Health and Healing in the Ancient Greek World (Athens, Kos)

The course focuses on the ancient Greek experience of health and healing from the Archaic through the Hellenistic era, as presented in a number of key texts and in the material or archaeological record.  A central project will be discovering and understanding the contemporaneous emergence and continued success of both Hippocratic medicine and Asclepian religion/cult, two distinct but related ways of thinking about health and healing.  Ten days on the island of Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates and the site of one of most beautiful sanctuaries of Asclepius, will bring us directly into engagement with the two approaches to health and disease, while days spent in Athens will give us the chance to visit the site of Athenian sanctuary of Asclepius on the south slope of the Acropolis and also view the many artifacts from that sanctuary now in the National Archaeological and New Acropolis museums.  We will also visit the Sanctuaries of Asclepius in Epidaurus and Corinth, focusing on the way in which his sanctuaries have common yet also distinctive features in different cities.


Some of the questions that we will engage are:

  1. How did ancient Greeks describe and understand disease?  What causes disease?  Does it attack from without or originate within the body — and why is that question important?
  2. How and to whom did the Greeks grant healing authority? Does this change in the eras we are studying?
  3. How scientific is Hippocratic medicine?  What unity can we see in this multi-authored tradition? What is its lasting value?
  4. What is the source of Asclepius’ extraordinary success as a healing god?


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