Above: Achilles tends to an arrow wound on the arm of Patroklos; ink drawing after an Attic kylix (drinking cup) signed by Sosias, ca. 500 BCE.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: The Wellcome Collection. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

The Archaeology of Medicine in the Graeco-Roman World

Patricia A. Baker, 2013

This book teaches students and scholars of Greco-Roman medical history how to use and critically assess archaeological materials. Ancient medicine is a subject dominated by textual sources, yet there is a wealth of archaeological remains that can be used to broaden our understanding of medicine in the past. In order to use the information properly, this book explains how to ask questions of an archaeological nature, how to access different types of archaeological materials, and how to overcome problems the researcher might face. It also acts as an introduction to the archaeology of medicine for archaeologists interested in this aspect of their subject. Although the focus is on the Greco-Roman period, the methods and theories explained within the text can be applied to other periods in history. The areas covered include text as material culture, images, artifacts, spaces of medicine, and science and archaeology.

Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece

Nancy Demand, 1994

Why did Greek society foster social conditions, especially early marriage with its attendant early childbearing, that were known to be dangerous for both mother and child? What were the actual causes of death among women described as dying of childbirth in the Hippocratic Epidemics? Why did families choose to portray labor scenes on tombstones when the Greek commemorative tradition otherwise avoided reference to suffering and illness? In Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece, Nancy Demand offers the first comprehensive exploration of the social and cultural construction of childbirth in ancient Greece. Reading the ancient evidence in light of feminist theory, the Foucauldian notion of discursively constituted objects, medical anthropology, and anthropological studies of the modern Greek village, Demand discusses topics that include midwifery, abortion, attitudes of doctors toward women patients, and the treatment of women generally. For evidence, she relies primarily on the case histories in the Epidemics concerning women with complications in pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth. She also draws relevant details from cure records and dedications from healing sanctuaries, labor scenes depicted on tombstones, Aristophanic comedy, andPlatonic philosophy.

The Eye of the Beholder: Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman World

Robert Garland, 2nd ed. 1995

Garland here offers the first detailed investigation of the plight of those Greeks and Romans who, owing either to deformity or to disability, did not meet their society's exacting criteria for the ideal human form. Drawing on classical drama and poetry, historical works, medical tracts, vase painting and sculpture, mythology, and ethnography, Garland examines the high incidence of disability and deformity among the Greek and Roman population.

This book takes an in-depth look at how the physical body first emerged in the West as both an object of knowledge and a mysterious part of the self. Beginning with Homer, moving through classical-era medical treatises, and closing with studies of early ethical philosophy and Euripidean tragedy, this book rewrites the traditional story of the rise of body-soul dualism in ancient Greece. Brooke Holmes demonstrates that as the body (sôma) became a subject of physical inquiry, it decisively changed ancient Greek ideas about the meaning of suffering, the soul, and human nature. By undertaking a new examination of biological and medical evidence from the sixth through fourth centuries BCE, Holmes argues that it was in large part through changing interpretations of symptoms that people began to perceive the physical body with the senses and the mind. Once attributed primarily to social agents like gods and daemons, symptoms began to be explained by physicians in terms of the physical substances hidden inside the person. Imagining a daemonic space inside the person but largely below the threshold of feeling, these physicians helped to radically transform what it meant for human beings to be vulnerable, and ushered in a new ethics centered on the responsibility of taking care of the self. This work highlights with fresh importance how classical Greek discoveries made possible new and deeply influential ways of thinking about the human subject.

Above: Table of contents from a 14th c. CE manuscript of the Hippocratic Corpus: Vaticanus graecus 277, 11r. Source: Wikipedia. Creator: Medicine Transformed (online Vatican exhibit). License: Public domain.

