Greek Art & Archaeology research seminar
Medicine & miasma: ancient Greek perspectives on mental, physical and ritual health

Death was omnipresent in the ancient world, but where many would associate it with the numerous wars, in fact disease, lack of hygiene, child mortality, and death in giving birth that are major contributors to low life expectancy. That the ancient Greeks were well aware of this is evident from mentions on grave monuments, poignant scenes in historical works on the social devastation caused by epidemics, votive gifts given to the gods in hope of or out of gratefulness for cures, and most importantly, the innumerable rituals related to the handling of disease, sanity, birth and death, and the constant concern with ritual cleansing for fear of pollution (miasma), that characterised ancient life.

This research seminar will set off with a crash course in the material culture of ancient Greece, with special attention for archaeological remains that represent the concerns with physical, mental, and ritual health. We will investigate sites and artefacts in museum collections, from sanctuaries to burial grounds, from tombstones to dedications from Athens and other locations in Greece dating to between the Early Iron Age and the late-Roman period. Possible topics: the anatomy idealised in Greek art - and those completely absent from it - as a perspective on how healthy bodies were viewed; the representations of madness in literature complemented by depictions on Greek vases; and the concerns with the medical consequences of ritual pollution as represented in medical treatises as well as sacred laws. We will explore different methods to interpret this material in combination with the literary evidence such as the Hippocratic corpus and other medical texts from Aristotle to Galen, but also tragedy, philosophy and inscriptions.

In taking this seminar you will learn how to study and use a wide range of types of evidence and historical and interpretive models. We will complete the course in Greece in January 2019, where you will not only visit sites but present your research in a research seminar at the Netherlands Institute at Athens. 

Practical details

Prerequisites for this course: 2 antiquity courses OR 1 antiquity course plus a relevant 200 level course (please contact the instructor).
The maximum number of participants for this course is 15.

The taught parts of the course will run outside of the semester, from August 16-24, and in January 2019 (dates to be confirmed). During the semester, before the midterm break there are research labs, meetings where we discuss progress of the research that students are doing. After the midterm this changes to individual meetings by appointment. The research labs will run in lunch breaks and are not mandatory. The research paper deadline will be in November. In January we will be in Greece for approximately 8 or 9 days and we will be back in Middelburg on time for graduation. Because of the setup, students may take this course as a fifth course.

The cost of the course is approximately as follows: a fee for bus rental for two fieldtrips, c. 110 euros, depending on the number of participants; accommodation in a good hostel with rooms shared by up to 4 students, usually c. 280 euros; flight, if booked early c. 150 euros.

If the research seminar at the NIA goes ahead as planned, the director of research has allotted a subsidy of 150 euros for flights per student. In previous years, we got a discount on the accommodation of c. 10%. Food and drink are not included. 

From real human bones we are going to assemble a skeleton. For that purpose we have a special lab space in the cellars of De Burg.

In this project the textbook Immunologie (in Dutch) will be translated into English. Furthermore, country specific information (in the form of Tables and Figures) will be adapted for a number of European countries.