Scientific Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East
19-20 September 2019
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU, New York
Monika Amsler – University of Maryland
Recipes, Foodstuffs, and Words: The Theory Behind Voces Magicae
William Brashear (1995, 3430) observed with regard to the PGM: “In the papyri the first voces magicae begin to crop up in the I c. A.D. (…), and by the III c. A.D. they are everywhere in rampant profusion.”
While the dates associated by Brashear with the PGM may be controversial, his general observation is very important: voces magicae or nomina barbara are a distinct feature of late antique texts. Objects long used to ward off evil forces are suddenly adorned with words (Nagy 2012). Despite the evidence for an increasing literacy in the late antique Mediterranean (Bagnall 2011) it may premature to conclude that people just took a new fancy in words. In this paper, I would like to present some observations deriving from my work with simple medical recipes (euporista). These recipes become feasible from the first century onwards. Simultaneously, and with great stylistic overlaps, emerge lists of culinary recipes (Brandt 1927; Grocock/Grainger 2006). Both sets of recipes make use of the same ingredients, of the same modes of preparation, and of the same place, the home and its kitchen. Galen introduced therefore a distinction between nourishing foods and drugs (Wilkins 2015), a division that finds its expression in the posology of the used foodstuffs (Brandt 1927). Increasingly, however, medical recipes include also words in their therapies, some even turn to the use of words alone. These recipes apply the same distinction to words and differentiate between everyday speech and change-producing speech. Thus they use words in a different dosage, in a different make-up, or in a foreign language: duplication of words, backward spelling, names of deities not for everyday use or foreign, accumulations of vowels etc. The result is, I will argue, the phenomenon known as voces magicae.
Barbara Böck – Spanish National Research Council, Madrid (CSIC)
The Body in the Ancient Babylonian Mind
Akkadian and Sumerian literary compositions as well as cuneiform medical prescriptions give ample evidence of how the body was understood to work. In many ways, the Ancient Babylonian concept of the body can be seen as an understanding of how natural and cultural ideas interplayed and eventually became intertwined. In the present lecture I shall first analyse some metaphors that refer to the physical image of the human body. The findings will be contrasted with the information medical recipes provide about the perception of human physiology. My aim is to explore whether the concept of the efficacy of medicines corresponds to the ideas about the body and to show to which degree we can claim an epistemological coherence within Ancient Babylonian tradition.
Marina Escolano-Poveda – University of Liverpool
Astronomica Montserratensia: P. Monts.Roca inv. 314 and the Transmission of Mesopotamian Astronomy to the Graeco-Roman World through Egypt
P. Monts.Roca inv. 314 contains part of a planetary table that can be classified as a monthly almanac. It is the single example of this type of table attested so far in Demotic. It preserves two columns that register the movement of the planets for two consecutive years. Each entry indicates the month, day, and position of the planet by means of its location within the zodiac, and its longitude in degrees and minutes. It also notes events in the synodic cycle of the planets. Although it does not preserve any absolute dates, the astronomical information recorded in it allows its dating to years 71–73 CE. This table offers the first attestation of the designation of the events in the synodic cycle of the planets in Demotic. In this lecture I will present the edition and study of the table, a proposal for the interpretation of the sign for first and last visibility in Greek astronomical papyri, and a secondary use for the sign for zero. To conclude, I will incorporate the data provided by the table to the discussion concerning the transmission of Mesopotamian astronomical knowledge to the Graeco-Roman world through the mediation of Egypt.
Anne Grons – Freie Universität Berlin
The Coptic Herbal P. Carlsberg 500 and the Treatment of “Mist” in an Eye
The corpus of Coptic pharmacological texts comprises currently 41 objects of different lengths and different states of preservation. The texts date from the early fourth century up to the eleventh century AD and offer a multitude of medical prescriptions concerning various afflictions, e.g., eye or skin irritations, affections of the viscera or also psychological complaints. A unique example is the Coptic herbal P. Carlsberg 500 which is distinguished by a special organization of the single prescriptions according to a particular medicinal plant.
