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The staging of an authorial self in multiple venues, contexts and media (including visual demonstration, oral performance and written text) was neither a uniquely Galenic nor a uniquely second-century phenomenon. In medicine it reaches back at least to the Classical period in Greece. But, within extant Greek and Latin technical literature, many of the better attested, more diverse and more colourful acts of authorial self-presentation are Galen's. Through public anatomical dissections and vivisections of animals and through multiple self-presentations in his prolific literary production, he actively participated in the ‘display culture’ of his time, even while deploring it. Deftly adapting different literary forms to different audiences, purposes and subjects (and at times liberally contaminating genres), he conspicuously inserted himself into almost every part of his oeuvre, thereby ensuring that he himself became a vivid, forceful authorial presence in his works. Furthermore, for all his insistence on the possibility of arriving at an objective science of the human body, and despite his effort to identify criteria for establishing a univocal ‘scientific’ language that would be suitable to communicate such a trans-subjective, transpersonal science, he often departed from the depersonalised, self-effacing style of some – but far from all – earlier authors of technical literature, resorting instead to a personally charged rhetoric. The result is a multi-dimensional staging of his authorial selves that pervades his massive extant corpus to a degree matched by few, if any, ancient writers of technical texts.
From the earliest surviving Greek literary texts – the Iliad and Odyssey – moral value terms appear in characterizations of physicians, of their activities, of their relations to patients, and of their attitudes. As in many spheres of Greek culture, so too in the ancient Greeks’ uses of these value terms a considerable heterogeneity of rival views becomes visible. The absence of centralized control over physicians in Greece, the lack of any licensing and of formal professional sanctions, and the aggressive competitiveness and adversariality that marked much of ancient Greek culture all contributed to the diversity of views held not only by, but also about physicians. Whereas some Greeks, for example, agreed with the Homeric hero Idomeneus that “a healer (iatrós) is a man worth many men, [since he knows how] to cut out arrows and to sprinkle gentle drugs on [wounds]” (Iliad 11. 514–15), others depicted physicians as greedy, unscrupulous charlatans who collected fees by impressing patients and onlookers with ostentatious displays that merely veiled their ignorance and incompetence. It is impossible to do justice to this diversity of ancient views within the scope of this chapter; the reader therefore would be well advised to keep in mind that only a few conspicuous strands in Greek medical ethics are singled out for consideration here.
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