Polemics on the Doctrines of Galen's Ars Medica from Alexandria to Salerno


  • Nicoletta Palmieri University of Reims


Galeno , Ars medica , Medicina Alessandrina, Medicina Salernitana


At the beginning of his Ars medica, Galen enumerates three ways of imparting knowledge, the only ones (as he asserts) that “follow a strict order.” This claim gave rise to never-ending polemics in the Western Middle Ages with a discussion of what doctrina really means, juxtaposing Galen’s three ways with the four procedures in Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora. The controversy became virulent with the wide reception of the Commentum Hali, a translation from the Arabic by Gerard of Cremona († 1187) of Alî ibn Ridwân’s († between 1061 and 1069) commentary on the Galenic Ars. While, from the 13th century onwards, the Commentum Hali  marks a turning point as far as reflection on Galen’s ideas is concerned, the exchanges about Galen’s teachings are considerably older and were heated already in the context of the School of Alexandria at the beginning of the 6th century. According to the opinion of some scholars, it was here that Galen’s three modes were in opposition to the five methods to be used, both for teaching and for the acquisition of knowledge. Centuries later, Constantine the African’s (d. before 1098/1099) Pantegni  transmitted the theory of the five methods to the Salernitan doctors of the 12th century, who also had access to a version of the Ars  translated directly from the Greek. This was the reason why the Salernitans were constrained to resolve the conflicting positions that had already been discussed in Alexandria even before the Commentum Hali  became known. This article analyzes the two oldest phases of this controversy, i. e. the first, which had developed in Alexandria and which is studied here with reference to recent work on the transmission from Greek to Arabic, and the second phase, at Salerno, drawing on texts by Master Bartholomew which have not been edited so far.