Magic and Medicine in the Ancient World

Interactions, Convergences and divergences in a Complicated Romance

International Conference, Vitoria-Gasteiz, September 18-19, 2019

In Antiquity, as is still very much the case today, illness and disease could trigger a personal crisis in which a range of emotions from uncertainty and restlessness to hope played a leading role. Given that in such situations plagued with anxiety no one remedy was often enough to put the ill at ease, the suffering often took recourse to all available resources, both terrestrial and supernatural, in order to obtain a longed-for cure. Accordingly, in many times and places medicine has gone hand in hand with magical-religious practices. Indeed, since the effectiveness of medical and therapeutical remedies were largely seen to depend on the favorable intervention of a deity, these two types of procedures were thought to work in tandem to bring about a patient’s recovery.

If medicine is a discipline that seeks to restore an individual’s health through empirical observation and the application of therapeutic remedies, magic purports to influence a patient by supernatural means. Both medicine and magic attempt to act upon the body, where these two forces can either cooperate or, alternatively, vie with one another. Therefore, while magical-religious practices could certainly work in conjunction with medical treatments to cure the body through the use of amulets or apotropaic objects, it is equally true that those same practices could be used to attack the body, bombarding it with all sorts of spells and curses.

The ways in which medicine and magical-religious practices were perceived to work together during Antiquity undoubtedly vary depending on the specific historical and cultural context. In Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt, arcane medical practices, for instance, are characterized by the equally important role played by medical and magical-religious practices. This helps explain why preserved recipes contain spells meant to cure diseases caused by gods or demons. The magical aspects of these diseases, which are clearly seen in the perceived causes and cures of these illnesses, are always accompanied by (presumably) curative ingredients. Despite the undeniable advances in medical knowledge, Greek and Roman societies, for their part, lent enormous importance to supernatural manifestations. Even after the birth of scientific medicine in sixth and fifth-century Greece, the link between magic and medicine did not dissolve. In fact, this link was influenced by new theories about diseases and cures as well as by skepticism towards already accepted theories. Something similar is afoot in Rome: upon its arrival to the urbs in the third century BCE, scientific medicine lived side-by-side with popular medicine, which was strongly influenced by magic, in the contemporary clinical theories that prestigious Greek doctors expounded. By the second century CE, however, Galen denounced the quacks that practiced a type of medicine based in spells. The vehemence of his condemnation betrays the success of this type of medical practice in second-century Rome.

While throughout Antiquity we can trace patterns of interaction and influence between magic and medicine that result from historical cultural idiosyncrasies, we should not run the risk of suggesting that this relationship was static at any point: on the contrary, in any cultural context the relationship between medicine and magic is a fluid one whose limits and borders are often blurred and murky (see, for example, the particularly slippery lexeme φάρμακον, which not only can refer to a ‘poison’ or ‘medicine,’ as Derrida famously argued, but also to a ‘spell’, ‘charm’ or ‘philtre’). The relationship between both forces is undoubtedly an extremely rich and complex one, upon which a range of sources, such as clay tablets, literary and juridical sources, iatromagical papyri and the epigraphic record broadly speaking, shed light.

This workshop seeks to provide an interdisciplinary forum in which new approaches to the relationship between magic and medicine can be discussed and debated. We invite scholars of antiquity (e.g. historians, epigraphers, archaeologists, papyrologists, philologists, cultural theorists and philosophers) who have completed a doctoral dissertation and have a developed academic interest in the topic to submit an abstract on the interaction between magic and medicine in ancient Mediterranean cultures. We are eager to receive proposals that tackle this question from early Mesopotamian cultures and Egypt all the way through Late Antiquity. We welcome scholars working with any type of evidence (literary, archeological, epigraphic, papyrological, etc.).

Those who are interested in participating in the workshop should send an abstract (ca. 250-300 words written in Spanish, English, French or Italian) to magandmed2019@gmail.com. Speakers will be allotted 20 minutes to present their research as well as an additional 10 minutes to field questions. Abstracts should be sent by June 30, 2019. As soon as the organizing committee has reviewed all proposals, speakers will be contacted in July.

Best wishes,

María Ángeles Alonso Alonso.

Juan Santos Yangüas.

Celia Sánchez Natalías.

Ordering Information in Greco-Roman Medicine

Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine and Pharmacy (SAM). SAM is an affiliated group of the Society for Classical Studies.

