‘Scholars are waiting impatiently for Galen.’
Letter of Desiderius Erasmus, dated 5 October 1525.1
Galen 1525 vol 1 title-page.
Aldus’ plans to publish both Galen and Hippocrates in the original Greek may have owed much to his contacts with Nicolò Leoniceno (1428-1524), who taught philosophy and medicine at Ferrara while Aldus had studied there. Leoniceno, described by Nutton (1997), as ‘the most important translator of Greek medical texts into Renaissance Latin’, had collaborated with Aldus in the publication of the Aldine Aristotle – indeed it was in a preface to volume two of this publication that Aldus had first mentioned his plans to publish Galen.
In many ways the five-volume Aristotle and the five-volume Galen (both collected by Worth), served as the intellectual pillars of the Aldine press. Just as the Aldine Aristotle had been a collaborative venture, so too did the publishing of a complete Greek edition of Galen’s works necessitate the coming together of a group of scholars. Giambattista Opizoni (c.1485-c.1532) called together an editorial board which consisted of George Agricola (1494-1555) and a number of English scholars who had been former students of the renowned English humanist, Thomas Linacre. Men such as John Clement (d. 1572), Thomas Lupset (1495?-1530), William Rose and Edward Wotton (1492-1555) each played a significant role in bringing the new edition to life.
Galen 1525 vol 1 dedication to Pope Clement VII.
Andrea Torresani’s decision to dedicate the first volume of the set to Pope Clement VII (Clement VII, Pope, 1478-1534), another Medici pope, is an indication of that shrewd businessman’s goal of attracting influential patronage for so costly an enterprise. Each volume of the Galen was dedicated to a different person: volume two to Aldus’s friend Alberto Pio, Prince of Carpi; volume three to that patron of scholars, Bishop of Verona Gian Matteo Giberti (1495-1543); volume four to the papal nuncio Girolamo Aleandro (1480-1542) and volume five to series editor Giovanni Battista Opizoni. Clearly the Aldine press was eager to demonstrate its religious allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church at a time when it had come under attack during the protestant reformation.
Galen 1525 vol 5 contents list.
How influential was the Aldine Galen? Despite the sixteenth-century vogue for galenic editions, the Aldine Galen did not sell well. There were a number of reasons for this. First, like the Aldine Aristotle, it was an extremely expensive production. Secondly, its market was limited, for it appealed predominantly to a medical audience learned in Greek. Fortuna (2012) makes the point that, more often than not, sixteenth-century medical practitioners learnt about galenic medicine through the plentiful Latin editions available, rather than through a Greek edition such as the Aldine Galen.2 Thirdly, it proved a problematic venture for the Aldine press, because it contained a number of errors, errors to which scholars such as Erasmus (and others), quickly drew attention. To make matters worse, it was incomplete (it did not, for example, include the text of De Ossibus). A legacy of Aldus’ intellectual agenda, it was never reprinted. However, as Fortuna (2012) points out, subsequent Latin editions of the Opera omnia, such as that by the 1528 Lyonese Gabiano press, certainly owed much to it and it remained the standard Greek text for Galen – at least until the Basle 1538 edition (also collected by Worth).
Durling, R. J. (1961), ‘A Chronological Census of Renaissance Editions and Translations of Galen’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 24, no.3/4, pp. 230-305.
Fortuna, Stefania (2012), ‘The Latin Editions of Galen’s Opera omnia (1490-1625) and Their Prefaces’, Early Science and Medicine 17, pp. 391-412.
Koźluk, Magdalena and Pittion, Jean Paul (2007), Editing Galen and Hippocrates in the Renaissance. An Exhibition of Sixteenth-Century Editions in the Library of Edward Worth (1678-1733) (Dublin: Trustees of the Edward Worth Library).
Nutton, Vivian (1997), ‘The rise of medical humanism: Ferrara, 1464-1555’, Renaissance Studies 11, no. 1, pp. 1-19.
Perilli, Lorenzo (2012), ‘A Risky Enterprise: The Aldine Edition of Galen, the Failures of the Editors, and the Shadow of Erasmus of Rotterdam’, Early Science and Medicine 17, pp. 446-466.
Potter, Paul (1998), ‘The editiones principes of Galen and Hippocrates and Their Relationship’, in Fischer, Klaus-Dietrick, Nickel, Diethard and Potter, Paul (eds), Text and Transmission: Studies in Ancient Medicine and its Transmission Presented to Jutta Kollesch (Leiden), pp. 243-61.
1 Cited in Perilli, Lorenzo (2012), ‘A Risky Enterprise: The Aldine Edition of Galen, the Failures of the Editors, and the Shadow of Erasmus of Rotterdam’, Early Science and Medicine 17, p. 450.
2 Fortuna, Stefania (2012), ‘The Latin Editions of Galen’s Opera omnia (1490-1625) and Their Prefaces’, Early Science and Medicine 17, p. 394, points out that that there were nineteen Latin editions of the complete works published in the sixteenth century, as opposed to only two Greek editions. For a listing of editions of galenic treatises in the sixteenth century see Durling’s census.