This fine, solid gold medical instrument consists of a long thin handle with a small rounded spoon on one end, with the other tapering to a curved point for use as a probe. Above the spoon is a long row of incised rings carved around the shaft, no doubt to help secure the ancient surgeon’s grip. The scope of the cyathiscomele in medical art is, like the flat spathomele, mainly to mix, measure, and apply medicaments. For pharmaceutical purposes, the spoon was used to remove medicines from their flasks, explaining the many different sizes of the spoon and handle.
The use of gold medical instruments in ancient times is known, but quite rare and in an age where inconsistent or ineffective use of antiseptics and anesthetics made surgery a treatment of last resort, impressive instruments would have inspired much confidence. Early physicians recorded the use of gold instruments for particular treatments: Hippocrates (460 - 370 BCE) binds the teeth together in fracture of the jaw with a gold wire (iii. 174); cf. Paul, VI. xcii. Theodorus Priscianus (4th century CE) recommended a cautery of gold to stop hemorrhage from the throat (Logicus, xxii). Mesue ((circa 777–857) recommends a heated scalpel of gold to excise the tonsil. Avicenna (980 - 1037) lets out the pustules of smallpox with a golden probe. Albucasis (936 - 1013) recommends burning the roots of hairs in trichiasis with a probe of gold, while Avenzoar (1091-1162) speaks of a golden probe for applying salve to the eye and for separating adhesion of the eye to the lid.
For related examples, see Mills, John Stewart (1907) “Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times”, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pg. 60.
Lawrence J. Bliquez, The Tools of Asclepius: Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times. Studies in ancient medicine, 43. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014.
Dimensions: Length: 4 1/2 inches (11.43 cm)
Condition: Intact and in excellent condition, presented on a museum-quality custom mount (shown).
Provenance: Private NYC collection acquired from the NYC trade in 2014.