As knowledge about the body expanded from classical Greece through the imperial period and into late antiquity, so too did the techniques and practices devoted to encoding that knowledge. Physicians, encyclopedists, pharmacologists, and others developed a wide range of strategies to collect, contain, and organize the swelling tide of information, from standardized capite ad calcem anatomical orderings to more specialized organizational schemes. Testimonials to Asclepius, compilations of pharmaceutical recipes, papyri of catechisms for physicians – all sought to configure medical knowledge for divergent ends, whether didactic, therapeutic, or theoretical. Recent studies of books and libraries in the ancient world (e.g. Too 2010, König et al. 2013, Houston 2014) have shown how the production and propagation of books and other material embodiments of information were crucially shaped by institutional, political, and technological factors. Particularly potent influences included the gradual spread of libraries (public and private, specialized and general), the transition from papyrus roll to codex, and the rise of information technologies like tables of contents and indexes. Other pressures might have specifically attended medical knowledge, which circulated in manifold ways, in multiple medical communities, and needed to be utilized in various circumstances.  We invite papers on any aspect of approaches to structuring and accessing medical knowledge in the ancient Mediterranean, how information technologies interacted with medical knowledge or how these practices relate to wider social and scientific concerns.

Accepted papers will be presented on the SAM panel at the SCS at the 2020 Annual Meeting, which will be held January 2-5 in Washington, DC. Applicants must be members of the SCS at the time of application.

Please send an abstract of 500 words of your proposed paper (20 min.) by e-mail to Courtney Roby (croby@cornell.edu). The abstract should omit any reference identifying the author to ensure anonymity in the review process.  Deadline for submission of abstracts is February 15, 2019.

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Courtney Ann Roby
Associate Professor, Classics
120 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853-3201
car295@cornell.edu

NEW APPROACHES TO THE ANCIENT GRECO-ROMAN MEDITERRANEAN // A GRADUATE SYMPOSIUM

NEW SCHOLARS SERIES AT BATES COLLEGE

 

September 28 – 30, 2018

The Program in Classical and Medieval Studies at Bates College invites papers on any topic related to new approaches to the cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman Mediterranean, for a day-long graduate symposium showcasing the work of emerging scholars (recent PhD or ABD) from historically underrepresented groups.

The symposium will showcase new work by individuals from underrepresented groups in the professoriate, specifically defined as including African Americans, Alaska Natives, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

We seek papers that examine how people (ancient through modern) have maintained or deployed the power and prestige of Greek and/or Roman culture through texts, objects, rituals, or other means. In the ancient world, Greeks and Romans interacted with each other, and with many other populations, and in these layered interactions they negotiated identities, cultural hierarchies, and relationships including to their own past. We will consider papers on such layered interactions as well as historical or contemporary adaptations of classicism. We are interested also in papers that expand the theoretical lens through which such cultural and linguistic interactions—ancient or modern—are studied. Fields may include literature, history, medicine, philosophy, religion, art, linguistics, or politics, among others.

Invited speakers will have their travel expenses covered and will be guests of the College from the evening of 9/28 through breakfast on 9/30, with all paper presentations to occur on 9/29. Twenty-minute papers will be grouped into thematic panels, with additional roundtable and Q&A formats running throughout the day. We aim to create an intellectually enriching experience for all interlocutors, including the selected speakers and the faculty and students of Bates College.

What to Submit:

  • A 300-word abstract describing the paper’s argument, critical context, and significance
  • A current CV
  •  A brief statement confirming self-identification as a member of a historically underrepresented group

Where to Submit:

Abstract, CV, and statement should be submitted in PDF format by email to lmaurizi@bates.edu by April 1. Speakers will be notified of acceptance by the end of May.–

Hamish Cameron
Lecturer of Classical and Medieval Studies
Bates College
hcameron@bates.edu

The Words of Medicine: Technical Terminology in Material and Textual Evidence from the Greco-Roman World

19-22 September 2018

North-West University (Potchefstroom, South Africa)

Key-note speakers:

Prof. Stephen Harrison (Corpus Christi College, Oxford)

Dr. Alessia Guardasole (Université Paris IV-Sorbonne)

We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers on technical medical terminology from the Greco-Roman World, with the ultimate intention of participation in a peer-reviewed edition of the proceedings.

