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Workshop: "Kairos, Krisis, Rhythmos: Time and Time Awareness in Ancient Medicine"

During the Winter Semester 2019/20, the Chronoi research group Kairos, Krisis, Rhythmos: Time and Time Awareness in Ancient Medicine has been looking at concepts of time and practices of timing and time management in ancient medicine. On Tuesday 18 February 2020, they organized a workshop at which some of the results of the research group were presented.

After welcoming words by Chronoi Director Christoph Markschies, Project Leader Philip van der Eijk introduced the theme of the workshop and briefly discussed the role of the concepts of chronos and kairos as used in some Greek medical texts.

In the morning session, the focus was on two themes:

(i) ancient ideas and practices related to the pulse, its measurement, its diagnostic significance and therapeutic management, and its relationship to other rhythmical movements in the body, such as respiration, tremor and various kinds of heart-beat. Orly Lewis gave a general introduction to the early history and development of ancient pulse theory from Aristotle and Praxagoras onwards and focused on the ideas of the Pneumatist doctor Archigenes of Apamea, showing how Archigenes used direct tactile observation as well as metaphors and other linguistic means in order to overcome the challenge of perceiving, measuring and describing the minute and numerous changes in the pulse in the absence of tools and technologies available in modern times. Peter Singer provided an overview of Galen’s influential pulse theory, focusing on questions of quantification and measurement, theoretical analysis of time in relation to space and motion, and the relationship between pulse, rhythm and music. Sean Coughlin concentrated on the ideas of the Pneumatist writer Athenaeus of Attalia on the cycles of the cosmos and living body, which he used in order to explain the periodicity of human life and to diagnose disease.

(ii) ancient concepts of crisis, critical days and periodic fevers, their role in ancient ideas about health, disease and medical prognosis and their implications for medical treatment. Christine Salazar presented Galen’s use of the concept of crisis and critical days in his commentaries on works attributed to Hippocrates, showing that Galen was at pains to prove, despite uncertainties about the textual transmission and the debates and disagreements of the intervening centuries, that ‘Hippocrates’ already had a fully-fledged theory of critical days that was exactly like Galen’s own. Glen Cooper discussed the Arabic translation and reception of Greek concepts that were central to Galen’s crisis theory, especially those that were important for Galen’s creation of a theory from empirical data and for examining the relationships of patient, doctor, data, and nature to medical theory.

In addition to the Chronoi fellows, the afternoon programme featured three invited speakers. Kassandra Miller (Bard College NY) cast light on practices of time management and time keeping in ancient medicine by means of sundials and water clocks, using case studies drawn primarily from Galen’s writings to investigate the impacts of this technology on discussions of medical kairoi. Nayhan Fancy (DePauw University) examined the reception of Galen’s pulse theory in Islamicate medicine, focusing on Ibn al-Nafīs, whose Commentary on Ibn Sīnā’s Canon marks a watershed moment in the history of pulse discussions in the Islamic world since he completely overturned the Galenic/Avicennan account. Finally, Concetta Pennuto (University of Tours) discussed the role of time and time experience in Early Modern medicine focusing on a case history of a pregnant woman as recorded by Girolamo Mercuriale.


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