Although the codex P. Carlsberg 500 is fragmentary, it is possible to reconstruct the basic structure of its entries. Each entry starts with the name of the herb, which can be followed by synonyms and/or by information about its location or its appearance. Following that, one or more therapeutic applications of the respective plant are specified.
Two of at least 37 preserved prescriptions are concerned with the treatment of so called “mist” in an eye or “misty” eyes. An affection of the eyes which probably impaired the ability to see. Such indications are also attested in two more Coptic texts of the corpus – the medical papyrus of the IFAO (P. Méd.Copt.IFAO) and a fragmentary ostracon in the British Museum (BM EA 32931).
Anne Grons is going to present the special features of the Coptic herbal P. Carlsberg 500 and overviews the different ways of treating “mist” in an eye within the Coptic pharmacological tradition.
Friedhelm Hoffmann – Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
A Medical Interpretation of Egyptian Magical Texts
Until about 40 years ago, Egyptian magic was understood as nothing but hocus-pocus, the bizarre result of superstition and of no real use. In later years, a placebo effect of recitations was conceded which could have helped the patient. Today magic is not seen anymore as something completely different from medicine. Rather, both are taken as the two sides of the ancient Egyptian healing system. But how they belonged or worked together is still a new question.
When H.-W. Fischer-Elfert and I started to work on our edition of P. Athens EBE no. 1826, an Egyptian ‘magical’ papyrus from about the second half of the 12th century BC, we tried to accept the text as a meaningful whole which was explicitly designed to meet its goal. If one accepts this assumption then the structure and the contents of the rituals and spells in this papyrus must not be simply dismissed as gibberish. On the contrary, the ‘magical’ spells should correspond in one way or other to the disease or diseases they are designed against. Consequently one could understand these texts in a medical way by trying to find the underlying medical problem which is treated by a certain spell.
In my presentation, I will demonstrate how this line of research could look like, where the problems are, and which results we think we have been able to find.
Amber Jacob – Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU
Skin Deep: Cutaneous Treatment and Taboo in Graeco-Roman Egypt
This paper will explore dermatological knowledge and nosology in an unpublished corpus of Demotic medical texts from the Tebtunis temple library (1st-2nd century CE) and seek to contextualize the information therein in light of contemporary sources from the same social milieu.
The P.Tebt.Med.dem corpus constitutes the largest extant assemblage of Demotic medical papyri worldwide and is unique amongst Egyptian medical texts in that it has a known archaeological and social context. Although highly fragmentary, the surviving material appears to form part of what was once a coherent medical anthology, primarily of practical pharmacological content. Six manuscripts have been identified so far, and among these no less than three contain dermatological material (P.Carlsberg 231, 172, and 171). While the classification of integumental affections in these texts hearkens back to earlier nosological schemas from both medical and magical contexts, the dermatological content of the P.Tebt.Med.dem corpus also connects in significant ways with other contemporary papyri from Tebtunis. For example, a number of Greek medical papyri have been found from the same site, which also prominently concern dermatology and cosmetology. Further, certain non-medical Demotic texts from the temple library pertaining to cultic matters intersect with the dermatological texts, outlining priestly regulations and obligations concerning the skin. In ancient Egypt, like in many ancient cultures, cutaneous diseases, disfigurements, and imperfections, both severe and benign, were often associated with religious taboos that could negatively impact an individual’s possibilities in life. The assemblage of extant papyri from Tebtunis thus proffer insights into not only the medical reality of cutaneous affections but also the social and professional implications associated with them.
Richard Jasnow – Johns Hopkins University
Medicine, Dreams, and Imhotep in the Book of Thoth
The title of this Conference is “Scientific Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East.” Now, the Book of Thoth would probably not in anyone’s view be classified as a “Scientific” text. Still, it displays features and passages which closely associate the composition with Egyptian scholarly traditions of medicine and oneiromancy. Some sections, such as the Vulture Text, exhibit the systematic structure found, for example, in the onomastica. Moreover, Imhotep, Asclepius, certainly plays an important role in the Book of Thoth. In this paper I wish to explore these points.
