How fortunate you would have been, as a Roman patient of the second century AD, to be attended by Galen, the greatest Greek physician of the age. Galen would have paid housecalls, several times a day if needed, and brought you food. He would have questioned you with earnest concern about the onset and progress of your symptoms. He would have supplied medicines mixed from as many as 64 ingredients. And for all this personal attention, you would not have been charged a fee.
If you were cured – which, to judge by Galen’s own accounts, would have been extremely likely – your recovery might well have been recorded for posterity. Galen loved to discuss successful case histories in his writings, and he was fantastically prolific. A modern tally of his known titles comes to 441, and though most of these works have been lost, the ones that survive still amount to a vast and variegated bibliography. In the prologue to The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire Susan Mattern includes this astounding sentence: ‘The most modern edition of his corpus runs to 22 volumes, including about 150 titles, making up one-eighth of all the classical Greek literature that survives.’ Galen’s productivity was such that some of his works – On My Own Books and On the Order of My Own Books, for example – were written simply to keep track.
One-eighth of all the classical Greek literature that survives. The mind boggles.