Latin and Greek words and the topics discussed (pp. 685-95).

Adams' painstaking and penetrating scholarship has produced an essential reference tool not only for historians of ancient human and veterinary medicine but also for anyone interested in Latin (and Greek) technical terminology. It is a great pity that the volume's prohibitive price will preclude most scholars from owning personal copies.

Another Brill publication, Ivan Garofalo's Anonymi Medici De Morbis Acutis et Chroniis, offers the first complete edition of a Greek treatise on acute and chronic diseases, composed by an as yet unidentified medical writer (referred to as 'Anonymous Parisinus', hereafter as 'AP') of the Roman empire. The work is important it is as the only one on acute and chronic diseases to survive in Greek, apart from that of Aretaeus. While acute diseases had been treated in the Hippocratic Corpus and in later Greek authors, chronic diseases did not receive attention as a distinct category before Themison, in the first century BC.

The work was edited and discussed by R. Fuchs in a series of articles appearing from 1894 to 1903,[[5]] but had been based on two only of the four known mss. in which the treatise is preserved, the XVII century Parisinus suppl. graec. 636 (P1), which is the most complete manuscript (and from which the sobriquet 'Parisinus' is derived for the anonymous author), and the Parisinus gr. 2324 (P2) of the XVI century. No account had been taken of the remaining two, the Vindobonesis med. gr. 37 (ex 38) (V) and the Londinensis 52b (L). In 1905, M. Wellmann had edited several passages of the treatise, based on all four mss.[[6]] Garofalo's edition, however, is the first to publish the Greek text in full, using all the mss. The volume contains an introduction, the Greek text with an apparatus criticus, a facing English translation, a commentary including references to parallel testimonia, a bibliography and some useful indices: an index of proper names, a Greek index to the whole text, an index auctorum et locorum for the texts cited in the commentary and an alphabetical list of Greek names of foods and drugs mentioned in the treatise. These are given with their English equivalents, where such identification is possible, and with cross-references to citations by other ancient medical, botanical and pharmacological writers, together with indications of the complaint for which each substance was prescribed and its medium of administration.

The introduction needs to be read in conjunction with Garofalo's earlier article 'Prolegomena all'edizione dell' Anonymus Parisinus Darembergii sive Fuchsii',[[7]] since this contains many essential points that are not restated in the full edition. Garofalo establishes that the four mss. are independent of each other, though based on a lost common archetype. His study of the errors shared between three of the mss. (VLP1), when compared with the lack of these errors in the fourth, P2, proves the existence of two families in the tradition. The question of authorship is discussed. Wellmann had rejected Fuchs' suggestion of Themison and proposed the pneumatic-eclectic Herodotus. Garofalo, however, regards Wellman's arguments as unconvincing and concludes that the author must still be considered anonymous.

The treatise presents fifty-one acute and chronic diseases arranged a capite ad calcem, as is usual in ancient medical texts, starting with phrenitis and ending with elephantiasis. The writer uses the same format for his discussion of all the conditions, describing first the cause [ai)ti/a], then the symptoms [shmei=a], and finally the therapy [qerapei/a]. In the aetiological sections he frequently records the opinions of ancient authorities, of whom the most mentioned are Diocles, Erasistratus, Hippocrates and Praxagoras. Recommended therapeutic treatments include bed rest, exercise, massage, fasting, sexual intercourse or a period of celibacy, phlebotomy, special diets, bathing in hot or in cold water, a multiplicity of medicines in liquid or pill form, gargling, cruises, thermal waters, the application of poultices and the administration of enemas.

Garofalo has done scholarship a great service in making the text of AP's treatise available but the translation into English of his rendition of the Greek text, introductory discussion, acknowledgements and commentary, all composed originally in Italian, requires extensive revision. The Italian is often rendered literally without regard for the correct English idiom and syntax. Consequently, for example, the contents page announces 'English translation in front', a literal rendition of the Italian traduzione inglese a fronte', 'facing English translation'. Definite and indefinite articles are either wrongly inserted, e.g. 'by the M. Mynas' (p. vii, n. 1) or omitted, e.g. 'by simple clyster' (p. 175, l. 14), incorrect prepositions are employed, e.g. 'divided in' (p. xiv, n.55) rather than 'divided into', while the Italian abbreviation 'ss.' is not substituted by its English equivalent 'ff.' (pp. x, n. 35 and xi, l. 11). A glaring example of mistakes that can arise occurs in AP 50.2.1, where it is stated that sufferers from poda/gra (perhaps to be identified with gout) experience pain darting through the whole leg and that an attack is heralded by a burning sensation e)k tou= mega/lou daktu/lou. This Greek phrase is translated as 'in the big finger' rather than 'in the big toe'. The translator seems not to be aware that unlike English, Italian as well as ancient Greek uses the same word (dito or daktu/loj, respectively,) to denote both 'finger' and 'toe'.

