Monday, April 14, 2008

Collina, a healer of her time

In The Gladiator’s Woman, Collina is hired on as a healer at a gladiator school which is where she meets Scipio, her handsome gladiator. Medicine was one of the few professions open to women.

The ancient Romans had a veritable arsenal of herbal and other weapons against illness and disease. A few may have worked but countless others were probably no better than placebos which worked because people believed they worked and not because of any particular inherent value. Some of these so-called remedies included animal dung, human fat, and urine. Clearly the potion that Collina offers the gladiators could have been worse!

After the games, the gladiators’ injuries would have been bandaged after being salved with wine, vinegar, pitch or turpentine, all of which were valued for their infection-fighting abilities.

Collina is half-Roman and half-Aethiopian (most blacks were called Aethiops back then) but many healers were actually Greek. It was really the ancient Greeks who improved the state of medicine in Rome by cutting out many of the old superstitions and quack remedies. In gratitude, Julius Caesar offered Roman citizenship to all foreign-born doctors. Asclepiades was the first of the Greeks to gain fame for his ability to heal. He emphasized a good diet, fresh air, exercise, regular baths and massage – advice that is as appropriate now as it was then!

Galen, perhaps the most famous of Greek doctors, learnt his trade attending to gladiators!

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