Identifying Pathologies through Therapy

Identifying Pathologies through Therapy

A New Approach
to Ancient Diseases

Alain Touwaide

30 September 2021 – 6 PM (CET)

Identifying the medical conditions mentioned in the ancient literature, be these medical or otherwise, is a challenging task in medical history.

Whereas scholars have claimed that diseases such as the plague are impossible to retrace because of the mutations of pathogens, the retrospective diagnostic technique formulated by Mirko Grmek (1924-2000) opened the way to a better understanding of medical conditions in classical antiquity.

Most recently, however, bio-molecular research has been successful in identifying some pathogens from archaeological remains. However productive they might be, these new methods do not allow for either the identification of a broader range of medical conditions or a quantitative, viz. epidemiological reconstruction of the populations’ health at any given point in time.

This lecture will explore a new approach: by positing those ancient manuals of therapeutics reflect the pathological reality of their time, it will explore the very limits and possibilities of such an approach, with the many questions it raises and the perspective it opens.

Particular attention will be devoted to the present-day pharmacological analysis of plants (along with the medical conditions on which plants are efficacious) as a key to a reverse identification of pathologies that are not necessarily identified with precision ab initio.

About the Speaker ...

Alain Touwaide is a US historian of medicine and sciences of Belgian origin.

He earned a PhD in Classics at the University of Louvain (Belgium, 1981) and a Habilitation à diriger des recherches in Ancient and Medieval History at the University of Toulouse (France, 1997).

He researches the history of ancient science, particularly botany, medicinal plants, medicine and therapeutics in the Mediterranean World from archaic Greece to the Ottoman Empire.

To foster the development of original research in this vast and complex field of research he has co-founded the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions in 2007. The most recent of his multiple publications is A Census of Greek Medical Manuscripts (London and New York: Routledge, 2016) published in the series Medicine in the Medieval Mediterranean that he has created.

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