[Aretaeus of Cappadocia (2nd century AD) and the earliest neurological descriptions]

Rev Neurol. 2009 Mar;48(6):322-7.
[Article in Spanish]


Introduction and development: Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who was possibly a contemporary of Galen, is considered to have been one of the best clinical physicians of the Ancient World. Nothing is known of his biography, except for constant references to his probable place of birth, Cappadocia. His Extant Works, one of the most important and influential treaties on Greco-Roman medicine, has survived to our days (although it is incomplete). It consists of eight books, in which he gives an orderly and precise account of the aetiology, symptomatology and therapeutics of acute and chronic diseases. Several chapters, possibly devoted to neurological matters (phrenitis, lethargy, wasting and apoplexy), are missing from Book I. Book III includes matters such as headaches, scotoma, epilepsy, melancholy, madness and paralysis.

Conclusions: Aretaeus has always stood out for his capacity for observation as well as the thoroughness of his nosographic descriptions, which in many cases, like migraine or epilepsy, has led to his accounts being considered as seminal works. As the leading representative of the pneumatic school as far as aetiology is concerned, Aretaeus added a fifth element to the classical Greek stoichiology, pneuma (spirit), which permeates everything and, when altered, gives rise to diseases.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Books
  • Greece, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Neurology / history*