The goal of the conference is to improve our understanding of the Greco-Roman medicine and its technical vocabulary through the comparative analysis of its textual and material aspects – its verba and realia. The conference hopes to involve a wide range of specialist fields, including classics and history of textual transmission, papyrology, archaeology and material culture, epigraphy, history of science and of medical practices, and submissions from scholars in any of these fields of expertise are warmly encouraged.

Possible areas of interest would involve, but are not restricted to

  • the examination of technical terms in all the sources related to them, e.g., literary passages, papyri, inscriptions and tituli picti, available archaeological discoveries attesting to medical practice;
  • the connection word(s)-object(s), with particular attention to the realia hidden under the verba, aiming at a likely reconstruction of the concrete reality of ancient medicine;
  • the identification of the several degrees of technicality when dealing with medical issues (e.g. communication among specialists, between doctors and patients, among non-specialists in everyday situations);
  • the socio-linguistics of medical vocabulary; the focus on the persons behind and through their “words of medicine” in order to analyze the medical knowledge of both laymen interested in medicine and actual practitioners to reach a better acquaintance of their socio-cultural context;
  • the (re)use of medical terms, as well as medical metaphors and images by Greek and Latin poets and authors up to Late Antiquity.

Titles with short abstracts (500 words), accompanied by brief academic biographical details of each author (max. 150 words), may be submitted to Isabella Bonati at: isabella.bonati82@gmail.com.

The abstract proposal should state the focus of the paper and the way(s) in which it contributes to the knowledge on the topic.

Abstract submission deadline: 28 February 2018

Notification of acceptance/feedback: 30 March 2018

Participation confirmation deadline for all presenters: 1 May 2018

Call for Papers: Stranger Things: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Marvels in the Ancient World

Graduate Student Conference

University of Pennsylvania

May 18, 2018

Keynote Speaker: Professor Courtney Ann Roby (Cornell University)

The literatures and material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world manifest an abiding interest in wonder and the wondrous, often described with such marked vocabulary as θαῦμα, ἄπιστος, and παράδοξος, on the Greek side, and mirabile, miraculum, and monstrum, on the Latin side.

As early as the Homeric epics, we find a fascination in the emotional efficacy and persuasive power of wonder. In later periods, Herodotus is drawn to Egypt because it contains ‘the most’ marvels. Plato and Aristotle suggest that wonder, and not utilitarian concerns, originally inspired people to undertake philosophical inquiry. However, wonder can also distract people from the truth. Pliny the Elder is troubled by the human desire not only to imitate but also to reimagine natural marvels by blurring the lines between categories like god/human/animal, living/dead, man/woman, and fiction/reality.


Authors of the Hellenistic and imperial periods ponder the characteristics of wonder itself. We find the most straightforward evidence of this in the believe-it-or-not lists of paradoxographers like Callimachus, Antigonus, and Phlegon of Tralles. However, this activity also occurs more subtly across other genres, from the technical works of Hero of Alexandria, to the satires of Juvenal, to the verse of Ovid, to the prose fiction of Achilles Tatius, Apuleius, and Lucian. This phenomenon is embedded in the broader contemporary cultural practices of collecting and displaying curiosities, of transforming visual landscapes with illusionistic artistic techniques, of impersonating historical, divine and legendary figures, and of testing the limits of representation.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore wonder and the wondrous from a variety of angles. We welcome papers that investigate particular texts, artefacts, places, and phenomena of the ancient Mediterranean world that intersect with this topic. We also welcome papers that explore the reception of ancient wonders and conceptions of the wondrous in subsequent periods and cultural contexts, up to and including our own, and papers that examine the topic from a theoretical perspective. We are interested in receiving papers from Classics, Ancient History, Art & Archaeology, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Anthropology, Women & Gender Studies, History of Science and Medicine, and other related disciplines.

Paper topics might investigate, but are certainly not limited to:
• the genre of paradoxography
• wonder-making in public spectacle
• the role of wonder in the pursuit of knowledge (philosophical or technical)
• the wondrous in the ancient novel
• rhetorical prolaliai and other prose genres

• the depiction of the wondrous in wall painting, mosaic, and other visual media
• wondrous objects as literary metaphors
• the exoticizing of the other and the familiar
• wonder-collecting in an imperial context

Papers should be 15-20 minutes in length. Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to strangerthingsatpenn@gmail.com by March 11th, 2018. Successful applicants will be notified by March 18th, 2018.

Sincerely,
Johanna Kaiser, Maria Kovalchuk, and Scheherazade Khan
The Conference Organizers