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MEDICAL HISTORIOGRAPHY ACQUISITIONS WITH SOURCES OF BYZANTINE AUTHORS

Author: Hristo Tantilov

Editor's Note: Our archive have a large depositary from Bayer Pharmaceutical, which we already communicated elsewhere in our booklist. This time we are going to pay attention to some materials, that stay astride from common line literature of medical history in Bulgaria. We refer to the articles of Dr. Hristo Tantilov published in the journal Therapeutic Monthly from 1938 to 1943. These materials remained unsolicited for a long period of more than 50 years, since socialist authors of medical history didn't wanted to recognize the sources that H. Tantilov has used as reference and most astonishingly had destroyed the whole periodical. This is a shame for any self-respecting library, however, timelines and reform had revealed new opportunities which we are going to rehabilitate up-to-date. As a matter of fact, the figure of the author remained anonymous for so long time that we don't know nothing about Hristo Tantilov and except the fact that he collaborated with the German Pharmaceutical Industry before the war. Probably, like the editor-in-chief  of Therapeutic Monthly, Dr. M. Slivenski - viz., he was a graduate from a medical university in Germany and subsequently perished after WWII as indicted fascist agent. However, the remains of the Bayer Archive reveal some chapters of medical history written beautifully in bulgarian language and which could serve as a legacy for future generations. We finish this short contribution on Dr. H. Tantilov with a note. The whole material in the papers is divided in three parts, apparently, they bear reference to the early and middle age historiography on the Balkan Peninsula. We present the narrative in separate parts and altogether the clarity and containment of the original data is retained, ditto.

 

PART I: BYZANTINE MEDICINE

The Byzantine school of medicine, which closely corresponds to the Byzantine literary and historical schools, followed innately in Galen's footsteps and its writers were chiefly compilers and encyclopedists. The earliest is Oribasius (326 - 403), whose date and position are fixed by his being the friend and court physician of Emperor Julian "The Apostate". He was a Greek of Pergamum, educated in Alexandria, and long resident of Byzantium. Oribasius wrote more than 70 volumes of literary works, mostly compilations from early Greek and Roman authors i.e., Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides and others. Only four titles has been preserved up to modern times: i./ "Synagogia", which follows closely the Galenic medicine, as the author notes by himself; ii./ "Collectiones artis medicae", where information is given on airing, foods, dwelling places, baths, some therapeutics, etc. The author describes the salivary glands, which comes to point out that he was engaged in anatomical sections; iii./ "Euporista" or family physician handbook, represents a first of its kind manual on therapy at the bedside of the patient; iv./ "Sinopsis" is a guide-book on pregnant women, on some pediatric diseases and some minor surgeries of the sort of circumcision, etc.

A higher rank among medical writers is assigned to Alexander of Tralles (525 - 605), whose doctrine was that of an eclectic. He was born in a small town near the modern city of Ephesus, one of a four brothers in the family and whose elder brother Antemios was architect of the cathedral "Hagia Sophia" in capital city Constantinople. Alexander of Trales worked during the times of Emperor Justinian, was a military physician and wrote his main compilation work in 12 volumes late in his life. Here his main practical and therapeutic rules in medicine are evidently the fruit of his own experience. Another important work of this author is the biography of Jacob Psihrest, notably a sculptor from that times with the title "Comes archiatrorum". The latter was known for his miraculous healing art, or a Phidias in medicine, and his statues were erected in many public baths in the country as sanctuaries for remedy. He also was known for his consultations on the rich, where unfettered life, lack of regime and too much eating were harmful for the health - subsequently, he recommended physiotherapy, good climate and moderate food, etc.

Another name that requires to be mentioned is that of Aetius of Amida (a.550 - ?), a compiler who closely followed Oribasius, but with inferior powers. Aetius was a Christian follower, called "Comes obsequii" and was born in today's town of Diarbekir. He was court physician of Emperor Justinian and has written 16 books in four volumes i.e., the "Tetrabiblion", where he demonstrates knowledge in internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics & gynecology and others. It is also evident, that this author is adept in mysticism and is highly religious - viz., he could not quite shake off the old belief in the intervention of higher powers. For example, when explaining how to remove a fishbone from the throat, he first advised the surgeon to address the bone respectfully and kindly, to come forth "... as Lazarus emerged from the grave and Jonah from the belly of the whale", etc.

The last of the classical Byzantine doctors was Paul of Aegina (607 - 690). He was a close contemporary of Emperor Heraclius I, in the times when the Eastern Roman Empire began to decline. His skills, especially in surgery, must have been considerable and his work "Yatrika" gives a very complete picture of the achievements of the Greeks in this department. His reputation lasted through the Middle Ages and was not less in the Arabian schools than in the West. Paul's six books, dealing with surgery, were taken over almost word by word from the leading Arab writers, such as Abulcasis, etc.

The succeeding period of Byzantine history was so little favorable to science that no name worthy of note occurs again, although, many medical works of this period were extant. This was until the 13th century, when we meet with a group of writers i.e., Demetrius Pepagomenus, Nicolaus Myrepsus and Johannes Actuarius, who served under the protection of the dynasty of Paleologi. The works of the period mentioned have some independent merit, but all are interesting as showing the fusion of Greek and Arabian medicine, the latter having begun to exercise even in the 11th century a reflux influence on the schools of Byzantium. Something was borrowed even from the school of Salerno, and thus the close of Byzantine medicine is brought into connection with the dawn of science in modern Europe.

 

 

Copyright 2007 by the author.