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Workshop: “Synchronizing the Body in Ancient Medicine and Philosophy”

Organized by Philip van der Eijk, Annette Heinrich, Giouli Korobili and Kassandra Miller

June 13, 2024 – June 14, 2024

This workshop aims at exploring ancient medical and philosophical ideas about synchronicity of the body with the environment and with the circumstances affecting its health and well-being. At the same time, it investigates synchronizing as the attempt to bring about, manage, influence and manipulate that synchronicity. In this connection, we are particularly interested in deciphering ancient views on the body under three aspects: 1) the healthy body, 2) the gendered body and 3) the sick body.

1) The healthy body

In ancient medicine and natural philosophy, living bodies and their functioning were often believed to be subject to specific time cycles, intervals and rhythms, which were related to similar time patterns in the external world surrounding them. There were some thinkers who developed a number of cosmological and biological accounts in which the macrocosmos of the universe and the microcosmos of human and animal bodies were presented as interacting with each other. In these it is sometimes argued that health and well-being are constituted and enhanced by synchronicity between the body and the universe, while at other times attempts are made to spell out possible causal mechanisms underlying this synchronous relationship.

2) The gendered body

In ancient medical and philosophical views about synchronicity between the body’s time cycles and those of its surroundings, special attention was paid to differences between male and female bodies, with extensive discussion of the internal and external factors affecting the temporal aspects of menstruation, conception, pregnancy and menopause. While some of the ideas in our extant texts were based on observations of gender-specific physical and physiological features, others had less clearly empirical justification and seem to reflect broader cultural attitudes and values embedded within society.

3) The sick body

Like health, disease was believed to display natural patterns, rhythms and time cycles, whose analysis and understanding were the subject of intense medical and philosophical engagement and debate. In the so-called Hippocratic writings from the fifth century BCE on we can see elaborate, meticulous therapeutic regimes being spelled out in which time factors, timing and time‑keeping are explicitly considered in relation to the course of the disease during the treatment.


Thursday, 13.06.2024 

Einstein Center Chronoi 

Otto-von-Simson-Straße 7, 14195 Berlin

14:45 – 15:00

Welcome and Workshop Opening

Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum and Philip Van Der Eijk

15:00 - 15:45 | Chair: Philip van der Eijk

Synchronizing Diachronies in Seneca’s Consolatio ad Marciam

James Ker (University of Pennsylvania)

15:45 - 16:30

Hippocrates, De internis affectionibus – Temporal Characterization and Modification of Therapy for Acute versus Chronic Diseases?

Annette Heinrich (Humboldt University Berlin)

16:30 – 17:00 | Coffee Break

17:00 - 17:45

Untimely Women: Clock Time and Gender Sterotypes in the Roman Empire (Online)

Kassandra Miller (Colby College)

Friday, 14.06.2024 

Humboldt University of Berlin

Hauptgebäude, Room 2249a

Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin

9:15 - 10:00 | Chair: Annette Heinrich

The Sōma as a Calendar: Cyclical Changes in the Human Body in the ‘Hippocratic’ On Regimen and Nature of the Human Being

Elizaveta Shcherbakova (Humboldt University Berlin)

10:00 - 10:45

Turbulence and Indeterminacy at the Time of Orion: Ps.-Aristotle Problemata 26.13 and the Concept of Sychronicity

Giouli Korobili (Humboldt University Berlin)

10:45 - 11:15 | Coffee Break

11:15 – 12:00 | Chair: Giouli Korobili

Timing is Everything: The Use of Astrology in Ancient Medical Practice

Dorian Greenbaum (University of Wales Trinity St David)

12:00 - 12:45

The Temporal Limits of Health: Age- and Season-related Variations to the Healthy Body (Online)

Peter Singer (Birkbeck, University of London)

12:45 – 13:15

Discussion and Closing Remarks


Online participants can join the workshop by clicking on the following links:

Thursday, 13.06.2024 (WebEx)

Friday, 14.06.2024 (Zoom) 

(Meeting-ID: 643 2957 2267 | Password: 329420)

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