Rufus of Ephesus Biography (c. 1st century B.C.-c. 1st century)


Rufus of Ephesus was a renowned Greek physician who wrote numerous medical treatises in such areas as pathology and dietetics. Known primarily for his work in describing anatomy, Rufus's writings on anatomical nomenclature were ofmajor importance to the advancement of medicine. Although not as well known in the annals of medicine as his predecessor Hippocrates (ca. 460-377 B.C.) or Galen (ca. 130-200 A.D.), who followed him, Rufus made important contributions to early medical knowledge and is rightly acclaimed as one of the great physicians of the ancient Greek era.

Little is known about Rufus's life. Although often depicted as living duringthe reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.), he may well have lived during the earlier reigns of Nero (37-68 A.D.) and Vespasian (9-79A.D.). Rufus was a common Roman name that meant "red-blond" in Latin and probably referred to his hair color. Rufus is believed to have been born in Ephesus, where he studied and practiced medicine. He may also havestudied and worked in the ancient cultural center of Alexandria.

Although Rufus's personal life remains a mystery, his professional interestsare well documented. His wide ranging treatises on medicine were preserved bychroniclers such as Paul of Aegina (625-690). At least 96 different medicalworks or sections are attributed to Rufus, who wrote in Greek and sometimes in traditional verse. Characterized by their precise clinical observations andthe even-handed approach to evaluating his own and other physicians' (such as Hippocrates') beliefs and observations, Rufus's writings included On theNaming of the Parts of the Human Body, On Kidney and Bladder Ailments, and On Joint-Diseases.

Rufus gained most of his knowledge of anatomy by dissecting monkeys and pigsand reportedly was displeased that dissection of human corpses was outlawed.He described in detail the lens of the eye and its membrane and the optic chiasma. His work on pulse indicated he understood the difference between diastolic and systolic blood pressure. He accurately described filariasis (a tropical disease in which worms can be found in the blood) and accurately identified the cause of gout as an accumulation of poisons in the body. In one treatise, his keen powers of observation were applied to an epidemic of the plague,including environmental factors, disease symptoms, and treatment of the symptoms.

Rufus also wrote a famous treatise called Questions of the Physician (to the Patients), which stressed the importance of the physician-patient interview as one of the foundations of good medical practice. He wrote: "One mustput questions to the patient, for thereby certain aspects of the disease canbe better understood, and the treatment rendered more effective." Although this approach is standard practice today, many ancient physicians believed that physical signs of disease alone were needed for diagnosis. Rufus also wroteextensively on sexual functioning, such as potency, and claimed that coituswas a remedy against melancholia and depression by helping to calm passions.

Although Rufus is not associated with any specific school of medical thought,he certainly adopted the Hippocratic approach. However, Rufus was often critical of the "father of medicine." Unlike many of his colleagues, who also wrote on philosophy, astronomy, and other disciplines, Rufus wrote solely on medical topics. His medical renown reached as far as Byzantium and Arabia, wherehe was especially esteemed. Galen also respected Rufus, who was said to havetreated all patients with sympathy, whether they were noblemen or slaves. Inthe prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) named Rufus among the great physicians of the past.

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