Katherine D. Van Schaik, "How to Be Healthy: An Ancient Guide to Wellness" (Galen) (Princeton UP, 2024)


The second-century Greek physician Galen—the most famous doctor in antiquity after Hippocrates—is a central figure in Western medicine. A talented doctor, surgeon, writer, philosopher, teacher, pharmacologist, and inventor, Galen attended the court of Marcus Aurelius, living through outbreaks of plague (likely smallpox) that devastated the Roman Empire. He also served as physician for professional gladiators, boasting that only two fighters died during his first year (his predecessor had lost sixteen). In writings that provided the foundation of Western medicine up to the nineteenth century, Galen created a unified account of health and disease. 

In How to Be Healthy: An Ancient Guide to Wellness (Princeton UP, 2024), practicing physician and classical historian Katherine Van Schaik presents a collection of Galen’s enduring insights about how we can take care of our bodies and minds, prevent disease, and reach a healthy old age.

Although we now know that many of Galen’s ideas about physiology are wrong, How to Be Healthy shows that much of his advice remains sound. In these selections from his writings, presented in fresh translations, Galen discusses the art of medicine, exercise and diet, the mind-body connection, the difficulty of applying general medical principles to individuals, and much more. Featuring an introduction, brief commentaries that connect ancient medical practices to modern ones, and the original Greek on facing pages, How to Be Healthy offers an entertaining and enlightening new perspective on the age-old pursuit of wellness, from the importance of “the exercise with a small ball” to the benefits of “avoiding distress.”

Katherine D. Van Schaik completed a PhD in ancient history at Harvard University while earning an MD with honors at Harvard Medical School. She is a practicing physician and a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and in the Department of Classical and Mediterranean Studies at Vanderbilt University.

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