Robert Kade – Freie Universität Berlin
50 Shades of gyl – Deciphering the Other in Demotic Scientific Traditions
Scientific Texts from Egypt present their editors with particular challenges, one of them the correct understanding of technical terms and phrases, which disguise the true meaning of contexts and topics. This is especially true for Demotic, where – compared to the older stages of Egyptian – our knowledge of scientific terminology is much inferior. Normally scholars collect their readings from various publications, without taking into account that most of them root on a precarious (if any) foundation. Despite a significant amount of terms without a known etymology, the possibility of foreign influences is frequently ignored or only faintly discussed.
In my lecture I will map the lexical structure of several Demotic scientific texts, with a specific focus on medical-magical and astrological texts from the Roman Period, which were a major part of my PhD thesis on “contact-induced language change in Demotic”. I will compare them with the lexicon of older texts of similar genres as well as the Mesopotamian and Mediterranean traditions to present a better understanding of the synergies between foreign and genuine Egyptian sources that were used by the scribes for their creation.
It can be shown that certain texts were the product of an early cross-cultural scientific exchange, while others resisted the foreign influences most widely. It is possible to distinguish their utilization in different semantic fields and contexts. In connection with these results I will present the first comprehensive database on foreign words in Demotic, which will help scholars in the future with the identification of hitherto unknown substances and solving lexical mysteries and complicated readings.
Kassandra Jackson Miller – Bard College
When Hours are Numbered: Quantitative vs. Qualitative Timekeeping in Imperial-Period Medicine
To some physicians, both ancient and modern, numbers and mathematics seem to offer the tantalizing possibility of describing, predicting, and thereby controlling patient outcomes with precision and accuracy. Other physicians, meanwhile, have pointed out that, since medicine deals with humans—who have different bodies, habits, and preferences, and are embedded in complex social networks—“real-world” medicine does not easily conform to abstract, mathematical models. How, then, did ancient physicians decide when to encode and organize medical information quantitatively rather than qualitatively?
The proposed paper will explore this question by examining, as a case study, the circumstances under which physicians of the Roman Imperial period favored quantitative methods for organizing temporal information. More specifically, the paper will ask: when and why did Galen and his contemporaries choose to mark and measure time within the day using numbers (obtained from sundials, water clocks, or mathematical operations) instead of using more qualitative means, such as the position of the sun or the sequence of a patient’s activities? Drawing on passages from four Galenic texts—On Venesection, On Hygiene, On Periods, and On the Differences Among Fevers—this paper will attempt to reconstruct an active debate among Imperial-period physicians over the degree to which “short” timekeeping should be mathematized.
Thus, this paper will not only illustrate the range of attitudes that such physicians held toward the idea of quantitative timekeeping, but also establish this issue as an underappreciated battleground within the agonistic medical landscape of the Roman period. The paper will demonstrate how Galen sought to portray his own attitude toward numerical timekeeping as the harmonious mean between two extreme positions: one that favors excessive mathematical precision and another that discards it entirely. Ultimately, it will also suggest that Galen’s stance was informed by his knowledge of, and attitudes toward, contemporary astronomy and astrology.
Francesca Minen – Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London
Signs of Sickness and Health in Ancient Mesopotamia. For a Comparative Study of Terrestrial Omens and Medical Texts from the World of Cuneiform Culture
Medical sources provide useful information to the reconstruction of Babylonian scientific and intellectual history; however, if considered alone, they do not allow us to understand various aspects of medical rationale. For this reason, scholars have been interested also in sources outside the medical corpus. The proposed communication aims at presenting the preliminary results of a pilot research project, conducted at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London (January-April 2019). The project consisted of a first survey of all medical-related information comprised in the first half of the divination series Šumma ālu (tablets 1-63), labelled as an encyclopedia for every aspect of ancient Mesopotamian everyday life.
