Ancient Medical Text Describes “Bizarre” Theory on Hysteria

Roman physician's work remained hidden in a university for centuries

Image Credits: Jeff Dahl / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

An unreadable wad of ancient papyrus remained tucked away in a Swiss university’s collection for nearly 400 years. Conservators have now peeled the pages apart, deciphering the 2,000-year-old text for the first time.

The message? A previously unknown text describing a bizarre theory on hysteria by the Greco-Roman physician Galen (A.D. 130 –210), whose ideas about anatomy and medicine dominated Western science until the Middle Ages.

“We can now say that it’s a medical text from late antiquity that describes the phenomenon of ‘hysterical apnea,’” Sabine Huebner, a professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, explained in an announcement of the find. “We therefore assume that it is either a text from the Roman physician Galen, or an unknown commentary on his work.”

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