The Symptom and the Subject

The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece

Brooke Holmes
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Symptom and the Subject
    Book Description:

    The Symptom and the Subjecttakes an in-depth look at how the physical body first emerged in the West as both an object of knowledge and a mysterious part of the self. Beginning with Homer, moving through classical-era medical treatises, and closing with studies of early ethical philosophy and Euripidean tragedy, this book rewrites the traditional story of the rise of body-soul dualism in ancient Greece. Brooke Holmes demonstrates that as the body (sôma) became a subject of physical inquiry, it decisively changed ancient Greek ideas about the meaning of suffering, the soul, and human nature.

    By undertaking a new examination of biological and medical evidence from the sixth through fourth centuries BCE, Holmes argues that it was in large part through changing interpretations of symptoms that people began to perceive the physical body with the senses and the mind. Once attributed primarily to social agents like gods and daemons, symptoms began to be explained by physicians in terms of the physical substances hidden inside the person. Imagining a daemonic space inside the person but largely below the threshold of feeling, these physicians helped to radically transform what it meant for human beings to be vulnerable, and ushered in a new ethics centered on the responsibility of taking care of the self.

    The Symptom and the Subjecthighlights with fresh importance how classical Greek discoveries made possible new and deeply influential ways of thinking about the human subject.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3488-4
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-40)

    Nothing drives us to ask why like the austere truth of human suffering. Hesiod, the first didactic poet in the Greek literary tradition, takes up the question on a grand scale early in theWorks and Days, where we learn that conditions were not always bleak. In a past age, labor and suffering were unknown: the earth readily yielded food; men lived as companions to the gods. Everything changes when Prometheus, working on behalf of humankind, contests Zeus’s omniscience with a ruse. Zeus, angered, takes fire away from people, only to have Prometheus steal it back in the stalk of...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Before the Physical Body
    (pp. 41-83)

    Aristotle described theIliadas rich in suffering. It is likely that the poem’s violence, together with its slow crescendo of grief, leaves most readers in agreement. At the same time, the epic celebrates the effulgence of the hero, which Jean-Pierre Vernant sees as a mortal’s participation, albeit limited, in “that splendor that always clothes the body of a god.”¹ The hero’s fragility and his radiance meet at a point of great intensity in the poem. Achilles has killed Hector and stripped him of his armor:

    And the other sons of the Achaeans came running about him,

    and gazed upon...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Inquiry into Nature and the Physical Imagination
    (pp. 84-120)

    In many of our archaic and classical sources, when the perceptible world is suddenly and mysteriously disrupted, people look to the gods. By the fifth century, such disruptions may call to mind another web of power. In his biography of Pericles, Plutarch reports a story that, while probably apocryphal, illustrates how signs can draw different worldviews into competition in the classical period. Someone brings a one-horned ram for inspection to Pericles; he, in turn, solicits two interpretations of the prodigy. One of the experts consulted, the seer Lampon, taking into account Pericles’ position as the head of one of two...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Incorporating the Daemonic
    (pp. 121-147)

    Medicine In The Classical period is distinguished from previous healing traditions by its representation of disease,nousosornosēma, as a natural process that happens inside thesōma. It comes as no surprise, then, that the opacity of thesōmais a concern for physicians. Nowhere is this concern clearer than inOn the Tekhnē, a short, rhetorically agile text most likely intended for oral performance before a lay audience in the late fifth century and thus valuable evidence of how physicians, medically informed rhetoricians, and medical writers were shaping the physical body as an object of the public imagination...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Signs of Life and Techniques of Taking Care
    (pp. 148-191)

    We have been watching the medical writers interpret symptoms by making imaginative leaps into the depths of the physical body. Their patients, however, have remained largely at the margins. They take on sharper contours if we turn to the case histories gathered in the sevenEpidemics, a diverse group of treatises written by a number of different authors and dating from the late fifth and early to mid-fourth centuries.¹ Here are the last days in the life of one Apellaeus, a wrestler who has been ill on and off for two years, as chronicled inEpidemicsV.

    Given that he...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Beyond the Sōma: Th erapies of the Psukhē
    (pp. 192-227)

    In theMetamorphoses, Ovid traces over and again the disappearance of the human into another form. In the story of Galatea, however, he moves in the other direction, from a statue to a fl esh-and-blood Roman woman. Pygmalion first perceives warmth where the statue was once cool; the ivory begins to yield, like wax, to the inquiring hand. The pulse that “leaps to meet the thumb that takes it” has become, in the time between classical Greek medical writing and Ovid, a sign of life central to medical diagnosis.¹ Yet the metamorphosis is realized only at the moment it is...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Forces of Nature, Acts of Gods: Euripides’ Symptoms
    (pp. 228-274)

    The story of Galatea in Ovid’sMetamorphosesmoves from cold ivory to a sentient, acculturated Roman woman. Helen’s story in Gorgias’sEncomiumtravels in the opposite direction: she sees Paris, and all her plans—indeed, her very capacity to think—are driven from her soul; she becomes putty in his hands. In view of the fact that the chain reaction triggered in Helen by the sight of Paris and his persuasive words is governed by necessity and the law of the stronger, Gorgias argues, she is entirely passive and, hence, cannot be blamed.

    In Euripides’Troades, we again encounter the...

    (pp. 275-280)

    Near the beginning of Plato’sTimaeus, the dialogue’s eponymous narrator sets out to describe how the world was created. After going on about the creation of the worldsoma, he realizes that he is mixed up. Naturally, he says, the divine demiurge did not make thesōmabefore thepsukhē, the younger before the older, the ruled before the ruler. Timaeus blames his confusion on the fact that we are subject to chance, inhabiting bodies whose participation in a haphazard world casts our words adrift, skewing the stories we tell (34b10–35a1).

    Over the course of this book, I have...

    (pp. 281-324)
    (pp. 325-348)
    (pp. 349-355)