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 are major contributors to the 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 cause by epidemics, many votive gifts given to the gods in hope or in 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. To give some examples: the anatomy idealised in Greek art - and those completely absent from it - will provide an interesting perspective on how healthy bodies were viewed; the representations of madness in literature can be complemented by depictions on Greek vases; and the concerns with the medical consequences of ritual pollution can be traced 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, poetry and philosophy.
- Instructor: Helle Hochscheid