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[10arg] That those persons are in error who think that in testing for fever the pulse of the veins is felt, and not that of the arteries.

IN the midst of the summer's heat I had withdrawn to the country house of Herodes, a man of senatorial rank, at a place in the territory of Attica which is called Cephisia, abounding in clear waters and groves. There I was confined to my bed by an attack of diarrhoea, accompanied by a high fever. When the philosopher Calvisius Taurus, and some others who were disciples of his, had come there from Athens to visit me, the physician who had been found there and who was sitting by me at the time, began to tell Taurus what discomfort I suffered and with what variations and intervals the fever came and went. Then in the course of the conversation remarking that I was now getting better, he said to Taurus: “You too may satisfy yourself of this, ἐὰν [p. 333] ἅψῃ αὐτοῦ τῆς φλεβός, which in our language certainly leans: si attigeris venam illius; that is, 'if you will put your finger on his vein.'”

The learned men who accompanied Taurus were shocked by this careless language in calling an artery a vein, and looking on him as a physician of little value, showed their opinion by their murmurs and expression. Whereupon Taurus, very mildly, as was his way, said: “We feel sure, my good sir, that you are not unaware of the difference between veins and arteries; that the veins have no power of motion and are examined only for the purpose of drawing off blood, but that the arteries by their motion and pulsation show the condition and degree of fever. But, as I see, you spoke rather in common parlance than through ignorance; for I have heard others, as well as you, erroneously use the term 'vein' for 'artery.' Let us then find that you are more skilled in curing diseases than in the use of language, and with the favour of the gods restore this man to us by your art, sound and well, as soon as possible.”

Afterwards when I recalled this criticism of the physician, I thought that it was shameful, not only for a physician, but for all cultivated and liberally educated men, not to know even such facts pertaining to the knowledge of our bodies as are not deep and recondite, but which nature, for the purpose of maintaining our health, has allowed to be evident and obvious. Therefore I devoted such spare time as I had to dipping into those books on the art of medicine which I thought were suited to instruct me, and from them I seem to have learned, not only many other things which have to do with human experience, but also concerning veins and arteries what I [p. 335] may express as follows: A “vein” is a receptacle, or ἀγγεῖον, as the physicians call it, for blood mingled and combined with vital breath, in which the blood predominates and the breath is less. An “artery” is a receptacle for the vital breath mingled and combined with blood, in which there is more breath and less blood. σφυγμός (pulsation) is the natural and involuntary expansion and contraction in the heart and in the artery. But the ancient Greek physicians defined it thus: “An involuntary dilation or contraction of the pulse and of the heart.”

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load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
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  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), A´TTICA
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