Cutting Words - Polemical Dimensions of Galen's Anatomical Experiments


In Cutting Words: Polemical Dimensions of Galen’s Anatomical Experiments, Luis Alejandro Salas offers a new account of Galen’s medical experiments in the context of the high intellectual culture of second-century Rome. The book explores how Galen’s written experiments operate alongside their live counterparts. It argues that Galen’s experimental writing reperforms the licensing functions of his live demonstrations, acting as a surrogate for their performance and in some cases an improvement upon it. Cutting Words focuses on the philosophical targets and theoretical stakes of four case studies: Galen’s experiments on voice production, the bladder, the heart, and the femoral artery. It ends over a millennium later with Vesalius, who adapted his Greek predecessor's writing in his own anatomical work, framing himself as a new Galen and so securing Galen's legacy of writing.

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Luis Alejandro Salas, Ph.D. (2013), University of Texas at Austin, is Assistant Professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis. His main research interests lie in ancient Greek and Roman medicine, philosophy, and intellectual history. He has published on Galen’s theory and classification of disease, as well as his systems of anatomy and physiology.
"This book breaks new ground and in greater detail than other recent scholarship [...] Dr Salas sets a high standard for the wider survey of Galenic anatomy in general that is still needed, and for which he is eminently qualified."
- Vivian Nutton, in: Annals of Science, published online 25-2-2021.

"L.A. Salas’ Cutting Words: Polemical Dimensions of Galen’s Anatomical Experiments presents a much-needed elucidation of Galenic anatomy and Galenic anatomical writing. By carefully contextualizing the accounts of Galenic anatomical experiments, this study shows that the Galenic anatomical texts are evocative of public dissections which were spectacles designed to establish the performer’s authority, to demonstrate his technical acumen and, oftentimes, to reduce any rivals to shame. (...) this book is a very welcome addition to the Galenic scholarship. (...) In order to appreciate the medical work presented in such an unusual style to the contemporary eye, it is necessary to have a guide for contextualizing, clarifying and elucidating the complex style of writing. This book is exactly such a guide."
- Aistė Čelkytė, Leiden University, in: Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2021.06.38.

"This excellent book covers a great deal of territory chronologically, epistemologically as well as in terms of cultural theory and ancient history in the best sense of the expression – a rounded understanding of ancient intellectual and social life at the time of Galen and in the preceding centuries. It is committed to an idea of deep embedment of scientific cultures and practices into context (intellectual, socio-economical, heuristic, scientific) and makes an important effort to uncover the dialogue between Galenic scientific doctrines and philosophical arguments, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the written tradition – past, present and future – qua written, into which the famous physician carefully crafts a position for himself."
- Chiara Thumiger, The Classical Review (2021) 1–3.


1 Experiment and Experimental Writing
 1 A World of Text
 2 Demonstration: Instruction and Display
 3 The Physical Spaces of Public and Private Medical Performances
 4 Public and Private Demonstrations in Writing
 5 Antiquarianism and Galen’s Doxographical Polemics

2 Galen and Agonistic Anatomical Demonstration
 1 Credentialing and the Medical Marketplace
 2 Rome and the Centrality of Public Display
 3 Anatomical Procedures
 4 Agonism and Invasive Anatomical Display
 5 Prepared Extemporaneity
 6 The Intercostal Nerves
 7 Galen’s Experiments on the Ureters and Ureterovesical Valves
 8 The Implicit Contest with Alexander

3 Magnification and the Elephant
 1 Magnification and Analogy
 2 Analogy, Classification, and the Ancient Anatomical Tradition
 3 Elephants
 4 Aristotle, Teleology, and the Elephant’s Trunk
 5 Teleology, Humoralism, and the Elephant’s Gallbladder
 6 Analogy and Teleology
 7 Aristotle and Surrogate Targets

4 Fighting with the Heart of a Beast: Galen’s Use of the Elephant’s Cardiac Anatomy against Cardiocentrists
 1 The Os Cordis
 2 The Agōn over the Heart
 3 Galen’s Engagement with Aristotle
 4 Galen’s Teleology and Cardiac Structure

5 It Is Difficult Not to Write Anatomy: Galen on Erasistratus and the Arteries
 1 Maryllus the Mime-Writer and the Value of Anatomical Experience
 2 Claims of Knowledge and Refutations of Ignorance
 3 Compulsion of the Truth and the Anatomy of Deception
 4 A Polemic in Four Parts

6 Galen and the Experiment on the Femoral Artery
 1 The Femoral Artery Experiment
 2 Capacities and Their Explanatory Powers
 3 Galen on the Simultaneous Movement of the Arteries
 4 Arterial Breathing and Pulmonary Respiration
 5 The Movement of the Blood
 6 Irrigation of the Body
 7 The Motile Properties of Blood and Pneuma
 8 The Femoral Artery Experiment in Its Galenic Context

7 Drawing Blood: Galen’s Use of the Arterial Experiment against Erasistratus
 1 Praxagoras and Some Rough Beginnings
 2 Pneuma
 3 Herophilus and an Emerging Tradition
 4 The Simultaneous Action of Arterial and Cardiac Movement
 5 Transpiration and the Arteries’ Attraction of Material from All Around
 6 Erasistratus and Mechanism
 7 Erasistratus and Void
 8 Erasistratus, the Bird, and the Bear
 9 Erasistratus and the Femoral Artery Experiment

8 De Galeni corporis fabrica: Writing Galen and the Greek Past in Vesalius’ Fabrica
 1 Books and Book Production
 2 Vesalius’ Appropriation of Galen’s Polemical Strategies


Historians of Ancient Medicine, Historians of Science and Medicine, Classicists, Ancient Philosophers, and Early Modernists interested in the written and experimental methods of ancient sources for 16th–17th century physicians.
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