Body and Cosmos in Galen’s Account of the Soul

In: Phronesis

Galen’s physiology—his theory of elements, mixtures and the emergence of natural capacities—compels him to conceive of each part of the soul as a peculiar mixture of elementary qualities in the material substance of the organ (the liver, the heart or the brain) in which it is located. The reason why Galen, nevertheless, refrains from making a dogmatic assertion about the substance of the soul, or of human nature in general, is the acknowledged failure to account for two goal-directed activities—the formation of bodily organs and human intelligence—in terms of elementary qualities and their mixtures.

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  • 3

    Cf. GalenHipp. Epid. VI5.5.5 (271.9-12 Wenkebach): ‘I have also become convinced that the pneuma in the ventricles of the brain is so to speak the first of the instruments of the soul; by calling it the substance of the soul I made too rash an assertion (πέπεισµαι <δὲ> καὶ πρός γε τούτῳ τὸ κατὰ τὰς κοιλίας αὐτοῦ πνεῦµα πρῶτόν τι τῶν ὀργάνων εἶναι τῶν ψυχικῶν ὅπερ ἦν µοι προπετέστερον ἀποφηναµένῳ ψυχῆς οὐσίαν εἰπεῖν).’ What earlier ‘assertion’ does Galen have in mind? In the preceding sentence (271.7-9 Wenkebach) he mentions php and so presumably the passage just quoted refers to that treatise too. The word ἀποφηναµένῳ (‘I made an assertion’) at 271.11-12 possibly echoes php 7.7.25 (474.22-3 De Lacy) a sentence by which pneuma and incorporeal substance are introduced as the only candidates for the soul’s substance and on an equal footing: εἰ δὲ καὶ περὶ ψυχῆς οὐσίας ἀποφήνασθαι χρή (‘And if we must make an assertion about the substance of the soul . . .’). By the time of writing Hipp. Epid. Galen appears to have made the conclusion that even raising the option that pneuma is the soul’s substance was rash. Surprisingly the reasons for rejecting the pneuma theory are given in another passage of php 7 itself; cf. php 7.3.19-22 and 27 (442.36-444.11 and 444.31-3 De Lacy). Cf. Hankinson 2014a 88-9. I wonder if this passage which does not seem to tally well with php 7.7.25 represents Galen’s more considered (and so presumably later) view.

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  • 4

    GalenHipp. Epid. VI5.5.5 (271.12-19 Wenkebach): εἴτε δὲ ἡ ὅλη τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου φύσις ἐκ τῆς τῶν τεττάρων στοιχείων κράσεως εἰς τοιαύτην <τῆς> οὐσίας ἦλθεν [ἢ] ἰδιότητα καθ’ ἣν αἰσθήσεώς τε καὶ κινήσεως τῆς καθ’ ὁρµὴν ἀρχηγὸς ἔσται τῷ ζῴῳ καὶ δηλονότι <καὶ φαντασίας> καὶ µνήµης τε καὶ νοήσεως εἴτε τις ἄλλη δύναµις ἀσώµατος ὑπὸ τοῦ δηµιουργήσαντος ἡµᾶς ἐνδεῖταί τε τῷ ἐγκεφάλῳ καὶ χωρίζεται πάλιν ἀποθνῃσκόντων οὐδεµίαν ἔχω ἀπόδειξιν βεβαίαν ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἀποφηναµένους περὶ τούτων ἡγοῦµαι πλεονεκτεῖν ἐµοῦ προπετείᾳ µᾶλλον ἢ σοφίᾳ. The words καὶ φαντασίας are added by Wenkebach in line with Hunayn’s Arabic translation. Perhaps a syntactically better correction would be this: καὶ δηλονότι καὶ <φαντασίας> µνήµης τε καὶ νοήσεως.

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  • 28

    Cf. Moraux 1984740-2 and 783-5; Caston 1997 352-7. For a detailed discussion of Galen’s argument about the alterability of the elements see Kupreeva 2014 and Leith 2014. Basing himself on a parallel in Lucretius (De rerum natura 2.931-6) Leith traces the argument from perception to early Peripateticism (2014 222-9).

  • 55

    Cf. Hankinson 2006250-2 and Donini 2008 186 who both make a similar point.

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