Rufus of Ephesus

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Rufus of Ephesus
Bornc. 70 AD
Diedc. 110 AD
Ouvres, 1879

Rufus of Ephesus (Greek: Ῥοῦφος ὁ Ἐφέσιος, fl. late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD) was a Greek physician and author who wrote treatises on dietetics, pathology, anatomy, and patient care. He was to some extent a follower of Hippocrates, although he at times criticized or departed from that author's teachings. His writings dealt with subjects often neglected by other authors, such as the treatment of slaves and the elderly. Some of his works survive to this day. He was particularly influential in the East, and some of his works survive only in Arabic. His teachings emphasized the importance of anatomy, and sought pragmatic approaches to diagnosis and treatment.


Little is known about Rufus's life. According to the Suda,[1] he lived in the time of Trajan (98-117), which is probably correct, as Rufus quotes Zeuxis[2] and Dioscorides,[3] and is himself quoted by Galen. He probably studied at Alexandria, for he makes personal comments about the citizenry's general health and specific diseases. He then established himself at Ephesus, which was a center of the medical profession.


He wrote several medical works, some of which survive. The principal one is entitled On the Names of the Parts of the Human Body. The work contains valuable information about the state of anatomical science before the time of Galen. Rufus considered the spleen to be absolutely useless. He intimated that the recurrent nerves were then recently discovered, saying "The ancients called the arteries of the neck carotid, because they believed that when they were pressed hard, the animal became sleepy and lost its voice; but in our age it has been discovered that this accident does not proceed from pressing upon these arteries, but upon the nerves contiguous to them." He showed that the nerves proceed from the brain, and he divided them into two classes, those of the senses and those of motion. He considered the heart to be the seat of life, and noticed that the left ventricle is smaller and thicker than the right.[4]

The names of nearly one hundred works have been preserved by Galen, the Suda, and especially by Arabic writers, who appear to have translated almost all of them into Arabic. Ibn al-Nadim mentioned his few works, while Husaibia mentioned 58 books by Rufus of Ephesus. Most of his works have been lost. His surviving works include:[5][6]

  • On the Names of the Parts of the Human Body
  • On Diseases of the Bladder and Kidneys (1977 CMG Greek text)
  • On Satyriasis and Gonorrhea
  • Medical Questions
  • On Gout (in Latin)
  • On Nabidh (in Arabic)
  • On Jaundice (in Latin and Arabic)
  • Case histories (in Arabic)

Some of this lost works include:[7]

  • On Ancient Medicine
  • One the Diet of Seafarers
  • On Harmful Drugs
  • On Injuries to the Limbs
  • On Milk

His short treatise Medical Questions, is valuable because its advice on how a doctor can gain information from a patient through questions offers a glimpse into the bedside manner of ancient physicians.[8] Arabic writers have also preserved numerous fragments from his self-help manual For the Layman.[9] Other fragments of his lost works are preserved by Galen, Oribasius, Aëtius, Rhazes, Ibn al-Baitar, etc. Rufus also commentated on some of the works of Hippocrates, and he is said by Galen to have been a diligent student of them,[10] and to have always endeavoured to preserve the ancient readings of the text.[11]

Qusta ibn Luqa translated another treatise, on Nabidh, into Arabic. Ibn Menduria Isfahani also edited ‘Risalah al Nabidh’. Fuat Sezgin[12] stated that a copy of the manuscript ‘Risalah al Nabidh’ is extant at present only in the Library of University of Aleppo. But another copy of this manuscript is also preserved in the Library of Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences. This second copy of the manuscript ‘Risalah al Nabidh’ dated 1745AD was derived from another manuscript dated 1291AD as Qusta ibn Luqa its translator from the original text on Nabidh by Rufus of Ephesus. Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman edited the second copy of the manuscript ‘Risalah al Nabidh’ dated 1745AD with translation and detailed commentary.[13]


  1. ^ Suda ρ 241
  2. ^ ap. Galen, Comment. in Hippocr. "Prorrhet. I., ii. 58. vol. xvi. p. 636
  3. ^ ap. Mai, Class. Auct. e Vatic. Codic. editi, vol. iv. p. 11
  4. ^ "Rufus Ephesius" entry in Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, page 669. Volume 3. (1869)
  5. ^ John Scarborough, (1993), Roman Medicine to Galen, page 45. ANRW
  6. ^ Robert J. Littman, (1996), Medicine in Alexandria, page 2703. ANRW
  7. ^ Suda ρ 241
  8. ^ Vivian Nutton, (2004), Ancient Medicine, page 209. Routledge
  9. ^ Vivian Nutton, (2004), Ancient Medicine, page 210. Routledge
  10. ^ Galen, Comment. in Hippocr. Epid. VI., i. 10. vol. xvii. pt. i. p. 849
  11. ^ Galen, Comment. in Hippocr. Prorreht. I., ii. 58, vol. xvi. p. 636
  12. ^ Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifttums, Vol 3; page 273
  13. ^ ‘Risalah al Nabidh’ of Rufus by Qusta bin Luqa, Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences, Aligarh, 2007 (ISBN 978-81-901362-7-3)


  • Ludwig Edelstein, and Vivian Nutton, "Rufus of Ephesus", from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth ed. (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-866172-X
  • Vivian Nutton, Ancient Medicine. London, Routledge, 2004.
  • Pormann, Peter E. (ed.). Rufus of Ephesus. On Melancholy. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008, 340 pp.(Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia, 12).