Is there a doctor about?

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Is there a doctor about?

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri May 30, 2003 4:07 am




Romulus lying unconscious in the Circus was unaware of the stretcher-bearers as they tried to run between the oncoming chariots of his opponents. But Romulus Felix, ever true to his name, was lucky enough to be taken from the field before he was seriously trampled. As it was he was covered in bruises and wounds. Now where to take Romulus to heal his wounds?

The aediles on the scene began to argue between themselves. The aediles plebis were ordering Romulus be taken to the Temple of Ceres. On the Aventine it was just outside the entrance to the Circus. The curule aedilis though was saying Romulus would get better treatment at the Palatine Temple of Apollo.

"What?" said the one plebeian aedilis, "Give Romulus all those poisonous potions concocted by cantankerous Greek goats?"
"Never!" chimed in the other plebeian.
"Then throw a palla on him and carry him off to the Bona Dea," said the curule aedilis. "See if sipping at some simples will do him any good!"
"And just what is it, Appi Claudi, that you have against good Roman remedies?" The sacerdotus of the Bona Dea just happened to be in the Circus that day. An old friend of Marcus Horatianus, Romulus' patron, she was cheering on the Purpurae and had seen Romulus tumble. Already she had sent off messengers to find the consul. The glare of the sacredotus was enough to tie up Claudius tongue.

The stretcher-bearers paid no attention to the aediles, deciding themselves to head straight to the Temple of Salus on the Quirinal. Romulus was beginning to look like he needed some divine intervention just to get him under someone's care. They had to pass along the Vicus Tuscus that would only lead them into the mass gathered in the Forum Romanum. Already crowds were gathering. Some around Romulus began tearing at their garments and casting dirt in the air, bemoaning his premature death, while an old Liberi dropped to her knees, pounded out a rhythm on the earth with the palm of her hand and muttered ancient curses over Romulus' enemies. Rhetoricians began praising Romulus' accomplishments, while poets composed hymns to the memories of his ancestors, they seeming to multiply with each new verse. A scuffle broke out between the Reds and the Purples, joined by the Whites and Golds, while the Greens and Blues seemed to have begun their own street fight. Then the crowds were parted as the twelve lictores began beating a path for the consul to pass.
Marcus Horatianus was looking upon Romulus' wounds when a sculptor offered, "Unwashed wool, dipped into a mixture of pounded rue and fat may help those bruises and swellings."

Another man, overhearing the news, had followed the consul from the Argiletum, a favorite haunt of both men as it was that part of the city where the booksellers mostly lived and sold their copied scrolls. The man had just today purchased a copy of Cato's De Agricultura and was trying to read allowed the formulae for a fractured leg. "Begin to sing this charm until the halves come together: MOTAS VAETA DARIES DARDARES ASTATARIES DISSUNAPITER."

"If I may, Consul Moravi Horatiane," an Etruscan haruspex began. "A sacrifice of a calf should be made to Menrva on Romulus? behalf. If the processus pyramidalis is normal, he who brings the sacrifice will be in good health and he will live a long time. ?If the ductus hepaticus falls to the right the sick will live but will not accomplish his desire."

"No, no, consul," said Quintus Serenus. "You must seal up in wax the seeds of cummin, minus their tails. Put this in a bag made of red leather, and put the whole arrangement around the neck of the patient. A branch of pennyroyal, wrapped in wool, will exude healing odours at the time you expect an attack. Then too, a smashed bug should be eaten with an egg; awful to the touch, it is not difficult to swallow in this fashion."

Everyone knew that Serenus was the most widely read person in all of Rome when it came to the subject of cures. They said he had already collected some 62,000 scrolls on the subject. None of them seem to agree with one another on a cure for any ailment. Marcus Horatianus had about enough of all he was hearing. He looked about, recalled the various doctors who would pass through the nearby Forum Boarium, and decided to have his lictores lead Romulus in that direction.

The Forum Boarium had several old temples that appealed to new arrivals at Rome. It was there that not a few Greek doctors had set up their schools of medicine. Others would come to this market to purchase their herbs. The plebeian aediles were not exaggerating over the Greek potions being concoctions, some highly complex and tedious to brew, making them expensive to purchase as well. Andromachus of Crete (54-68), physician to Nero, had been the most skilled in compounding drugs. Skilled or just too clever, composing formulae with so many ingredients, each given in a different amount, so that no one could remember his prescriptions and duplicate them. Mostly, however, the Greek physicians seemed only to argue among themselves over treatments. Not that any of them were ever seen applying remedies to any patients. The Empiricists relied entirely on philosophical argument, as these medical skeptikoi rejected the arguments of Dogmatist physicians on the functional origin of the body, or that such knowledge was even useful in the practice of medicine. Heracleides of Tarentum, who flourished around 70, was the most famous member of the Empirical school. He was a pupil of Mantius, who like all the Empiricists seemed to continually complain about other doctors, and so Heracleides began experimenting with the properties of opium, a remedy useful against doctors.


