The Galen Project


A report on the high school course on Galen

By Ellen Verkerk

The kick-off of our new module Greek ”Medicine – Galen” was given by Prof Tieleman on February the 7th (2018). He gave a lecture on this topic for our students of the fifth grade in order to introduce this new addition to the curriculum. It was an interesting first encounter with Galen.

After this start, we, the students and teachers, could begin with the course. The general part of the syllabus required translating the Greek texts in the classroom, answering questions on grammar/language and content, making assignments and further investigating difficult passages. Before the students could start with these tasks, they studied the Hippocratic oath and the theory of the four humours thoroughly. Other topics that were discussed beforehand were Galen’s background, his medical teachings, works, language and style of writing, and his influence on modern medicine. The students have worked on the course for seven weeks in total.

The students have deepened their knowledge on a number of philosophical aspects and on the way diagnoses were made in Galen’s time: often on the basis of dreams. This medical practice was described by the students as ”bizarre”: how could it be logical that a wrestler who dreamt that he stood in a pool of blood needed to have a blood-letting or that people who found themselves in mud and worse were diagnosed as having evil bodily fluids or that a person who had a dream about a petrified leg would really have a paralysis of that body part?

In addition, the students did a specialization-assignment in groups of three and could make a choice between different topics such as pharmacology, medical didactics and the basis of the soul. Eventually, this resulted in a presentation of ca. 10 minutes in which they also quoted relevant passages of the Greek texts. The students, who chose the subject ”pharmacology”, even talked with a pharmacist in order to acquire knowledge on theriac and pharmacodynamics, homeopathy and allopathy.

Very exciting were the preparations of two presentations on the heart, which originated in a passage in Galen where a slave survived a heart operation. Our biology section organized a practical in which the students could dissect animal hearts, whereby they developed a better understanding of Galen’s medical practice. In full concentration, they searched for the Galenic ”heart bone”: a completely new part for most students!

Overall, it was a very informative module. The students and teachers have worked on it with great pleasure.