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Saturday, May 30, 2015

50-400 A.D.? Antyllus describes asthma remedy

Of his writings we have none. Of his life we know nothing. When he lived we know nothing. When and where he practiced medicine we know nothing. Yet we do know he was a physician and surgeon who lived in the 2nd century, and that he wrote about asthma. His name was Antyllus.  

Claudius Galen (130-200 A.D.) diligently collected the works of all medical writers who came before him, yet of Antyllus he wrote nothing. So if he lived before Galen as some speculate, one might wonder why Galen ignored him. So another theory is he lived after Galen.

For preserving the ideas of this surgeon we owe thanks to Oribasius of Pergamus (320-403 A.D.). He quoted many medical authorities prior to his time, including the works of physicians we would otherwise know nothing of, such as Antyllus. (5, page 129)

Some speculate he lived as late as the Roman Emporor Velerium who ruled Rome from 260-264 A.D. (1, page 129, (3, page 11). Still others speculate he lived as late as the fourth century. (2, page 124-5)
Regardless, he must have held a reputable reputation in the medical community because he was written about by many authors, including Oribasius, Aetius, Rhazes and Paulus Aegineta. Oribasis was the first to write about him, so this used as a baseline for dating his life. (2, page 125)

What he did for the medical community we can gather some hints. Aegineta was the first to mention a technique for performing the operation of tracheotomy, and credits Antyllus for educating him on the best method of doing this. (2, page 124)

He's also credited as being among the first to describe a method of surgically treating aneurysms. Overall, his "works seem to be useful and interesting, as it contains some of the most valuable surgical observations that have come down to us from antiquity." (2, page 124)

Regarding asthma we have gathered some knowledge from Antyllus, and for this we are thankful to John Watson for bringing this knowledge to us in his book, "Medical Profession in Ancient Times," as noted here:
He treated humid asthma with suffumigations, placing the patient in such a position as readily to inhale the fumes from particles of aristolochia (treats edema) or clematis (mild diuretic) previously sprinkled over burning coals in a chaffing-dish or brasier. (4, page 129)
So if you had asthma an Antyllus, or one of his followers, was your doctor, this is what you might expect as your treatment.

  1. Watson, John, "Medical profession in ancient times: an anniversary discourse delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine November 7, 1855," 1856, pages 128-129
  2. "Biographical Dictionary of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge," Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, volume III, 1843, A. Spottingwood, London
  3. Peters, John C., "On Sects in Medicine read before the Medico-Legal Slociety of New York, 1870," 1874, New York, J.R. McDivitt, Law Publisher
  4. Watson, John, op cit, see page 129, and also see reference 3 above (Peters, John C., page 11)
  5. Withington, Edward, "Medical History from it's earliest times," 1894
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