Right: Paulus Pontius (1603-1658) after Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), engraving: sculpted bust of Hippocrates (1638). Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: The Wellcome Collection. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Magic and Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine

ed. H.F.J. Horstmanshoff & M. Stol, 2004

For the first time, medical systems of the Ancient Near East and the Greek and Roman world are studied side by side and compared. Early medicine in Babylonia, Egypt, the Minoan and Mycenean world; later medicine in Hippocrates, Galen, Aelius Aristides, Vindicianus, the Talmud. The focus is the degree of "rationality" or "irrationality" in the various ways of medical thought and treatment. Fifteen specialists contributed thoughtful and well-documented chapters on important issues.

Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers

Jacques Jouanna, 2012

This volume makes available for the first time in English translation a selection of Jacques Jouanna's papers on medicine in the Graeco-Roman world. The papers cover more than thirty years of Jouanna’s scholarship and range from the early beginnings of Greek medicine to late antiquity. Part One studies the ways in which Greek medicine is related to its historical and cultural background (politics, rhetoric, drama, religion). Part Two studies a number of salient features of Hippocratic medicine, such as dietetics, theories of health and disease and concepts of psychosomatic interaction, in relation to Greek philosophical thought. Part Three studies the reception of Hippocratic medicine, especially medical ethics and the theory of the four humours, in Galen and in late antiquity.

Greek & Roman Medicine

Helen King, 2001

What happened if you fell sick in the classical world? This book looks at beliefs about the inside of the body and its functioning held in Greek and Roman society. It looks at the precarious position of the doctor in a culture where there was no set training and no form of qualification to prove the value of his treatments, and asks how a patient would respond to the different types of healing on offer. It discusses the medical practitioners, their ethical codes, and relationships with other areas of healing, such as religion. As well as covering the ‘big names' of ancient medicine, such as Galen, the book considers the patients' experience, asking whether the drugs used would have worked, and explains how the theories doctors put forward were part of an attempt to account for symptoms and encourage a cure. The final chapters explore the later influence of ancient medicine, and the challenges to its authority posed by modern medicine.

Hippocrates' Woman demonstrates the role of Hippocratic ideas about the female body in the subsequent history of western gynaecology. It examines these ideas not only in the social and cultural context in which they were first produced, but also the ways in which writers up to the Victorian period have appealed to the material in support of their own theories. Among the conflicting tange of images of women given in the Hippocratic corpus existed one tradition of the female body which says it is radically unlike the male body, behaving in different ways and requiring a different set of therapies. This book sets this model within the context of Greek mythology, especially the myth of Pandora and her difference from men, to explore the image of the body as something to be read. Hippocrates' Woman presents an arresting study of the origins of gynaecology, an exploration of how the interior workings of the female body were understood and the influence of Hippocrates' theories on the gynaecology of subsequent ages.

Below: Modern reconstruction of the altar and statue of Asclepius at his temple in Epidaurus. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Creator: The Wellcome Collection. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

The rich civilizations of ancient China and Greece built sciences of comparable sophistication―each based on different foundations of concept, method, and organization. In this engrossing book, two world-renowned scholars compare the cosmology, science, and medicine of China and Greece between 400 B.C. and A.D. 200, casting new light not only on the two civilizations but also on the evolving character of science. Sir Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin investigate the differences between the thinkers in the two civilizations: what motivated them, how they understood the cosmos and the human body, how they were educated, how they made a living, and whom they argued with and why. The authors’ new method integrally compares social, political, and intellectual patterns and connections, demonstrating how all affected and were affected by ideas about cosmology and the physical world. They relate conceptual differences in China and Greece to the diverse ways that intellectuals in the two civilizations earned their living, interacted with fellow inquirers, and were involved with structures of authority. By A.D. 200 the distinctive scientific strengths of both China and Greece showed equal potential for theory and practice. Lloyd and Sivin argue that modern science evolved not out of the Greek tradition alone but from the strengths of China, Greece, India, Islam, and other civilizations, which converged first in the Muslim world and then in Renaissance Europe.

