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New Light on Ancient Medicine

Panel discussion held on 17 May 2011 (venue: The British Academy).

Since 2000, new discoveries have radically changed the traditional picture of medicine as practised in ancient Greece and Rome. Archaeological finds have provided new contexts for ancient healing, and the Vlatadon MS has brought to light new Greek texts of the ancient doctor, Galen of Pergamum, 129-c.216, which have wider implications for the transmission of ancient medicine and philosophy. Studies of medieval Arabic or Latin translations have also revealed new or forgotten treatises from the period of the Roman Empire, which in turn often discuss much earlier Greek writings that are otherwise lost. A project to edit some 60 unpublished papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt also shows how ancient doctors applied their theoretical learning. The speakers will discuss some of the most important of these new finds, including new material on the Hippocratic Oath.

Chair: Helen King is Professor of Classics at the Open University. Her book Hippocrates' Woman (1998) is a fascinating anthropological study of Greek gynaecology, exploring myths and legends as well as medical writings. She is at present writing a study of bearded women.

The speakers:

Dr David Leith, Jesus College, Cambridge, is a papyrologist who is editing 60 new medical papyri from Oxyrhynchus in Roman Egypt, including fragments of writings on surgery as well as prescriptions and other evidence for daily practice.

Vivian Nutton FBA is Emeritus Professor of the History of Medicine at UCL. He has written extensively on the history of medicine from the Greeks to the seventeenth century, including Ancient Medicine (2004). This year will see the appearance of his annotated translation of Galen’s Avoiding distress, discovered in 2005, and his edition of Galen’s Problematical movements, a treatise on neurology forgotten since the 16th century.