Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of Harris (ed.), Popular Medicine in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Explorations

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: W. V. Harris (ed.), Popular Medicine in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Explorations. Columbia studies in the classical tradition, 42. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. xv, 319. ISBN 9789004325586. $138.00. Reviewed by Kai Brodersen, Universität Erfurt​ (
This collection combines a substantial introduction by the editor and twelve essays of varying length and depth by experts in ancient medicine who were invited to a conference in Columbia University in 2014. The book focuses on popular medicine which the editor defines as “those practices aimed at averting or remedying illness that are followed by people who do not claim expertise in learned medicine (Gk. iatrike) and do not surrender their entire physical health to professional physicians (Gk. iatroi).” The book argues that our knowledge about ancient healthcare is “severely unbalanced” as there are “large bodies of evidence that concern elite/learned/rationalistic medicine on the one hand and temple medicine on the other”, while “the evidence about popular medicine ... is scattered, refractory and elusive” (vii). The book aims to redress the balance, and certainly succeeds in making classicists and ancient historians more aware of the evidence, and the models used to interpret it, and thus to further our understanding of classical medicine in a wider sense.
Note in particular, Catherine Hezser: "Representations of the Physician in Jewish Literature from Hellenistic and Roman Times."

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