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

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

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

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


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."


From September 2000 to June 2001, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Wassenaar (NIAS), hosted a group of scholars, Assyriologists, Classicists, and historians of medicine. Fellows in residence and members of the theme group were: Philip van der Eijk (University of Newcastle upon Tyne), Mark Geller (University College, London), Ann Hanson (Yale University), Manfred Horstmanshoff (Universiteit Leiden), Helen King (University of Reading), Catrien Santing (Nederlands Instituut te Rome/Rijksuniversiteit Groningen), Marten Stol (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Teun Tieleman (Universiteit Utrecht). Louise Cilliers (University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa) joined us for some time, as a visiting scholar. Two medical doctors with wide historical and philological interest, Freek Rijkels and Frans Schlesinger, took part in our meetings and contributed on medical matters. The Fellows owe them heartfelt thanks which are herewith acknowledged. As is self-evident, only part of the work done by the members of the theme group during their stay at NIAS is published in this volume.

The collaborative research focused on the comparison between Babylonian and Greek medicine, attempting to discover the ratio- nales in both systems and looking for similarities and differences. To this end, the group came together in sessions, every fortnight, study- ing important topics of common interest: anatomy, internal diseases (particularly of the heart and the lungs), urology, gynaecology, fevers, etc. The earliest sections of the Hippocratic corpus were compared with Babylonian medical texts, with some surprising results: there seemed to be common attitudes and techniques.

At the end of the year, a conference was organised on 22–23 June 2001, “Rethinking the history of medicine: 'rationality' and 'magic' in Babylonia and the Graeco-Roman world”. Members of the group read papers reflecting the results of their research in the NIAS, and ten speakers were invited: Classicists, a medical historian, an Egyptologist, and several Assyriologists.

Most of these papers are published in this book. Two more were added: one by Robert Arnott (University of Birmingham) and one . . .

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