This line of enquiry has never been attempted before, as the medical corpus has been studied usually with references to magic, not divination. Moreover, the difficulties embodied the textual reconstruction of the divination series have slowed its accessibility. However, the edition of the first half of Šumma ālu has been completed recently, and two ongoing projects (Geneva, Vienna) are aimed at completing this task by 2021. On the other hand, the last ten years have experienced significant advances in the study of Assyro-Babylonian medicine and its corpus, which is almost fully accessible on-line.
The comparative study of divination and medical sources showed promising results. Terrestrial omens reveal concerns about hygiene and public health, they mention a consistent group of technical names for diseases, and also provide information on therapeutic ingredients (e.g., plants, animals), which may clarify the rationale behind their prescription for given symptomatogies. Moreover, the genres display clear instances of intertextuality, which have not been investigated thoroughly.
The communication will present the general context of this pilot project, its preliminary results and its possible future developments.
Luigi Prada – University of Oxford
Dreaming Physiology: Health, Illness, and Sexuality through the Lens of Ancient Egyptian Oneiromancy
Dream interpretation is one of the forms of divination with the longest written attestation in ancient Egyptian history: oneirocritica, or dream interpretation handbooks, survive from as early as the New Kingdom, in the 13th century BCE, down to the Roman Period, in the 2nd century CE. This rich textual material has primarily been used in modern scholarship to study the mechanics of ancient Egyptian dream interpretation and the rules that underpinned this science, as the Egyptians considered it. However, other approaches can equally be applied to this corpus.
This paper will look at it from a social perspective, that of the people for whose needs such texts catered. Dream books can reveal the hopes and ambitions as well as the fears and worries of an entire society, both in the hundreds and hundreds of dreams that they describe, and in the predictions through which they interpret them, either auspiciously or ominously. The focus of my discussion will specifically be on the issues concerning health, ailments, and sexuality as they are addressed in these tracts, how their treatment evolved—or did not—over one and a half millennia, and what they may reveal about their intended targets’—i.e., the dreamers’—waking life.
Joachim F. Quack – Universität Heidelberg
A Miscellany of Mainly Medical Content: pBrooklyn 47.218.47
Papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.47 forms part of the large collection of late-period hieratic manuscripts acquired by Charles Edwin Wilbour at the end of the 19th century. According to recent research, they are likely to date to about the saïte period and to come from Elephantine. For pBrooklyn 47.218.47, there is a preliminary note by Sauneron that it covers illnesses and disturbances of sexual behavior, which hardly does justice to the manuscript as a whole. The papyrus is remarkable for the spectrum of different texts transmitted on it in several different hands. On the recto, a first section covers gynecological questions partially linked to pregnancy, including diagnosis as well as incantations. A second section in a different hand contains short incantations for the protection of a pregnant woman. Finally, there are the spells B and C of the Horus stelae, followed by other spells against Apopis. The verso shows hieratic writing (except a short demotic section) but is linguistically already early demotic. It contains mainly invocations for Imhotep to appear during the hours of the night and to tell about drugs and how to apply them. As such, the composition is relevant for the early history of incubation. It has a direct parallel in the late roman pLeiden I 384 vs.; the early demotic manuscript pHeidelberg D 5 shows a similar text and might also be part of the same collection of spells. Overall, the assembly of these texts on one single papyrus tells us quite a bit about actual usage.