There are few disciplines as exciting and forward-looking as medicine. Unfortunately, however, many modern practitioners have lost sight of the origins of their discipline. A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities aspires to cure this lapse by taking readers back to the early days of Western medicine in ancient Greece and Rome. Quoting the actual words of ancient authors, often from texts which have never before been translated into English, J. C. McKeown offers a fascinating glimpse at the origins of surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, pharmacology, diet and nutrition, and many other fields of medicine. This book features hundreds of passages from Greek and Roman authors, with gentle guidance from McKeown, giving a vividly direct picture of the ancient medical world, a world in which, for example, a surgeon had to be strong-minded enough to ignore the screams of his patient, diseases were assumed to be sent by the gods, medicine and magic were often indistinguishable, and no qualifications were required before setting oneself up as a doctor. On the other hand, McKeown reveals that some ancient medical attitudes were also surprisingly similar to our own. Beyond the practice of medicine, McKeown highlights ancient views on familiar topics, such as medical ethics and the role of the doctor in society. A fascinating exploration of the bizarre - and sometimes grotesque - medical beliefs of the past, A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities will delight anyone with an interest in the history of medicine or the ancient world.

Plague and the Athenian Imagination: Drama, History, and the Cult of Asclepius

Robin Mitchell-Boyask, 2011

The great plague of Athens that began in 430 BCE had an enormous effect on the imagination of its literary artists and on the social imagination of the city as a whole. In this book, Professor Mitchell-Boyask studies the impact of the plague on Athenian tragedy early in the 420s and argues for a significant relationship between drama and the development of the cult of the healing god Asclepius in the next decade, during a period of war and increasing civic strife. The Athenian decision to locate their temple for Asclepius adjacent to the Theater of Dionysus arose from deeper associations between drama, healing and the polis that were engaged actively by the crisis of the plague. The book also considers the representation of the plague in Thucydides' History as well as the metaphors generated by that representation which recur later in the same work.

The Cambridge Companion to Hippocrates

ed. Peter E. Pormann, 2018

Hippocrates is a towering figure in Greek medicine. Dubbed the 'father of medicine', he has inspired generations of physicians over millennia in both the East and West. Despite this, little is known about him, and scholars have long debated his relationship to the works attributed to him in the so-called 'Hippocratic Corpus', although it is undisputed that many of the works within it represent milestones in the development of Western medicine. In this Companion, an international team of authors introduces major themes in Hippocratic studies, ranging from textual criticism and the 'Hippocratic question' to problems such as aetiology, physiology and nosology. Emphasis is given to the afterlife of Hippocrates from Late Antiquity to the modern period. Hippocrates had as much relevance in the fifth-century BC Greek world as in the medieval Islamic world, and he remains with us today in both medical and non-medical contexts.

Above: Marble votive relief depicting a goddess along with mother, nurse, and infant post-partum; this image was likely offered to render thanks for survival of childbirth. Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Left: Statue of Asclepius; Roman, ca. 160 CE; copy of 4th c. BCE Greek original. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: George E. Koronaios. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Designation.

The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece

Martha L. Rose, 2003

Ancient Greek images of disability permeate the Western consciousness: Homer, Teiresias, and Oedipus immediately come to mind. But The Staff of Oedipus looks at disability in the ancient world through the lens of disability studies, and reveals that our interpretations of disability in the ancient world are often skewed. These false assumptions in turn lend weight to modern-day discriminatory attitudes toward disability. Martha L. Rose considers a range of disabilities and the narratives surrounding them. She examines not only ancient literature, but also papyrus, skeletal material, inscriptions, sculpture, and painting, and draws upon modern work, including autobiographies of people with disabilities, medical research, and theoretical work in disability studies. Her study uncovers the realities of daily life for people with disabilities in ancient Greece and challenges the translation of the term adunatos (unable) as "disabled," with all its modern associations.

