J. C. McKeownApr 29, 2017
A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities
Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Healing Arts of Greece and Rome
Oxford University Press 2017
The back cover of J. C. McKeown's new book, A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities (Oxford University Press, 2017), is adorned not with review quotes from contemporary scholars, but rather the discordant voices of the medical writers he excerpts. Speaking of Galen, Photius of Constantinople notes that the author tends to overload his writings with irrelevancies and digressions. Aristotle offers a characteristic caution, urging no one can become a doctor by reading books. These statements intimate the overall style and aims of this entertaining book: to approach the culture of antiquity through medical practice and belief. Though McKeown deliberately goes after the uncanny in selecting his excerpts to translate, one gets an overall impression of medicines remarkable continuity. Class, gender, and race were battlegrounds of medical legitimacy as much as they are now, and contemporary suspicion of medical advances was potent as ever. McKeown opts for evocation rather than scholarly interpretation of the medical cultures of antiquity, making this book entertaining reading for anyone interested in medicine's long history.