Module 1: The Gods and Medicine


  1. Students will understand different modes of healing and types of healers, and, later in the course, this will inform their understanding of the development of the medical profession.
  2. Students will be able to articulate the concurrent roles of gods and mortals during these time periods, and, later in the course, they will contrast this with the divisions between rationalists and non-rationalists.


Markham Geller, Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice, Chapter 1 (This is 32 pages long, however, it is readable and asks important questions that can set the tone for the course, such as “What is scientific thought?”  This also models for students how to approach these texts that might initially seem unscientific.  If you wanted to cut the reading down, I would suggest leaving off the “Divination” section at the end.)

Assignment: Have students read some current diagnostic material and look for “if…then..” statements or ask them to determine what markers we use today in medical texts that indicate scientific thought.


Case studies from the Edwin Smith papyrus  (Case 1, 8, and 9) (Collectively these three cases are about 3 pages.  This is an opportunity to discuss chronology and commentary traditions)


Selections of Homer (in class)

Pindar, Pythian 3 (These are both in one document with various early Greek authors.  The Pythian is about 1300 words.  If you want to assign Homer for reading at home, I would suggest the selection from Iliad 1 to show the relationship between gods and illness.  The two selections from Iliad 11 could give them a glimpse into what the Homeric doctor looked like.)


Emma Edelstein, Asclepius : a collection and interpretation of the testimonies (This is 46 pages, but half of the text is in Greek. If you wanted to reduce the readings to texts from material culture, which would complement Lang nicely, they would read 423, 424, 426, 428, 432, and 438-442.)

Mabel Lang, Cure and Cult in Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Asklepieion This article is 36 pages long, but it is very readable and many of the pages are illustrations. I would highly recommend this reading as a way to introduce material culture.

Assignment: Compare the Wikipedia version of the Asclepius testimonia with Edelstein. This could be an exercise in identifying lenses placed on texts.

Assignment: Mix in Posidippus’ Iamatika and see if they can tell the real testimony from the literary one. (I have actually done this in class and it went over very well.)

Relationship between scientific thought and religious practice–magic and medicine

Hippocrates, Sacred Disease (This is 11 pages long.  If you wanted to cut it down, you could assign Ch 1-6, and 10.  These are the chapters Lloyd chooses for collection in In the Grip of Disease.)

Galen, On Simple Drugs and On Antidotes (terra sigillata) (This reading is 10 pages long. I would suggest giving some background information for students who may not be familiar with the geography or mythic history of Lemnos, although some of this is taken care of in the introduction to the passages.  If you wanted to cut this reading, you could assign only the selection from On Simple Drugs and discuss mithridatium in class.)

Lloyd, Magic, Reason, and Experience, Chapter 1 (This is 48 pages. This work is meant as a bridge the Philosophy and Medicine module. On the Sacred Disease is discussed in the section titled “Criticism of Magic” (pp. 15-29). The section “Persistence of Traditional Beliefs: Herodotus” (pp. 29-32) may require too much prior knowledge of the stories in Herodotus, but you can simply instruct them to skim over it.  I think this should be broken into two assignments pp. 10-29, which covers familiar material, and pp. 29-58, which could serve as an introduction to the philosophical works to come.)

Skip to toolbar