Tomáš Alušík

Thursday, October 25, 2018 -
19:00 to 20:00
Norwegian Institute at Athens, Tsami Karatasou 5
Event Description: 

Dr. Tomáš Alušík (Charles University of Prague), "Medicine and health status in Greece from the prehistory until 500 BC"

On the basis of the four categories of sources - human skeletal remains, iconographical sources, literary sources and other archaeological sources (especially organic residues) - an overview of the sickness rate and medical practice in the prehistoric and early historic Greece before 500 BC will be presented. Each of these categories present an interesting and important aspect of the medicine of the period in question. For example, human skeletal remains preserve evidence of several kinds of both skeletal and dental pathologies, as well as of skilled surgical interventions (e.g. trepanations) and caring. Iconographical sources testify to the existence of healing cults and also to the existence of several diseases that affect only soft tissues (i.e. without leaving any traces on bones). Literary sources, too, mention an extensive use of medicinal plants (which is also proved by an analysis of some organic residues) and indicate that in the Mycenaean world healing might have already existed as a specialized craft or occupation. There is no evidence for any local healing schools during the period under study, however. On the other hand, it is quite possible to discern several medical specializations or “traditions” – an invasive one (i.e. surgical interventions, such as trepanations), a non-invasive one (e.g. healing wounds and fractures by fixing and similar), caring or assistance (including midwifery) and possibly also dental care. It seems that during the prehistoric and early historic period medicine was mainly focused on healing/fixing the traumatic injuries and similar cases. Despite some surprisingly advanced healing skills and knowledge (e.g. surgical interventions and the use of medicinal plants), the actual healing was still dealing with acute cases or consequences (i.e. ad-hoc). There was probably no comprehensive theory that would have influenced the medical practice of that time. Only at the end of the period in question, at the turn of the 6th and 5th centuries BC, a medical conception including not only a conservative and invasive healing, but also a “background” theory of the functioning of the human body was being created. This also enabled the focus to gradually shift “from a disease to a man” (i.e. to see the medicine and healing in the wider perspective) and also on the preventive aspects of some kind. This gradual process could have been related to the establishment and spread of an individual healing deity – Asclepius. Unfortunately, many aspects of this process – and in general of the medicine of the period in question – still remain unknown and uncertain.