From time to time the reader of the English version has to check the Greek text to elucidate the sense. AP 18.3.5, for instance, recommends that mad patients who are sleepless should be subjected to oscillatory movements 'on litter' (p. 117, l. 7). Visions of deranged insomniacs being swung over rubbish heaps are dispelled only by a glance at the Greek text, which reveals that the treatment is to be conducted e)pi\ forei/ou, 'on a litter'. Occasionally AP prescribes the application of cauteries or poultices to some part of the body e)/mprosqen kai\ o)/pisqen (e.g. 19.3.3; 24.3.1; 45.3.40), clumsily translated as 'foreward [sic] and backward', not as 'in front and behind', or 'from the front and from the back'. Many other phrases are hardly intelligible in the English version, such as 'anal wool flocks' (p. 9, l. 6) as a translation of ta\j e(drika\j kpoku/daj (AP. 1.3.7), which should be 'suppositories made of wool'. Some obsolete words are selected, e.g. 'sigles' (p. 264, l. 37) for 'sigla' and 'foments' (p. 55, l. 9 [twice]) used as a substantive instead of 'fomentations', while others are employed that are not to be found in the OED, such as 'anointments' (p. 55, l. 20) and 'melegranate' (p. 195, l. 22). Confusion arises from the faulty transliteration of Greek terms, as in the case of suna/gxh, which appears both as 'synanche' and 'synanke' in consecutive lines (p. 39, ll. 19-20) and kuna/gxh, transliterated both as 'kynanke' and 'kynanche' (p. 39, ll. 20-21). The effect of these inconsistencies and of other stylistic and lexical infelicities is to reduce the intelligibility of the English translation and to diminish its usefulness for the Greekless reader. In addition, simple spelling mistakes and typographical errors abound, far too numerous to be exemplified. It is hard to understand how these escaped the scrutiny of the copy editor. Some items signalled in footnotes do not appear in the bibliography, which omits details of 'Vogel-Garthausen' cited in on p. xvii, n. 70, and those relating to 'Nutton' in n.73.[[8]] Nevertheless, Garofalo's edition represents a major contribution to the study of ancient medicine, though one hopes that Brill will consider publishing a corrected version.


[[1]] See Geoffrey Eatough, Fracastoro's Syphilis: Introduction, text, translation and notes with a computer-generated word index (Liverpool 1984).

[[2]] For the sake of clarity and consistency Penn adopts the Roman nomenclature throughout, in preference to the Greek form, 'Asklepios', or the intermediate spelling, 'Asclepius'.

[[3]] J. André , Pline l'ancien, Histoire naturelle, Livre XIX (Paris 1964) 111.

[[4]] Two notable omissions are Alice Walton, The Cult of Asklepios: Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 3. (Ithaca 1894 reprinted 1965) and Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (Baltimore 1945 reprinted in 1998 with a new introduction by Gary B. Ferngren).

[[5]] 'Anecdota medica graeca', RhM 49 (1894) 540-58, 'Anecdota medica graeca', RhM 50 (1895) 576-99, 'De anonymo Parisino quem dicunt esse Soranum', Festschrift Vahlen (Berlin 1900) 141-48, 'Aus Themisons Werk über die acuten und chronischen Krankheiten', RhM 58 (1903) 66- 114. [[6]] 'Herodots Werk', Hermes 40 (1905) 580-604.

[[7]] Published in A. Garzya (ed.), Tradizione e ecdotica dei testi medici greci tardoantichi e bizantini (Naples 1992) 91-106.

[[8]] These should be V. Garthausen and Marie Vogel, Die griechischen Kopisten (Berlin 1909) and V. Nutton, 'The legacy of Hippocrates: Greek medicine in the library of the Medical Society of London', Trans. Med. Soc. London 138 (1987-88).