Nothing for certain is known about the life of Aulus Cornelius Celsus. Pliny the Elder’s reference to his works in the Historia Naturalis (written 77 CE) provides the terminus ante quem for his life, and therefore his floruit is thought to be during the reign of Tiberius.
Celsus was an encyclopedist who compiled the world’s knowledge into a seven volume set, covering agriculture, medicine, military strategy and warfare, rhetoric, philosophy, and jurisprudence.
The only volume to survive in full is the one on medicine, De Medicina. The work is divided into eight books and an introduction:
- The introduction (prooemium) gives an overview of the history of medicine as well as the two chief schools of thought, the rationalists and the empiricists;
- Book I covers good health on a basic level, including eating right and exercising;
- Book II goes into the various causes of diseases;
- Book III follows up in giving treatments for the aforementioned diseases;
- Book IV focuses on diseases of particular parts of the body, which he contrasts with those of book III that focus on the body as a whole;
- Book V provides an overview of medication and what diseases it treats.
- Book VI discusses various external ailments, such as hair loss or tooth ache;
- Book VII treats the topic of surgery (χειρουργία in Greek);
- Book VIII finally closes with a description of the skeletal system.
Of the rest of the Historia Naturalis, only a few fragments from the volumes on agriculture (De Agri Cultura) and rhetoric (De Rhetorica) have survived.