MEDICINE AND MARKETS IN THE GRAECO-ROMAN WORLD AND BEYOND: Essays on Ancient Medicine in Honour of Vivian Nutton

Edited by Laurence Totelin and Rebecca Flemming

The Classical Press of Wales (2020) h/b/ 250ppp £45 (ISBN 9781910589786)

Since anyone with even a passing interest in the subject of ancient medicine will be familiar with Vivian Nutton and the scholarship that he has produced over the last five decades, the appearance of a festschrift dedicated to him should come as no surprise. The volume opens with an introductory chapter, ‘Introduction: Vivian Nutton and the Rise of Ancient Medicine’ (Flemming), which provides a brief overview of Nutton’s career and an explanation of the volume’s title and focus, which were inspired by one of his most influential pieces of scholarship, ‘Healers in the Medical Market Place: towards a Social History of Graeco-Roman Medicine’, published in Andrew Wear’s 1992 edited volume Medicine in Society: Historical Essays.

There are two parts to the volume. The first, ‘Prices and Exchange’, which contains four chapters, explores different aspects of the economics of medicine and the market forces at work in classical antiquity, providing four focused case studies that examine the finances of physicians, the provision of recipes and remedies, a prized medicinal ingredient taken from testicles of beavers, and the cost of a wet-nurse. The second, ‘Pluralism and Diversity’, which contains six chapters, casts its net wider, ranging from a comparative discussion of ancient Chinese and ancient Greek patient case histories to the presence of malaria in ancient Greece, and from Bronze Age healing to the lives and careers of four different ancient physicians and contemporary (mis)understandings of Hippocrates and the Hippocratic Corpus.

The first chapter, ‘The Cost of Health: The Rice and Poor in Imperial Rome’ (Boudon-Millot) discusses the financial aspects of practising as a physician in ancient Rome: how much the education, training, and equipment that you needed would cost, how much you might expect to get paid, assuming you were paid, and how these financial considerations might affect the physician-patient dynamic and relationship. The second chapter, ‘Healing Correspondence: Letters and Remedy Exchange in the Graeco-Roman World’ (Totelin), peruses the literary and documentary evidence for the exchange of letters either containing recipes for medicaments, or the medicaments themselves, and observes that people frequently relied upon their family members and friends as opposed to unscrupulous apothecaries. The (exceedingly brief) third chapter, ‘Dioscorides On Beavers’ (Scarborough), responds to a recent article by Martin Devecka, ‘The Traffic in Glands’, by drawing the author’s attention to Dioscorides’ writing on the subject of beaver castor, which he had apparently overlooked. The fourth chapter, ‘The Cost of a Baby: How Much Did It Cost to Hire a Wet-nurse in Roman Egypt?’ (Ricciardetto and Gourevitch), surveys all the wet-nursing contracts written on papyrus that have survived from antiquity and uses them to draw conclusions about the experiences of wet-nurses.

In the second part of the volume, the fifth chapter, ‘A Return to Cases and the Pluralism of Ancient Medical Traditions’ (Lloyd), compares and contrasts the ancient Chinese and ancient Greek approaches to taking patient case-histories, and uncovers differences not just between these cultures but also between practitioners and their practices within these cultures. The sixth chapter, ‘Malaria, Childbirth, and the Cult of Artemis’ (Craik), examines the presence of malaria in ancient Greece and the possibility that pregnant women were particularly susceptible to contracting the disease then as they are today and what measures were taken to attempt to address this. The seventh chapter, ‘Medicine, Markets and Movement in the Bronze Age: A Mycenaean Healing Deity at Hattuša-Boğazköy’ (Arnott), considers what can be gleaned about the medical markets of the Bronze Age from the Linear B tablets, and the extent to which neighbouring prehistoric societies exchanged information about healing strategies. The eighth chapter, ‘Antistius Medicus and the Ides of March’ (Hanson), reflects on Julius Caesar’s attitude towards Greek medicine and its practitioners, and suggests that Antistius’ examination of Caesar’s body was done for a forensic purpose, in preparation for potential legal action against his assassins. The ninth chapter, ‘Notes on Three Asclepiadian Doctors’ (Leith) explores what (if any) factual information can be gathered about the three followers of Asclepiades of Bithynia that are named in ancient literature, and about their interpretations of his teachings and methods. The tenth chapter, ‘Hippocratic Whispers: Telling the Story of the Life of Hippocrates on the Internet (King), takes a rather different approach to its nine predecessors, critically examining the purportedly factual information that circulates on the Internet about the historical Hippocrates, and argues that, in the future, historians of medicine need to move beyond academic publication and start presenting their research in alternative formats such as blogs in order to reach those who consume their content online. The volume concludes with two bibliographies, one comprising the works cited in the chapters, the other presenting Nutton’s decades of scholarship.

This is an extremely diverse collection. The unifying factor is that the authors are, in the majority of cases, responding to specific articles written by Nutton (see for example Totelin’s use of his 1985 article ‘The Drug Trade in Antiquity’), or subjects championed by him (see for example Boudon-Millot’s use of Galen as a starting point from which to consider the ancient Roman physician). As a result, historians of medicine will find most, if not all, of the chapters diverting and thought-provoking. It is to be hoped that the volume will find a broader readership than that, as several of the chapters offer interesting perspectives on other areas of ancient history such as politics (Hanson) and slavery (Ricciardetto and Gourevitch), and even classical reception (King).

Jane Draycott

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