« PrécédentContinuer »
from the Greeks, adding nothing of their own. What food for thought there is in the fact, that in spite of all Rome's material greatness and wide empire, her world dominance and vaunted prosperity, we have not a single great original scientific thought from a Roman.
Though so much nearer in time medieval medicine seems much farther away from us than is Greek medicine. Most of us are quite sure that the impression of distance is due to its almost total lack of significance. It is with the idea of showing that the medieval generations, as far as was possible in their conditions, not only preserved the old Greek medicine for us in spite of the most untoward circumstances, but also tried to do whatever they could for its development, and actually did much more than is usually thought, that this story of " OldTime Makers of Medicine" is written. It represents a period—that of the Middle Ages—that is, or was until recently, probably more misunderstood than any other in human history. The purpose of the book is to show at least the important headlands that lie along the stream of medical thought during the somewhat more than a thousand years from the fall of the Roman Empire under Augustulus (476) until the discovery of America. After that comes modern medicine, for with the sixteenth century the names and achievements of the workers in medicine are familiar—Paracelsus, Vesalius, Columbus, Servetus, Caesalpinus, Eustachius, Varolius, Sylvius are men whose names are attached to great discoveries with which even those who are without any pretence to knowledge of medical history are not unacquainted. In spite of nearly four centuries of distance in time these men seem very close to us. Their lives will be reserved for a subsequent volume, "Our Forefathers in Medicine."
It is usually the custom to contemn the Middle Ages for their lack of interest in culture, in education, in literature, in a word, in intellectual accomplishment of any and every kind, but especially in science. There is no doubt about the occurrence of marked decadence in the intellectual life of the first half of this period. This has sometimes been attributed to what has been called the inhibitory effect of Christianity on worldly interests. Religion is said to have occupied people so much with thoughts of the other world that the beauties and wonders, as well as much of the significance, of the world around them were missed. Those who talk thus, however, forget entirely the circumstances which brought about the serious decadence of interest in culture and science at this time. The Roman Empire had been the guardian of letters and education and science. While the Romans were not original in themselves, at least they had shown intense interest in what was accomplished by the Greeks and their imitation had often risen to heights that made them worthy of consideration for themselves. They were liberal patrons of Greek art and of Greek literature, and did not neglect Greek science and Greek medicine. Galen's influence was due much more to the prominence secured by him as the result of his stay in Rome than would have been possible had he stayed in Asia. There are many other examples of Roman patronage of literature and science that might be mentioned. As we shall see, Rome drained Greece and Asia Minor of their best, and appropriated to herself the genius products of the Spanish Peninsula. Rome had a way of absorbing what was best in the provinces for herself.
Just as soon as Rome was cut off from intimate relations with the provinces by the inwandering of barbarians, intellectual decadence began. The imperial city itself had never been the source of great intellectual achievement, and the men whom we think of as important contributors to Rome's literature and philosophy were usually not born within the confines of the city. It is surprising to take a list of the names of the Latin writers whom we are accustomed to set down simply as Romans and note their birthplaces. Rome herself gave birth to but a very small percentage of them. Virgil was born at Mantua, Cicero at Arpinum, Horace out on the Sabine farm, the Plinys out of the city, Terence in Africa, Persius up in Central Italy somewhere, Livy at Padua, Martial, Quintilian, the Senecas, and Lucan in Spain. When the government of the city ceased to be such as assured opportunity for those from outside who wanted to make their way, decadence came to Roman literature. Large cities have never in history been the fruitful mothers of men who did great things. Genius, and even talent, has always been born out of the cities in which it did its work. It is easy to understand, then, the decadence of the intellectual life that took place as the Empire degenerated.
For the sake of all that it meant in the Roman Empire to look towards Rome at this time, however, it seemed better to the early Christians to establish the centre of their jurisdiction there. Necessarily, then, in all that related to the purely intellectual life, they came under the influences that were at work at Rome at this time. During the first centuries they suffered besides from the persecutions directed against them by the Emperors at various times, and these effectually prevented any external manifestations of the intellectual life on the part of Christians. It took much to overcome this serious handicap, but noteworthy progress was made in spite of obstacles, and by the time of Constantine many important officials of the Empire, the educated thinking classes of Rome, had become Christians. After the conversion of the Emperor opportunities began to be afforded, but political disturbances consequent upon barbarian influences still further weakened the old civilization until much of the intellectual life of it almost disappeared.
Gradually the barbarians, finding the Roman Empire decadent, crept in on it, and though much more of the invasion was peaceful than we have been accustomed to think, the Romans simply disappearing because family life had been destroyed, children had become infrequent, and divorce had become extremely common, it was not long before they replaced the Romans almost entirely. These new peoples had no heritage of culture, no interest in the intellectual life, no traditions of literature or science, and they had to be gradually lifted up out of their barbarism. This was the task that Christianity had to perform. That it succeeded in accomplishing it is one of the marvels of history.
The Church's first grave duty was the preservation of the old records of literature and of science. Fortunately the monasteries accomplished this task, which would have been extremely perilous for the precious treasures involved but for the favorable conditions thus afforded. Libraries up to this time were situated mainly in cities, and were subject to all the vicissitudes of fire and war and other modes of destruction that came to cities in this disturbed period. Monasteries, however, were usually situated in the country, were built very substantially and very simply, and the life in them formed the best possible safeguard against fire, which worked so much havoc in cities. As we shall see, however, not only were the old records preserved, but excerpts from them were collated and discussed and applied by means of direct observation. This led the generations to realize more and more the value of the old Greek medicine and made them take further precautions for its preservation.
The decadence of the early Middle Ages was due to the natural shifting of masses of population of this time, while the salvation of scientific and literary traditions was due to the one stable element in all these centuries—the Church. Far from Christianity inhibiting culture, it was the most important factor for its preservation, and it provided the best stimulus and incentive for its renewed development just as soon as the barbarous peoples were brought to a state of mind to appreciate it.
Bearing this in mind, it is easier to understand the course of medical traditions through the Middle Ages, and especially in the earlier period, with re