On The Natural Faculties

On the Natural Faculties - Galen As I proceeded through the pages about urine, bile and digestion, I had difficulty understanding why Galen was included in Britannica’s Great Books list. Then I came to this passage near the end:
While, however, the statements which the Ancients made on these points were correct, they yet omitted to defend their arguments with logical proofs; of course they never suspected that there could be sophists so shameless as to try to contradict obvious facts. More recent physicians, again, have been partly conquered by the sophistries of these fellows and have given credence to them; whilst others who attempted to argue with them appear to me to lack to a great extent the power of the Ancients. For this reason I have attempted to put together my arguments in the way in which it seems to me the Ancients, had any of them been still alive, would have done, in opposition to those who would overturn the finest doctrines of our art.

I am not, however, unaware that I shall achieve either nothing at all or else very little. For I find that a great many things which have been conclusively demonstrated by the Ancients are unintelligible to the bulk of the Moderns owing to their ignorance- nay, that, by reason of their laziness, they will not even make an attempt to comprehend them; and even if any of them have understood them, they have not given them impartial examination.

The fact is that he whose purpose is to know anything better than the multitude do must far surpass all others both as regards his nature and his early training. And when he reaches early adolescence he must become possessed with an ardent love for truth, like one inspired; neither day nor night may he cease to urge and strain himself in order to learn thoroughly all that has been said by the most illustrious of the Ancients. And when he has learnt this, then for a prolonged period he must test and prove it, observing what part of it is in agreement, and what in disagreement with obvious fact; thus he will choose this and turn away from that. To such an one my hope has been that my treatise would prove of the very greatest assistance.... Still, such people may be expected to be quite few in number, while, as for the others, this book will be as superfluous to them as a tale told to an ass. pgs.75-76
After some outside research (i.e. Wikipedia and Google), it became apparent that Galen was the authority on medicine until the Renaissance. His authoritative claims went unchallenged for over a millennia.

Galen does not hide his contempt for his contemporaries who classify themselves as “Erasistrateans” or “Asclepiadeans.” Galen considered himself beyond such labels and dedicated himself to critical analysis. He suffers no fools as he haughtily dismisses the theories that fail to survive his experimentation and logical conclusions. A true empiricist, he devotes himself to questioning all theories and constructing medical proofs while simultaneously reverently referring to his predecessors whom he deemed worthy- especially Hippocrates and Aristotle.

Though Galen’s importance in medical history is probably not much debated, the actual work itself yields little to anyone today except medical historians. Galen was referring to his contemporaries in the above quote but, sadly, On the Natural Faculties is not a timeless work and, to myself and most readers, will truly be as “superfluous… as a tale told to an ass.”