Aulus Cornelius Celsus Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)
0111200169-Celsus_Aulus.jpg Aulus Cornelius Celsus (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.


Nothing is known about the life of Aulus Cornelius Celsus (AW-luhs kohr-NEEL-ee-uhs SEHL-suhs) except that he wrote a number of scientific and scholarly treatises in Latin during the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14-37 c.e.). The subject matter of these works was far-reaching and included rhetoric, law, and philosophy as well as agriculture, military science, and medicine. Except for a few fragments, the only surviving work is his treatise on medicine, De medicina (c. 30 c.e.; The Eight Books of Medicine, 1830; better known as De Medicina, 1935-1938). Whether the scholar Celsus was also a practicing physician is disputed.

Celsus’s eight books on medicine are arranged according to types of treatment (such as diet, drugs, and surgery) and include a brief but important history of Greco-Roman medicine. Celsus’s descriptions of conditions such as inflammation, insanity, and heart disease are remarkably accurate. Also noteworthy is his emphasis on cleanliness in the treatment of wounds and the use of antiseptics.


Although Celsus’s medical work was not well known in antiquity, its rediscovery by Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455) marked an important stage in the development of modern medicine, and his writing style was often imitated by Renaissance admirers.

Further Reading:

Allbutt, Sir Thomas C. Greek Medicine in Rome: The Fitzpatrick Lectures on the History of Medicine Delivered at...

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Aulus Cornelius Celsus Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Roman medical writer{$I[g]Roman Empire;Aulus Cornelius Celsus[Celsus]} Celsus wrote the first complete history of medicine and the first comprehensive account of medical and surgical procedures.

Early Life

Aulus Cornelius Celsus (SEHL-suhs) probably lived during the Augustan Age and the reign of Tiberius. He is thought to have been a member of the patrician family of Cornelius. Patricians were the ruling class of Rome, nobles of wealth and influence, and they considered the practice of medicine beneath their dignity. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that Celsus was a practicing physician. Still, some knowledge of medicine was customary among the educated men of Rome. The head of the household usually practiced domestic medicine on the family, slaves, and livestock. Celsus may have followed this custom.

He was an avid reader and certainly knew both Greek and Latin. Records for the years 25 and 26 c.e. clearly indicate that he lived in Rome. Quintilian, the Roman rhetorician and critic, and Gaius Pliny, or Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist and writer, mention Celsus with considerable praise. Celsus was never referred to as a physician, only as an author or compiler. His literary interests were apparently comprehensive in scope and resulted in an encyclopedia called De artibus (25-35 c.e.). There is no clear idea of the contents and arrangement of De artibus. It is certain, however, that there were five books on agriculture and also sections of unknown length on military science, rhetoric, history, philosophy, government, and law.

The only portion of this encyclopedia to survive is De medicina (c. 30 c.e.; The Eight Books of Medicine, 1830; better known as De medicina, 1935-1938). It was a compilation from various sources such as Hippocrates’ Corpus Hippocraticum (written during the fifth century b.c.e.) and from the lost works of Asclepiades of Bithynia, Heracleides Ponticus, Erasistratus, and others.

Life’s Work

De medicina was intended primarily for practitioners. Celsus set down a guiding principle for physicians in any age: that an accurate diagnosis must precede treatment. Celsus noted the errors of both Empiricists and Methodists. He rejected the inflexible doctrines of the Empiricists, who advocated the use of drugs, and the Methodists, who stressed diet and exercise. He was influenced by Asclepiades, who established Greek medicine in Rome, and adopted many of the physiological concepts of the Alexandrian school.

The introduction to De medicina constitutes a first attempt at a history of medicine and includes references to eighty medical authors, some of whom are known only through this book. Celsus gave an account of the Alexandrian school, the part played by Hippocrates, and the contributions of Asclepiades.

The book, actually eight books in one, is divided into three parts. Section 1 contains a general introduction on the efficacy of diet and hygiene. Two main chapters consider the subject of general and local diseases governed by diet. Section 2 considers diseases treated with drugs. Discussed at length are different remedies, divided into various groups according to their effects: purgatives, diaphoretics, diuretics, emetics, and narcotics. There is also an examination of those diseases that require immediate treatment, diseases presenting acute or chronic manifestations, accidental or traumatic manifestations, and diseases with external symptoms. Section 3 is devoted to surgical diseases. One division concentrates on the organs, the other on orthopedics, or bones.

Celsus held strictly to the teachings of Hippocrates concerning pathological concepts and etiology, or the study of the causes of disease. He took into consideration the influence of the seasons, the weather, the patient’s age and constitution, and any sudden weight changes, increases and decreases.

Diseases of the stomach are considered at length. Treatment generally consisted of diet, massage, and baths. Celsus believed that it was better to keep the bowels open by diet rather than by purgatives. Where diarrhea and fever existed, fast was the prescription. Celsus believed in the doctrine of critical days for diseases, that is, the disease’s peak within a certain number of days, after which the patient would begin to recover.

In De medicina, Celsus addressed pneumonia, arthritis, dysentery, tonsilitis, cancer, kidney and liver diseases,...

(The entire section is 1874 words.)