Postclassicisms and the Study of Science, Medicine, and the Body in Antiquity

Graduate Student/Early Career Researcher Workshop

  • July 11, 2015
  • Department of Classics, University of Oxford

Histories of science, medicine, and the body have both striking resonances and striking dissonances with reception theory. The “Postclassicisms” network strives to cover both, as themes within a broader umbrella of questions of how we think about the past (and especially how we think about the past as “our” past), what functions are played by notions of genealogy and canonicity, and how edifices of authoritative knowledge are built. Whereas a “classical” literary canon constructs a world of knowledge in terms of sophisticated reference and class markers, a “classical” (or “seminal”) scientific or medical canon constructs a world of nature and norms which conscripts and constrains above all the human body. How does history of science/medicine/the body mirror or contrast postclassicisms? How might Postclassicisms contribute to or be enhanced through histories of science/medicine/the body?

This workshop is intended to bring together historians in ancient science/medicine and the body, scholars interested in Postclassicisms and reception theory, and those whose work enters both domains. We seek to explore how the questions, the knowledge base, and the methodologies of these various approaches inform one another. This initial workshop will bring together a range of current graduate and early-career research on ancient science, medicine, and the body through the prism of these shared disciplinary and methodological issues, with the intention of further meetings in the future.

Presenters are asked to write short papers (max. 1000 words) presenting or addressing an aspect of their research with a focus upon the questions outlined above: What do the fields of Postclassicisms and history of science/medicine/the body in antiquity bring to one another? In what ways are they necessarily different?

These papers will be precirculated rather than delivered. Each presenter will be assigned one respondent, who will prepare a 5–10-minute response. The response will be followed by a 30-minute discussion session. We envision 6–8 such papers over the course of the day. In the concluding session, we will invite conversation about how future workshops might be organized and what questions and themes we might further draw out.

Tom Davies (Princeton), Helen Slaney (Oxford), Jessica Wright (Princeton), Dawn LaValle (Princeton/Oxford)


Tea and coffee

Welcome and introductions; what this workshop is about

What we are hoping for in this workshop; future plans

Session 1 – Science, Medicine, and the Body in Antiquity
Chair: Helen Slaney (Oxford)

Gina White (Princeton)
“Medical Diagnosis and Conditionals in Ancient Philosophy”
Respondent: Tom Davies (Princeton)


Caroline Musgrove (Cambridge)
“Borrowed Experience: Speaking with the Voice of the Classical Past in Late Antique Medicine”
Respondent: Melinda Letts (Oxford)


Session 2 – Psychology and the Ancient World
Chair: Dawn LaValle (Princeton/Oxford)

Hamutal Minkowich (UCL)
“Cultural Neuroscience and Challenges to Reception”
Respondent: Gina White (Princeton)

Sam Cooper (Princeton)
“Socrates, Science, and Psychoanalysis”
Respondent: Chella Ward (Oxford)

Helen Slaney (Oxford)
“Distributed Cognition and Material Culture”
Respondent: Erik Fredericksen (Princeton)


Session 3 – Looking Forward
Chair: Tom Davies (Princeton)

Emilio Capettini (Princeton)
“The Literary and Medical Receptions of Heliodorus’ Aethiopica
Respondent: Dawn Lavalle (Princeton/Oxford)

Melinda Letts (Oxford)
“The Meaning of Medical Authority”
Respondent: Jessica Wright (Princeton)

Closing Discussion