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Galen, gladiators and galenicals

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GalenI see that the new-look Royal Pharmaceutical Society has adopted a logo that incorporates the Society’s arms but without the supporters, which are representations of the ancient physicians Galen and Avicenna.

Galen was a Roman physician and philosopher of Greek descent, born in about AD130 in Pergamum in Asia Minor. He began his medical career as physician to the city’s gladiators.

Their fights to the death could leave the victors seriously injured, and he was determined to keep them alive.

He was so successful that in five years he lost only four gladiators compared with the 60 lost by his predecessor.

Galen then moved to Rome, where he was soon appointed physician to the court of emperor Marcus Aurelius. He went on to serve four other emperors.

Galen was a prolific writer, and his medical texts and pharmaceutical formulations were used until well into the 17th century. However, many of his ideas were flawed, and the reverence accorded to him over the centuries may have delayed detection of these flaws.

For example, his conclusion that blood was constantly produced in the liver and consumed by the rest of the body was accepted blindly until 1628, when William Harvey showed that only circulation could explain the volume and rate of blood flowing through the heart.

As a sideline to his busy medical practice, Galen ran a pharmacy stocked with remedies made to his own formulae.

He catalogued all his formulations, explaining how each was made and giving recommended doses.

When the Society was founded in 1841, almost all the pharmacist’s inventory would have been such “galenicals”. Galen was therefore a natural choice as a supporter of the arms.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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