Books and Medical Knowledge in the Ancient World

Guglielmo Cavallo


Books have been used by medici in Antiquity - different kind of books for different kind of medici. Galen is the best example of a medicus with a strong interest not only in theoretical medicine, but also in a material crafting of the books, as well as in the making of the text. But he is an exception. Books in late Antiquity came in two different formats: the codex and the rotulus. The former was to be the one to survive: by the late IV century A.D., rotuli - difficult to handle and to read - had virtually disappeared. Codices were diffused in medical milieux, as well as in other milieux where culture was popularized (e.g. Christianity), probably because they were more user-friendly and manageable even for a non-cultivated public. Codices were used for practical purposes and for practical therapeutics, and allowed the reader to write on margins, thus enhancing their practical usefulness. On the contrary, books had a scanty use for didactic purposes, learning from the voice of the magister being the privileged form of transmission.

  Key words: Ancient world - Books - Medical knowledge

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