The first Greek physician to settle at Rome was Archagathus of Sparta in 220 BCE. A plague was thus brought to the City. Asclepiades of Bithynia, an atomist after Cleophantus, arrived around 90 BCE, advocating mechanistic medicine. Lift here, tug there, as though manipulating a few muscles or cracking some bones could ever heal an illness. Well, massaging women between their thighs did seem to cure hysteria at least. The Dogmatists that followed, important by 1st cent BCE, emphasized study of anatomy and defended their doctrines with references to Platonist, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurian systems. When Athenaeus (c. 41-54) arrived he founded the new school of Pneumatics, based in Stoic thought. He gave a diagnosis based in temperaments ( eukrasia being good temperament and dyskrasia , bad temperament). To the four elements of the Stoics he added the pneuma , formulated as the primordial material from which life is derived. These five Platonic elements were then placed alongside the Hippocratic four humors. Disease, according to Athenaeus, was caused by an imbalance in the pneuma , as indicated by disturbances of the humors. At the moment there was some question whether Romulus still had his pneuma , since he was yet unconscious.

Themison, who flourished around 50 BCE, systemized the writings of Asclepiades, and became founder of his own school, known as the Methodists. His students took inspiration from Hippocrates of Cos (406-370 BCE) who rejected all the generalizations and theorizing. Instead they focused on their patients, relying on direct, personal observation to formulate treatments. Themison taught on the use of leeches in bleeding, and experimented in the applications of drugs. Dioscorides possibly learned medicine through practical experience in the legions, or experimenting on the legionaries is more like it. He was in Rome circa 41-68, where he wrote the Materia Medica containing 600 plants and their medical use, based primarily on Greek sources, but also demonstrating his personal experience in their application. Other Methodistss were the charlatan Thessalus of Tralles who was in Rome c. 70-95, and then Soranus of Ephesus (c. 98-138) who wrote the Gynaecia as a manual for midwives. Caelius Aurelius might be remembered to as the man who in 410 translated Soranus' Chronic Diseases and Acute Diseases into Latin.

Agathinus of Sparta (fl. 60-100) wrote a short work on the pulse, and on the action of hellebore, based entirely on experiment. His student Archigenes of Apamea (fl. in Rome c. 100-117) in turn developed and taught an elaborate theory on the pulse. Through this he established the school of the Eclectics. Archigenes invented the four stages of fevers and four stages of disease. He combined different approaches, in the manner that Antonius Musa earlier. Another pupil of Agathinus was Herodotus, who was in Rome circa 70-100. He leaned towards the Methodists in theory, but was an Eclectic in practice. Oribasius (c. 325-400) was a friend and physician to emperor Julian. His medical encyclopedia, in which he quoted much from Herodotus, is the fundamental source on earlier medical authorities. A contemporary of Oribasius was Theodorus Priscianus (367-383 CE), physician to emperor Gratian, who wrote a collection of prescriptions in the Medicinae Praesentae.

In all this bewildering advice, and trying to consider to which Greek school of medicine he should entrust Romulus, Marcus was glad to see familiar faces working their way through the crowd. The sacredotus of Bona Dea had sent Nocturnia to notify the frumentarii in their camp beyond the Tiber, just in case Marcus Horatianus happened to have been there. Nocturnia was now returning with a centurion, Maximus, and Marius as well. The frumentarii had little regard for theories or arguments. Often having to rely on their own skills, they learned quickly what cured and what killed, employing the native remedies from whatever lands they visited. They took Romulus into a nearby shop, flinging him up on a counter. Nocturnia pounded wild thyme with rue and laurel, moistened with vinegar, and then applied it to Romulus? head, neck and shoulders. Her cool hands were enough to awaken him, and so they gave him a draft of wine laced with rocket to make him insensible to further pain. Marius cleaned out Romulus' opened wounds, filling them with millefoglio and applying ajuga, the bugleweed, as a styptic. He boiled malva in oil, then dipped bread into it, which he used to seal the wounds. Maximus meanwhile was working on all of Romulus' swollen joints. For this he squeezed the juice from narcissus bulbs into honey and lavished it over Romulus' ankles, and knees. They then carried Romulus back to the comp of the frumentarii where they placed him on a suspended bed, lulling him back to sleep as a babe in a cradle. Weeks of water therapy, strict diet, and the regimented life among the frumentarii would bring Romulus around to the Circus again in no time, now that he had been saved from all the doctors.

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