Pneumatic school

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The Pneumatic school of medicine (Pneumatics, or Pneumatici, Greek: Πνευματικοί) was an ancient school of medicine in ancient Greece and Rome. They were founded in Rome by Athenaeus of Cilicia, in the 1st century AD.

The Roman era was a time when the Methodic school had enjoyed its greatest reputation, from which the Pneumatic school differed principally in that, instead of the mixture of primitive atoms, they adopted an active principle of immaterial nature, pneuma, or spirit. This principle was the cause of health and disease. It is from Galen that we learn the doctrines of the founder of the Pneumatic school.


Plato and Aristotle had already laid the foundations of the doctrine of pneuma, for which, Aristotle was the first to describe the ways in which the pneuma is introduced into the body and the sanguineous system. The Stoics developed the theory even more and applied it to the functions of the body. Erasistratus and his successors had made the pneuma act a great part in health and disease. Thus, the theory of the pneuma was not a new one. The Methodic school, however, appears to have done away with much of the theory. The Pneumatic school, in choosing to oppose the Methodic school, adopted a firmly established principle, and chose the pneuma principle of the Stoics.[1]

They thought that logic was indispensable to medicine, and Galen tells us that the Pneumatic school would rather have betrayed their country than renounce their opinions.[2] Athenaeus had also adopted much of the doctrines of the Peripatetics,[3] and besides the doctrine of the pneuma, he developed the theory of the elements much more than the Methodic school had done. He recognised in the four elements the positive qualities (poiotes) of the animal body; but he often regarded them as real substances, and gave to the whole of them the name of Nature of Man.[4] Although the Pneumatici attributed the majority of diseases to the pneuma,[5] they nevertheless paid attention to the mixture of the elements. The union of heat and moisture was the most suitable for the preservation of health. Heat and dryness give rise to acute diseases, cold and moisture produce phlegmatic affections, cold and dryness give rise to melancholy. Everything dries up and becomes cold at the approach of death.[6]


  1. ^ Galen, De Differeat Puls., iii
  2. ^ Galen, De Differeat Puls., ii
  3. ^ Galen, De Semiae, ii
  4. ^ Galen, De Element., i
  5. ^ Pseudo-Galen, Introd.
  6. ^ Galen, De Temperam., i.