An extract from Galen’s “De Compositione Medicamentorum Secundum Locus”

Another interesting snippet from Dorandi[1] is a piece of a work by the 2nd century medical writer Galen.

Galen’s works fill 20 huge volumes in the standard edition by Kuhn.  Few indeed have ever been translated.  Yet they contain interesting snippets on the history of books.

Dorandi gives us the text and a French translation of a portion of De Compositione Medicamentorum Secundum Locus,  i.e. The compounding of medicines according to place.  An Arabic version exists of this work, I learn. Galen issued the first two books of the work, but the other volumes he kept to himself, in his lockup on the Via Sacra in Rome.  Unluckily a fire broke out in 192 AD, and the whole area was destroyed, including Galen’s possessions.  His friends pressed him to rewrite the lost books, and he did so.

Here is what Galen says, in the preface to the new version:

This treatise I have written once already.  The first two books had been put into circulation, but I had left my own copies of them, with the others, in my store-room situated on the Via Sacra, and there they were when the Temple of Peace and the great libraries of the Palatine were entirely destroyed by the fire.  Because of this catastrophe, the works of numerous authors were destroyed, whatever I had and was kept in the store-room in question.  On their own admission, some of my Roman friends only possessed a copy of the first two books.  When my friends pressed me to rewrite the same treatise, it seemed necessary to me to signal the books put into circulation previously, in case someone should obtain them by accident and enquire why I had composed twice a work on the same subject.

Galen wrote elsewhere about this fire and the permanent losses he suffered, in the letter Peri Alupias, i.e. On Grief, which was rediscovered a decade ago by a PhD student left waiting for a book for a tedious time, alone in the Vlatadon monastery in Thessalonica, with nothing more exciting to do than read the rare Greek catalogue of the monastery’s holdings.

But it is nice to see another mention of it in his works.

  1. [1] T. Dorandi, Le stylet et la tablette, Les belles lettres, 2000, p.141.

7 Responses to “An extract from Galen’s “De Compositione Medicamentorum Secundum Locus””


  1. Walter Dunphy

    Not Galen! Another “lost” work. On the back (fol.132v) of Paris BNlat 3784 (12cent.) there is a table of contents of the codex. Among a list of mostly authentic letters of Jerome it includes a letter “Ad Pelagium hereticum”. This particular quire happens(!) to be missing… In almost 40 yrs of digging in that area I have never heard so much as a whisper of the existence of such a letter. It is probably pseudo-J, but why NO reference anywhere???

  2. Roger Pearse

    Interesting indeed. People just don’t look at these tables of contents, you know? They really do not.

    I wonder whether there is a copy of the ms. anywhere … taken perhaps before that quire went missing? A look at a stemma of the mss of Jerome’s letters might be interesting.

  3. Suburbanbanshee

    If it makes you feel better, Montfaucon (or some intern somewhere) copied that same table of contents back in 1759.
    It’s on page 1035 of Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum manuscriptorum nova. I looked it up in the Gallica catalog, and his book #54 from St. Martial is the same one that the Bibliotheque Nationale has now. They do mention that there’s missing material and that the TOC is in the back, but they don’t say what’s missing other than that two of the Jerome letters are partial.

    OTOH, they scanned their pencil-written catalog cards, which is awesome, helpful, and hilarious. (It’s the second PDF link on their manuscript catalog entry.)

  4. Suburbanbanshee

    They’ve got the Victorian reprint of Les Manuscrits de Saint-Martial de Limoges digitized at Gallica, and sure enough, just like the catalog bibliographical section says, the 1630 Delisle guy did switch around #106 (in Section 2) on page 53, and #119 (in Section 3) on page 55. The real St. Martial #106 was our #3784, and the real St. M #119 was our #3785, so they made a sort of dyslexic mistake in the book.

    But all that Delisle said on page 55 was that there were various opuscula by St. Jerome. So yeah, that’s not so helpful.

  5. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much for looking into this. So the loss is not recent.

  6. Suburbanbanshee

    I probably should clarify. “The Bibliotheque Nationale/Gallica catalog does mention that there’s missing material….”

  7. Roger Pearse

    OK, thanks!