The second century medical writer Galen left behind such a vast array of works that it has been estimated that around 20% of the surviving volume of ancient Greek was written by him! I’m not sure where this estimate comes from, but it is a remarkable amount.
Ancient medical texts are a specialised interest. Our interest here is more with what Galen has to say about ancient books, libraries, manuscripts, the book trade and the process of copying. He does, in fact, have a great deal to say on these subjects.
One of the most revealing works is On my own works (De libris propriis). I gave some extracts from this here.
But today I gained access to a rather interesting volume: Vivian Nutton (ed.) The unknown Galen (2002) — a collection of papers from a colloquium on texts of Galen not in the massive 20 volume 19th century edition by Kuhn. Nutton writes engagingly, and I shall have things to say about the book on Monday, I suspect.
But what I wanted to see was a paper by Veronique Boudon, Galen’s “On my own books”: new material from Meshed, Rida, tibb. 5223, on p.9-18.
De libris propriis reaches us only in a single Greek manuscript, Milan Ambrosianus graecus 659 (=A). This is a paper manuscript of the 14th century, some 272 folios long. It contains 14 works by Galen, and De libris propriis occupies f. 187r-197r. An equally interesting work, bibliographically, follows: On the order of my own works, f.197r-200r. But examination of the gatherings in the manuscript reveals that a bi-folium has been lost at some point. The manuscript was written on quaternions. The outermost bifolium of quaternion 24 is lost. Quaternion 24 currently includes folios 193-198. So there should be an extra folio before f.193, and another after 198. In short, we have lost two pages from each of these useful works, or the equivalent of about 4 pages of Kuhn’s edition.
But it seems that the great translator of Galen into Arabic made a translation of De libris propriis. He says so, indeed, in the Risala which Bergstrasser published (I uploaded this to Archive.org) and which John Lamoreaux has translated into English.
A single manuscript containing the translation exists. It’s in what Boudon calls “a religious library in North-Eastern Iran, at Meshed”. The manuscript has been unknown to science, and was first mentioned only in 1970 by F. Sezgin in Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums, III (Leiden, 1970), p.78, no.1. The work is on f.22v to 40v of the manuscript.
Boudon adds an interesting note for the rest of us: that it was unknown to M. Steinschneider, Die arabischen Ubersetzungen aus dem griechischen (Leipzig, 1897) (online here) and M. Ullmann, Die Medizin in Islam (Leiden, Cologne 1970), which are “the standard repertories of information on such manuscripts.” The former should be out of copyright and worth a bit of investigation! But back to the Meshed ms.
Boudon was able to get a set of “photocopies”, evidently monochrome, by means of a “complex series of exchange deals”. These revealed that the folios had become disarranged. The script suggests an 11th century AD date. It is so very similar to another Meshed ms, Rida, tibb. 5214/1 which contains On the order of my own books and gives Hunain ibn Ishaq as the translator, that the two were probably once part of the same ms. Once the folios are rearranged, we find that the opening leaf of De libris propriis is lost.
But the translation gives us much. The lacunose Greek neverthless has chapter titles. The Arabic agrees, and restores three more from points where there are lacunas in the Greek. Still more, it gives us a massive extra chunk of text from chapter 3, where Galen is summarising the contents of 20 books of anatomy written by one Marinus, who wrote ca. 129 AD. Boudon gives a translation, also. Nothing in it relates specially to our interests, however, but it is very good to have.
The translation by Hunain also corrects various numerals appearing in the text, for the numbers of books in particular works. Naturally at some points this leaves a question as to what the right number is — the Greek or the Arabic both giving a different number!
I had never heard of the library at Meshed, or its contents. But if such libraries can give us back portions of ancient literature, we need to know more of them.
UPDATE: Please note the comments on this article by Maureen which contain a vast amount of information about the Meshed site. Thank you so much for that!