Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Evan Hayes, Stephen Nimis, Hippocrates' 'On Airs, Waters, and Places' and 'The Hippocratic Oath': An Intermediate Greek Reader. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing, 2013. Pp. xix, 136. ISBN 9780983222859. $13.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Lesley Bolton, University of Calgary (labolton@ucalgary.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Hayes and Nimis' latest intermediate Greek reader, this one covering Hippocrates' On Airs, Waters and Places (hereafter AWP) and the Oath, represents a departure from their previous four volumes. They have moved from the Second Sophistic (Lucian's A True Story, On the Syrian Goddess, and The Ass, and Plutarch's Dialogue on Love) to texts of the medical corpus of the fifth century BCE. As someone who works in the area of ancient medicine, I am particularly pleased to see this latest offering, for both AWP and the Oath have much to recommend them as intermediate Greek readings for the non-specialist.

Like the previous volumes, the aim is to facilitate rapid reading. The Greek text occupies roughly one third of a page, generally some eight or ten lines, followed by extensive help in the form of an alphabetical vocabulary and a commentary section. The text is that of the 1922 Loeb edition by W.H.S Jones, with some minor emendations. The page-by-page running vocabulary generally glosses words as appropriate to the reading on that page; verbs that are glossed by a more generic dictionary definition are expanded upon in the commentary. Only the most common words are omitted from the vocabulary, and most entries are repeated on every page in which they occur in the text.

The commentary itself is almost exclusively grammatical, "explaining subordinate clauses, unusual verb forms, and dialectic peculiarities" (p. ix). Difficult expressions are translated in what the authors call "translationese" (p. xi) in an attempt to reproduce the Greek grammatical relationships in English. There is no textual apparatus or discussion. The text is preceded by a useful summary of Ionic Greek features and forms, and brief summaries of grammatical and morphological topics are interspersed in the earlier parts of the texts, using examples from AWP. Three special topic sections discuss Hippocrates' use of geographic and astronomical terms, along with a synopsis of Greek knowledge of topography to that point. A list of irregular verb forms and a comprehensive glossary follow the text, plus a handy glossary of the medical terms used.

In most respects, AWP and the Oath make ideal intermediate texts; their sentence structure is relatively straightforward, their vocabulary is generally not specialized, and AWP has a recurring format with much use of easily anticipated antitheses. My only concern would be about exposing students who have just finished learning Attic Greek grammar to the Ionic dialect in their first 'real' text. But, to be fair, Hayes and Nimis make this as painless as possible with their summary of Ionic Greek features and their commentary entries.

As to the subject matter, both AWP and Oath provide much opportunity for discussion. The AWP falls roughly into two parts. The first presumably aimed at the itinerant physician, deals with environmental influences on health as well as the effects of seasonal variations on the incidence of disease. It also touches on weather prognostication and provides an extended discussion on the formation of bladder stones and why men suffer from them more regularly than women. The second part of AWP is less medical and more ethnographic in nature, attributing the differences between Asians and Europeans to their environment and customs. For instance, it offers descriptions of the peculiar "Longheads", the "Sauromatae" with their horse-riding, arrow- shooting women, and the infertile and feminized men of the "Anarieis". Given this subject matter and the use of the Ionic dialect, the AWP would be an ideal preparation for reading Herodotus.1 The Oath is probably the most familiar Hippocratic work and, despite its brevity, provides ample opportunities for analysis and debate.

Like all the volumes in the series, this volume is self-published and print-on-demand (POD), available only through online distributors. It has not been professionally edited, and some errors are evident, but these are relatively few. Ones I spotted include incorrect page numbering of Hippocrates' medical calendar (p. iii), misspelling of von Staden's name (p. x), confusion between the upper and lower bowels (p. 17); ἅτε ἐόντα should read 'because they are…' (p. 26), συνίστημι should read 'to combine, become solid' (p.51), ἀργότερος, -η, -ον: 'wild' should read ἀργός, -ή, -όν: 'idle, lazy' (p.72), and while ὁκόταν reproduces the Loeb reading, ὅταν in the commentary reproduces the TLG reading (p. 89). In addition, there are odd omissions from the otherwise extensive vocabulary: commonplaces like γάρ and καί are included, yet ἡ πόλις, ὁ τόπος, and ἄλλοτε, for example, are excluded.

There are also places where the vocabulary entry and commentary translation do not match, or where more suitable translations could be provided; ἡ κοιλίη, for example is glossed as 'belly' but translated as 'womb' in the commentary (p. 10), συντετραίνω is glossed as 'to unite by a channel', but the passive is translated as 'opened directly' in the commentary (p. 46), and a gloss of τό ἦθος as 'character' would better suit the context than 'an accustomed place' (p. 98). Occasionally the page formatting that matches commentary to text goes awry (pp. 64, 67-69), not every abbreviation used in the commentary appears in the abbreviation list (p. xix) and, even though only a handful of secondary sources are referred to, a formal bibliography would be useful. But these are quite pedantic points, none of which should cause any real problems; moreover, the authors encourage readers to submit corrections and suggestions to them for incorporation into future versions of the text (pp. xi-xii). One suggestion I would make is to replace the blank 'Notes' pages at the end of the volume with the continuous Greek texts of AWP and the Oath, both for review purposes and for the keener student. The authors have also made the entire volume available, via email, under a Creative Commons License, allowing for copying, alteration and distribution of the work under certain conditions (p. ii).

The strengths of this volume far outweigh its negligible weaknesses. Hippocrates' 'On Airs, Waters, and Places' and 'The Hippocratic Oath': An Intermediate Greek Reader adds to the limited number of offerings suitable for in-class reading at the intermediate level, and it is good to see a less mainstream work added to the group. The page-by-page running vocabulary format allows for quick progress through the text, since students are not repeatedly thumbing through previous pages, and it allows for jumping into the text at any point. The POD format allows for an inexpensive price-tag, and students can actively contribute to the production of a cleaner edition by noting errors and suggesting corrections that better suit a student's needs.


1.   A point noted also by the reviewer of Hayes and Nimis' intermediate reader Lucian's On the Syrian Goddess (BMCR 2013.05.21), as Lucian employs an archaizing Ionic dialect for this work.

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