Nicola Reggiani – Università degli Studi di Parma
Medical Literary and Documentary Culture in Graeco-Roman Fayum
Exactly 110 years ago, the famous German historian of medicine Karl Sudhoff published his ground-breaking Ärztliches aus griechischen Papyrus-Urkunden, which was intended to be the “foundation for a cultural history of Hellenic medicine” by means of the analysis of all medical instances to be found in the Greek documentary papyri from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Documentary texts, indeed, constitute a privileged counterweight to the proper literary or paraliterary “medical papyri” (i.e. treatises, manuals, prescriptions): they provide us with offhand and immediate glimpses of everyday life and culture, thus allowing for a somewhat different viewpoint on the current medical issues in the ancient Egyptian society from the 3rd BC to the 7th century AD. Since Sudhoff’s masterpiece, some scholars have dealt with specific subjects – for example, the evidence of illnesses in the private letters, explored in 2010 by Isabella Andorlini –, but nobody has attempted an overall reappraisal of the matter yet, though several hundreds (not to say thousands) of new papyrus documents have been published in the meantime, changing – sometimes substantially – our knowledge of many aspects of that ancient world. The present paper aims at paving the way towards an overall reassessment of the Greek documentary papyri as a possible source for ancient medical studies, by providing a general introduction to this theme and a discussion of a relevant case, i.e. the role of “medical documents” for a better definition of the medical culture and practice in a key region of ancient Egypt, the Arsinoites (Fayum), where a solid literary tradition, mainly based at the temple of Soknebtunis in Tebtunis, encountered an active cultural contribution by its lay inhabitants, resulting in a unique melting-pot which is still partially underestimated by scholarship.
Jonny Russell – Universiteit Leiden
Investigations into Theoretical Paradigms of Egyptian and Mesopotamian Healing: A Progress Report
Connections between Classical (or later) medical practices and either Egyptian or Mesopotamian source material is a frequent objective in comparative medical historical studies, but this question of knowledge transmission from East to West is relevant only for appreciating the development of scientific paradigms that lead immediately to the development of medicine as we understand it today. What happens when we compare aspects of Egyptian and Mesopotamian healing practices without this objective? These two ethnomedical traditions are roughly contemporary, appearing in written sources over a period of around two thousand years. Can a comparative study illuminate the state of knowledge of the human body during these periods in this region of the ancient world? If so, how do we approach the challenge presented by a culture’s classification system not in line with our own?
This paper is a progress report on comparative research being undertaken to investigate the theoretical underpinnings of these two traditions, specifically focusing on the ways in which both cultures conceptualised internal physiology, explanatory models for pathogenesis, and the relationships between this and prescribed treatment strategies. Rather than simply attempting to identify themes which are common to both traditions, this investigation is a tool for assessing methods towards identifying concepts that are specific to the given culture, and those more characteristic of ‘universal’ human cognition.
Kim Ryholt – Københavns Universitet
Manuals on Sothis Divination from the Tebtunis Temple Library (KEY NOTE)
Among the numerous demotic astrological papyri from the Tebtunis temple library deposit, the largest group – twenty-one papyri in all – are manuals on Sothis Divination. The heliacal rise of Sothis was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile from an early date. Since the size of the flood largely determined the agricultural output of the year, and hence the prosperity of the country, the position of the celestial bodies at the time of the heliacal rising came to be associated with affairs of national concern. The paper will provide an overview of the manuscripts, the structure of the texts, and above all the categories and nature of the predictions.
Sofie Schiødt – Københavns Universitet
Contending with Swellings in New Kingdom Egypt
Within the small corpus of medical texts surviving from pharaonic Egypt, pLouvre-Carlsberg, which remains partially unpublished, is the second-longest. The manuscript dates to the New Kingdom and consists of at least five different treatises, the lengthiest of which concerns swellings of the body. Many of the recipes in the treatise describe the appearance and nature of the swelling symptoms in more detail than is typically found in Egyptian medical writings. The lunar deity Khonsu plays a significant role in the treatise, being conceptualized as the sender of certain types of swellings. This role of Khonsu is also attested in pEbers, which contains a treatise focusing on the same branch of medicine. It is notable, that pLouvre-Carlsberg, unlike pEbers, includes several foreign deities in the swelling treatise when the manuscript as a whole does not otherwise reflect foreign influences (apart from a conjuration against the so-called Asiatic illness paralleling one in pHearst). This begs the question: why were these foreign deities included in an Egyptian treatise on swellings? Do they simply reflect “random” adoptions of foreign knowledge or are there any identifiable reasons for their inclusion?
