Reinhold F. G. Muller: Ausgewahlte Kleine Schriften zur traditionellen Medizin Sudasiens.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438|
|Issue:||Date: Annual, 2009 Source Volume: 70|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Ausgewahlte Kleine Schriften zur traditionellen Medizin Sudasiens (Essay collection)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Muller, Reinhold F.G.; Das, Rahul Peter|
Reinhold F. G. Muller: Ausgewahlte Kleine Schriften zur
traditionellen Medizin Sudasiens. Herausgegeben von Rahul Peter Das.
Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008. ISBN: 978-3-447-05637-3.
The medical historian and Sanskritist Reinhold Friedrich Gustav Muller (1882-1966) wrote prolifically on various aspects of South Asian medicine. His work, published almost exclusively in German, includes seven monographs and a great number of essays and review articles. Though Muller's work was criticised by contemporary philologists, there is no doubt that Muller was regarded as the foremost expert on South Asian medicine in German medical circles in his times. His writings, which cover a wide range of topics, continue to be of interest and importance to any serious researcher of South Asian medicine today.
In the present volume, Rahul Peter Das has painstakingly compiled a bibliography of Muller's works, supplementing Robert Zaunick's bibliography (Clio medica 1.1965: 359-366) with material from the archive of Muller's private library in the university library of Sachsen-Anhalt in Halle. Das notes that despite careful research he cannot be sure that his bibliography is comprehensive. Even as it is, it comprises nearly 500 items, the greatest number of which are listed as review articles (though among the latter we find a list of Muller's own publications which seems misplaced). With very few exceptions, Muller's essays concern aspects of South Asian medicine. His review articles, on the other hand, though also primarily focussed on medicine, cover a wider range of indological topics. Muller mostly wrote for a medical audience (historians and practitioners): many of his articles appeared in medical periodicals and medical history journals (for example, Janus and Sudhoffs Archiv fur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschafteri).
Out of this collection, Das has selected thirty-eight essays, and seven review articles. Das' selection of essays, the criteria for which he does not discuss, reflects to some extent his own research interests in the area of gynecology and obstetrics: seven of the chosen articles deal with these topics, giving somewhat more prominence to them than is reflected by the total number of essays (i.e., ca. eleven) that Muller devoted to them. However, the rest of the selection gives a good idea of Muller's range of interests. Here, we find essays on the textual history of South Asian medicine, on its theoretical foundations, as well as examples of its practices, especially surgical ones. Muller seems to have been particularly interested in the ancient Indian understanding of human anatomy, and dedicated a number of articles to the early South Asian authors' exploration of inner organs and their functions. These are perhaps among the more important articles by Muller, and Das has chosen a good number of them for the collected papers. They include an overview of ancient Indian concepts of organs (211-246, and also 199-211), articles on the heart (252-257, and 270-303), and on whether the ancient Indians knew of the lungs (463474). Some essays discuss specific disease types, such as urinary disease (116-158), the pox (303-315), "asthma" (482-488), and worms (559-567). The selected essays on medical practice concern intestinal surgery (315-322), caesarians (357-360), bone-setting (360-376), urological surgery (376-378), catheterisation (524-535), and amputation (556-559).
In keeping with the title of the volume, the reviews that Das selected for this volume all concern publications about aspects of South Asian medicine. These short summaries and evaluations of the reviewed publications are mostly of historical interest.
As Das notes in the foreword, Muller's essays are a somewhat difficult read due to his obscure use of language. This makes his writings rather inaccessible to all but very fluent readers of German, and even then, some doubts may remain as to what the author meant in some cases. This problem is not solved in the present volume, since the compiler unfortunately gives no synopses or analyses of the chosen essays. Many of the criticisms levelled at Muller's work by his contemporaries regarding his knowledge of Sanskrit and his use of contested theories are valid and render some of his conclusions doubtful. Also, as can be expected from research that is fifty to eighty years old, some of Muller's work is simply out of date. For example, his discussions of textual transmission of the classical Sanskrit medical treatises have been superseded, most recently by Jan Meulenbeld's landmark publication History of Indian Medical Literature. Nevertheless, Muller's careful studies, which were always based on a very close and thoughtful reading of the ancient Indian medical texts in the original Sanskrit language, often explored foundational themes in South Asian medicine. Das rightly points out that Muller's approach to interpreting the ancient medical texts was pathbreaking in that he was very careful to interpret the precepts of medicine from the perspective presented in the ancient medical treatises rather than from that of other traditional disciplines. He also did not project modern medical terminology onto ancient Indian medical concepts. This methodology gives Muller's work lasting value.
Kleine Schriften reproduces Muller's articles as they appeared in the original publications, so that the reader is confronted with a number of different typefaces that also vary in size. This at times makes for uncomfortable reading, as the font size is in some instances extremely small (as for example, in the article on "asthma" in pages 482-487, or in the one on mental illnesses in 569-577). On the other hand, the quality of reproduction is very high in this beautifully produced volume, so that the reading of the small print remains possible.
The book finishes with a list of corrigenda, a topical index, a word index, and an index locorum. Given that all the articles have been photographically reproduced, and therefore have not been edited by the compiler, it is somewhat puzzling to find a list of corrigenda. The compiler, Das, gives these corrigenda the subtitle "Typographical mistakes that were noticed" ("Druckfehler, die auffielen", cf. page 591). This begs the question of how systematic and comprehensive these corrections are, and whether they are meant to stand in lieu of the process of editing which the essays would have gone through had they been newly typeset.
As random as they may be, however, the corrigenda are certainly useful to anyone attempting to use Midler's work for further research, as Das has spotted and rectified many mistakes in Muller's references to his primary and secondary sources.
The topical index is an extremely diligent piece of work that will be useful for a wide, non-specialist audience, while the word index is aimed more specifically at Sanskritists (though it also includes a number of terms in other languages, such as Old Persian, Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Latin and Tibetan, and other Indian languages.) The index locorum, finally, gives a good idea of which text sources Muller was mainly dealing with. A great amount of work has obviously gone into this index, which does not reproduce references given by Muller in his essays, but identifies and lists relevant passages that Muller refers to but does not specifically identify.
In conclusion, the collected papers of Reinhold Muller are useful to any researcher of the history of medicine in South Asia for two reasons: The first is that Muller's work gives insight into a number of aspects of South Asian medicine, some of which have not been reworked or reinterpreted since. The second is that Muller himself and his work are part of the history of Indian medicine. The topics he examined, the questions he raised and the answers he found reflect the history of ideas within the then emerging field of medical history. The main flaw of the volume, as I see it, is that although it brings together an otherwise quite scattered oeuvre, it does not open Muller's work to a wider, i.e., non-German speaking audience. Finally, I would have liked Das to explain his choice of selection and would also have welcomed a discussion of the presented essays.
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