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The expanding body : anatomical vocabulary and its dissemination in classical Athens Sukava, Tyson


This dissertation examines (1) the contributions that classical Greek medical writers made to preexisting anatomical vocabulary; and (2) how, why, and to what extent these terms were appropriated by non-medical authors. The project’s broad scope, including investigations into anatomical terms in the Homeric epics and in classical drama and prose, is intended to build upon previous studies of Greek medical vocabulary and its dissemination in the classical period. This approach authorizes a better sense of medical influences upon classical Greek thought and, more specifically, of how physicians’ novel notions about the body were received by other intellectual elites. Therefore, this dissertation also contributes to our understanding of the conceptual negotiations that occur when a society is exposed to the new ideas of a specific intellectual group. The study begins with a contextualization of its aims and methodology within broader investigations into cultural and medical constructions of the body. Chapter 2 examines anatomical terminology in the Homeric epics to provide a baseline for the state of later Greek anatomical vocabulary. Chapter 3 provides an analysis of classical Greek medical approaches to the body through a study of medical treatises contained within the Hippocratic Corpus. This chapter further identifies specific terms apparently created by physicians to record and relate their detailed observations of the body. Following a discussion of the general public’s interests in medical thought in Athens (chapter 4), the remaining chapters examine evidence for the broader dissemination of medical anatomical terms. Emphasis is placed on the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes (chapters 5 and 6), and on the prose writings of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plato (chapter 7) as representative authors who are educated but not medical professionals. The dissertation concludes with a list of anatomical terms used in archaic and classical Greek writings (Appendix 1). From this study, it emerges that medical anatomical vocabulary, and more generally medical models of the body, were received with a blend of fascination, anxiety, and suspicion. The appropriation of medical terms by lay-writers suggests the educated elite’s increasing familiarity with medical ideas during the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE.

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