A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Τραλλιανός), one of the most eminent of the ancient physicians, was born at Tralles, a city of Lydia, from whence he derives his name. His date may safely be put in the sixth century after Christ, for he mentions Aetius (12.8, p. 346), who probably did not write till the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, and he is himself quoted by Paulus Aegineta (3.28, 78, 7.5, 11, 19, pp. 447, 495, 650, 660, 687), who is supposed to have lived in the seventh; besides which, he is mentioned as a contemporaryby Agathias (Hist. v. p. 149), who set about writing his History in the beginning of the reign of Justin the younger, about A. D. 565. He had the advantage of being brought up under his father, Stephanus, who was himself a physician (4.1,

p. 198), and also under another person, whose name he does not mention, but to whose son Cosmas he dedicates his chief work (xii. i. p. 313), which he wrote out of gratitude at his request. He was a man of an extensive practice, of a very long experience, and of great reputation, not only at Rome, but wherever he travelled in Spain, Gaul, and Italy (1.15, pp. 156, 157), whence he was called by way of eminence " Alexander the Physician." Agathias speaks also with great praise of his four brothers, Anthemius, Dioscorus, Metrodorus, and Olympius, who were all eminent in their several professions. Alexander is not a mere compiler, like Aetius, Oribasius, and others, but is an author of quite a different stamp, and has more the air of an original writer. He wrote his great work (as he tells us himself, 12.1, p. 313)in an extreme old age, from the results of his own experience, when he could no longer bear the fatigue of practice. His style in the main, says Freind, is very good, short, clear, and (to use his own term, 12.1, p. 313) consisting of common expressions; and though (through a mixture of some foreign words occasioned perhaps by his travels) not always perfectly elegant, yet very expressive and intelligible. Fabricius considers Alexander to have belonged to the sect of the Methodici, but in the opinion of Freind this is not proved sufficiently by the passages adduced. The weakest and most curious part of his practice appears to be his belief in charms and amulets, some of which may be quoted as specimens. For a quotidian ague, " Gather an olive leaf before sun-rise, write on it with common ink κα, ροι, α, and hang it round the neck" (12.7, p. 339); for the gout, " Write on a thin plate of gold, during the waning of the moon, μεί, Δρεύ, μόρ, φόρ, τεύξ, ζά, ζών, Δέ, λού, χρί, γέ, ζέ, ων, and wear it round the ankles; pronouncing also ἰάζ, ἀζύφ, ζύων, Δρεύξ, βαίν, χωώκ" (11.1, p. 313), or else this verse of Homer (Il. β. 95),
Τετρήχει δʼ ἀγορὴ
, ὑπὸ δʼ ἐστοναχίζετο γαῖα, "while the moon is in Libra; but it is much better if she should be in Leo." (Ibid.)In exorcising the gout (ibid. p. 314) he says, " I adjure thee by the great name Ἰαὼ Σαβαώθ," that is, , and a little further on, " I adjure thee by the holy names Ἰαὼ, Σαβαὼθ, Ἀδωναἰ̈, Ἐλω̈ἱ," that is, ; from which he would appear to have been either a Jew or a Christian, and, from his frequently prescribing swine's flesh, it is most probable that he was a Christian.