Friday, December 10, 2010


Version at BMCR home site

Clarisse Prêtre, Philippe Charlier, Maladies humaines, thérapies divines: analyse épigraphique et paléopathologique de textes de guérison grecs. Archaiologia. M. Villeneuve-d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2009. Pp. 192. ISBN 9782757400029. €22.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ido Israelowich, Tel Aviv University

Maladies humaines, therapies divines is an epigraphic study of the medical rationale of the therapeutic procedures described in 23 Greek inscriptions starting from the early fourth century BCE Epidaurian iamata (IG IV² 1,121, 5) and ending with a third century CE Epidaurian inscription (IG IV² 1,127). All inscriptions have been previously published and are available in reliable editions. In consequence the two authors – an archaeologist and a physician – have decided not to include a critical apparatus with the Greek texts provided (p. 12). The Greek texts are however printed opposite to a French translation, which, as far as I know, was not previously available in print for most of these texts.

The book's main value lies in the commentaries Prêtre and Charlier offer for these inscriptions. In these commentaries they focus on the medical aspects of the inscriptions. This treatment is also the book's principal merit. Scholarly interest in the votive offerings made by sick Greeks and Romans has for long been part of more general questions asked regarding religious phenomena, such as the widespread cult of Asclepius; the nature of dreams and their role as incentives for dedications to the gods (the so-called κατ'ὄναρ dedications); and inscriptions which were made as a thank you to the gods. Although the authors do touch upon these subjects, their commentaries centre on the medical aspects of these texts, which have hitherto been under-emphasized. More specifically, they ask what the illnesses that each of the dedicators had might have been; whether the therapeutic measures offered by the god had the potential to be of any use; and how these divine medicines related to what Greek and Roman physicians were likely to have offered.

In the field of ancient medicine inscriptions are a resource whose potential is far from being exhausted and the work of Prêtre and Charlier is therefore a welcome addition to the existing scholarship. Furthermore, as is suggested by Angelos Chaniotis in the short preface for the book, the collaboration between archaeologists, philologists and physicians has the potential to shed light on the reality of the ailments faced by the dedicators of these ex-votos. However the level of information is that they can reveal is somewhat limited, because, as the commentaries of Prêtre and Charlier reveal, the medical information that these inscriptions hold is usually modest.

In their edition of the inscriptions the authors chose not to include information about the characteristics of the texts itself, such as nature and size of the stone, state of preservation, where it was found, and form and size of the letters. However, references to main corpora and to the first publication are included.

In conclusion, this concise epigraphic and paleo-pathographic study of the Greek texts of cures forms an excellent starting point for students who wish embark on research in the field of the history of medicine, particularly for those who prefer to read French. The introduction is short but focused; the translations are reliable and accurate; and the commentary and references are knowledgeable and up-to-date but not intimidating.

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