Professor Scarborough brings together here fourteen of his essays on ancient drugs and pharmacy, dealing with aspects of a pharmacology and medical botany that incorporate magic, astrology, and alchemy, as well as the expected theoretical constructs of elements, qualities, and humors. Clinical application of salves for burns was a skill of long standing, as one essay demonstrates, and another suggests Hippocratic pharmacology's sophistication, as does consideration of the herbal lore in Theophrastus' remarkable Enquiry into Plants. A major concern among Greek, Roman, and Byzantine medical practitioners was toxicology and the fundamental collection of data on poisonous plants and animals, and two studies take up snakes, spiders, insects, and related creatures with suggested antidotes in the difficult poems of Nicander of Colophon, while another focuses on Dioscorides' perceptive analysis of the effects of the opium poppy. Aloe in the drug commerce of the early Roman Empire is considered along with the life and career of Criton, a personal physician to Trajan, and some of Galen's pharmacology as reflected in his commentaries on Hippocrates. The collection concludes with two studies that explicate early Byzantine pharmacology and how garden lore in Byzantine times contributed to practical pharmacy.

A History of the Mind and Mental Health in Classical Greek Medical Thought

Chiara Thumiger, 2017

The Hippocratic texts and other contemporary medical sources have often been overlooked in discussions of ancient psychology. They have been considered to be more mechanical and less detailed than poetic and philosophical representations, as well as later medical texts such as those of Galen. This book does justice to these early medical accounts by demonstrating their richness and sophistication, their many connections with other contemporary cultural products and the indebtedness of later medicine to their observations. In addition, it reads these sources not only as archaeological documents but also in the light of methodological discussions that are fundamental to the histories of psychiatry and psychology. As a result of this approach, the book will be important for scholars of these disciplines as well as those of Greek literature and philosophy, strongly advocating the relevance of ancient ideas to modern debates.

Neurological history claims its earliest origins in the 17th century with Thomas Willis's publication of Anatomy of the Brain, coming fully into fruition as a field in the late 1850s as medical technology and advancements allowed for in depth study of the brain. However, many of the foundations in neurology can find the seed of their beginning to a time much earlier than that, to ancient Greece in fact. Neurological Concepts in Ancient Greek Medicine is a collection of essays exploring neurological ideas between the Archaic and Hellenistic eras. These essays also provide historic, intellectual, and cultural context to ancient Greek medical practice and emphasizing the interest in the brain of the early physicians. This book describes source material that is over 2,500 years old and reveals the observational skills of ancient physicians. It provides complete translations of two historic Hippocratic texts: On the Sacred Diseases and On the Wounds of the Head. The book also discusses the Hippocratic Oath and the modern applications of its meaning. Dr. Walshe connects this ancient history, usually buried in medical histories, and shows the ancient Greek notions that are the precursors of our understanding of the brain and nervous system.

Delving deeply into ancient medical history, Bronwen L. Wickkiser explores the early development and later spread of the cult of Asklepios, one of the most popular healing gods in the ancient Mediterranean. Though Asklepios had been known as a healer since the time of Homer, evidence suggests that large numbers of people began to flock to the cult during the fifth century BCE, just as practitioners of Hippocratic medicine were gaining dominance. Drawing on close readings of period medical texts, literary sources, archaeological evidence, and earlier studies, Wickkiser finds two primary causes for the cult’s ascendance: it filled a gap in the market created by the refusal of Hippocratic physicians to treat difficult chronic ailments and it abetted Athenian political needs. Wickkiser supports these challenging theories with side-by-side examinations of the medical practices at Asklepios' sanctuaries and those espoused in Hippocratic medical treatises. She also explores how Athens' aspirations to empire influenced its decision to open the city to the healer-god's cult. In focusing on the fifth century and by considering the medical, political, and religious dimensions of the cult of Asklepios, Wickkiser presents a complex, nuanced picture of Asklepios' rise in popularity, Athenian society, and ancient Mediterranean culture.

Modern restored elevation view of the temple complex of Asclepius at Epidaurus (Alphonse Defrasse, 1895).
Source/creator: The Wellcome Collection. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.