In this talk I will present some details of the swelling treatise of pLouvre-Carlsberg, focusing especially on the foreign elements in an attempt at determining why this particular knowledge was adopted into the Egyptian medical system.
Calloway Scott – University of Cincinnati
Dream-Science, Medicine, and the Organization of Knowledge in Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica
The five books of Artemidorus of Ephesus’ Oneirocritica (c. 2nd century CE) constitute the largest collection of divinatory dream-interpretations to survive from Graeco-Roman antiquity. This paper examines Artemidorus’ contribution to longstanding medico-philosophical debates over the ontological and epistemic character of such dreams. As with wider Mediterranean traditions concerning premonitory dreams, Greeks and Romans popularly understood them as phenomena with origins exterior to the dreamer (e.g. a visitation of a god). Presocratic and Hippocratic thinkers, however, initiated an effort to bring at least some dream events within the body as interior processes of a physical soul, a bodily turn which ultimately engendered a split in thinking about the possibility and scope of prophetic and diagnostic dreams (e.g. Hippocrates Regimen 4 and Aristotle On Prophecy in Dreams). Here, I examine the way that Artemidorus meant the Oneirocritica to address seriously questions about the origins of dreams and the powers of empirical science in two, related ways. First, I will concentrate upon his materialistic account of predictive dreams as “semeiotic movements of the soul,” as a response to Hippocratic and Aristotelian dream theory. Secondly, Artemidorus explains that these “semiotic dreams” require interpretations based upon the systematic observation and correlation of the dream details with their outcomes. As Harris-McCoy (2012) observed, this explicit commitment to an empirical method of dream-interpretation resembles that of the Hellenistic medical ‘sect’ known as ‘Empiricists,’ who eschewed interest in theoretical etiology in favor of observation, comparison, and compilation of symptoms and outcomes. Pushing beyond similarity, I argue that Artemidorus not only deployed this method to defend empirically grounded accounts of dream-divination (cf. Cicero De div. 1), but endeavored to show that such a scientific method can be used to stabilize and corral productively the potentially infinite number of interpretations any dream-sign might bear without recourse to an underlying, causal theory.
Lingxin Zhang – Johns Hopkins University
The Astrological Features in the Women’s Astrological Manuals
The Women’s Astrological Manuals (PSI inv. D 35 + P. Carlsberg 684 and P. Carlsberg 100) are organized by one recurring rubric: tAy-ms.w (n) tA wHm.(t) X.t ZODIAC TAy swsw A Sa swsw A+9 r iaH mtr r DECAN. The translation and depicted astrological phenomena of this phrase are still contested. Based on parallel passages from Teucer of Babylon (recorded by Rhetorius) and PSI inv. D 39 + P. Florence 8 (partially published by Neugebauer and Parker), I tentatively translate the phrase as “She who was born in the X level of ZODIAC, from degree A to degree A+10, as the Moon is correspond to/agree with DECAN.”
I propose that the decans are adopted to record the Moon’s positions, similar practices to which are also documented in Babylonian horoscopes. Since the Moon travels about 13.3°/day, the precise hours of birth would be required to cast a horoscope using these manuals. The disregard to day/night cycle indicates that these manuals are not observational but computational. It is further noteworthy that in both the Women’s Astrological Manuals and P. Carlsberg 66 + P. Lille, the statuses of planets are mentioned in conjunction with the Moon’s location.
Considering all of this together with the horoscopic data from Madinet Madi and Oxyrhychus, it would seem that the Women’s Astrological Manuals do not require all the planetary information from the horoscopes. The women’s manuals could be potential witnesses of a multilayered Egyptian astrology tradition, in which several astrological manuals were consulted for a “complete” reading of a horoscope.