Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
No part of the ancient legacy of Greek medicine enjoyed a more constant transmission than the Aphorisms and Prognostics attributed to Hippocrates of Cos. From the unforgettable opening line, “Life is short, the Art long,” the axiomatic and level-headed character of these works made them ideal for teaching, but it also called for elaboration and rationalization. This need was abundantly met by the Greek writings of Galen of Pergamum in the second century C.E. The Hippocratic foundations were complemented, possibly by Byzantine teachers before the eighth century, with Galen’s epitome of the “Art of Medicine”, Techne iatrike, which became known in the Middle Ages as Tegni or Microtegni, in Latin Ars medica and Ars parva, “The Little Art.” The addition of two short treatises on diagnosis, by pulse and urine, resulted in a collection that loosely covered the basics of medical learning. However, one relatively brief and simple text with origins in Baghdad became the catalyst for the development of this collection into the nucleus of the first genuine curriculum.
Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-‘Ibadi, 809?-873 (known as Joannitius), the Christian director of the caliph’s House of Wisdom, is credited with translating into Arabic more than one hundred Greek writings, the majority by Galen and his Alexandrian commentators. Hunayn abstracted the substance of his library in Questions on Medicine for Scholars. This introduction to Galen’s Art came to Latin Christendom, with the author’s name suitably baptized, as Isagoge Ioannitii ad Tegni Galieni. It clearly set out the division of medical knowledge into theory and practice, and the classification of learning matter, from the elements as basic building blocks, to uroscopy as the ultimate diagnostic tool. For the twelfth- and thirteenth-century masters of Salerno, the Isagoge of Johannitius was a natural nucleus around which five or six primers coalesced into the foundation of medical education. At the emerging universities, from around 1250, this fundamental “Ars medicine” or “Articella” was at the heart of a growing curriculum, expanded with commentaries, more translations from Greek and Arabic, and, above all, a greater presence of Galen.
Each one of Hippocrates’ brief observations or “aphorisms” was treated as a precept, usually numbered and “rubricated,” that is, marked by a red or blue initial letter.
This small manuscript, containing works of Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, was probably meant to be carried around by the physician, to be referred to at the bedside. The page displayed shows the beginning of of Galen’s Tegne or Tegni, as Galen’s summary of the Hippocratic works was known in the Middle Ages.
An early printed edition of Hunayn’s Isagoge [i.e. treatise], a didactic introduction to Galen’s Tegne, which was the catalyst for the coalescence of a few texts into the “Articella,” the core the medieval medical curriculum.
The Articella continued in use well into the age of the printed book. This 1493 Venetian edition, with its hand-colored initial letters and marginal decoration, illustrates the attempts of the first printers to make the printed book look like the more familiar manuscript.
The “Aphorisms” retained their venerability well into the age of printing. Here, the printer has left space for a hand-written, decorative initial letter of the first Aphorism ([V]ita brevis, ars aut[em] longa), but the letter “V” was never added.