Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 453–471 | Cite as

Enchanted nature, dissected nature: the case of Galen’s anatomical theology

  • Kimbell KornuEmail author


Through the historical portrait of Galen, I argue that even an enchanted nature does not prevent the performance of violence against nature. Galen (129–c. 216 CE), the great physician-philosopher of antiquity, is best known for his systematization and innovation of the Hippocratic medical tradition, whose thought was the reigning medical orthodoxy from the medieval period into the Renaissance. His works on anatomy were the standard that Vesalius’ works on anatomy overturned. What is less known about Galen’s study of anatomy, however, is its philosophical and theological edge. In this paper, I show that it is precisely because nature is enchanted that Galen undertakes the grisly practices of anatomical dissection and vivisection, which entail violence against nature. First, I illustrate the violent character of Galen’s anatomical experiments. Second, I elucidate Galen’s anatomical methodology as a form of philosophizing and theologizing with a scalpel. Third, I explicate the importance of the demonstration of divine teleology that anatomical dissection reveals. Fourth, I sketch how anatomical dissection as a way of knowing nature and God becomes a kind of anatomical, liturgical theology. I conclude that, at least for Galen, an enchanted nature is not in itself exempt from violence.


Galen Max Weber Anatomical dissection Liturgy Enchantment Medicine 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care EthicsSaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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