What factors influence Galen’s development of a theory of black bile for his explanation of health and disease in the body?
Stewart, Keith Andrew
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Galen’s theory of black bile is strongly influenced by his aim to bring together a wide range of material from the work of different physicians and philosophers that begins with Hippocrates. This has caused there to be a large amount of inconsistencies in his writing on black bile. There has been a tendency in modern scholarship either to try to resolve these inconsistencies or to ignore them completely. In many cases there has been an emphasis on the definition of black bile in the Hippocratic On the Nature of Man as the most important basis for understanding Galen’s characterisation of black bile. My analysis will challenge this assumption concerning the dominance of On the Nature of Man for Galen’s use of black bile in his explanation of health and disease in the body. I shall show that an investigation of the way that Galen characterises the physical properties and function of black bile reveals that it is better to understand his use of this humour in terms of his attempt to bring material from a wide range of authorities together to support the arguments that he presents in his treatises. Galen defines black bile as three distinct types of substance that differ in physical properties in order to account for the different ways that this humour is characterised and defined in the various medical sources that he draws upon. However, he is unable to produce a theory of black bile without inconsistencies relating to a number of issues that include such factors as his naming of the different forms of black bile and his concept of authenticity of texts in the Hippocratic Corpus. Galen’s strategy is to make his audience believe that there is a comprehensive and well-defined theory of black bile that originates in the work of Hippocrates and was followed by certain physicians and philosophers afterwards. But in reality this is just a façade and Galen defines and uses black bile in many different and inconsistent ways for his arguments and refutations that cannot always be reconciled with the content of his sources.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in Classics