History of Medicine Survey 1: Classical Antiquity and Early Middle Ages

Course Description

In this course we will explore health and healing from Classical Antiquity into the Early Middle Ages. Ancient Greece has long been thought of as place where Western medicine has its roots. We will explore the plurality of healing practices in Ancient Greece, and their subsequent translation to the Roman world. We will read some of the best-known physicians of the ancient world, such as Hippocrates and Galen, but also examine the varieties of religious healing that flourished in antiquity. The course concludes by examining the impact of the fall of the Roman Empire on medical learning and practices as they become institutionalized in Christian monasteries. The course focuses upon the organization of health-care and the circulation of medical knowledge, and seeks to relate forms of healing to their social and cultural contexts.

Wondering why to study ancient medicine? See here for noted classicist Helen King's 5 reasons to study ancient Greek medicine.

Course Structure

Every week you’ll have a couple of lectures (audio-over-slides) and a reading from the textbook, Vivian Nutton’s Ancient Medicine (2nd ed.) to provide a foundation. The heart of the course is in our discussions of the assigned readings, which are linked via the Course Plus website. Each week you’ll write a brief 1-2 page response paper (there are questions on the syllabus to get you going) and then join our discussion. There will be 3 Live talks (synchronous discussions via Adobe Connect), held on Wed. Jan. 25; Thurs. Feb. 23; and Wed March 8, at 5:30 or 7 pm (time to be finalized)  If you cannot make a particular Live Talk, no panic. We can make other arrangements. The other weeks we’ll be doing discussions via Voice Thread, an asynchronous tool that permits us to post audio and video comments as well as written ones, and post images, bits of text, etc, and mark them up.

You’ll be assessed on your response papers; a brief 5 page paper; and your contributions to discussion. Every week there's an ungraded mini-quiz, for you to check if you're getting the basics. Like the rest of our graduate courses, this one is pass/fail, and at the end you’ll receive a written assessment of your work in the class. Want to know more? You can visit our course website on Course Plus, even if you haven’t gotten an account yet, this is a “visitor view”. Or email me at mfissell@jhmi.edu with your questions.

Want to work ahead a little? All course materials will be available from the first day of class, so you can listen to lectures and do the readings in advance if that's better for your schedule. The only time-specific elements are the scheduled Live Talks and the Voice Threads, which are open on Tuesdays-Fridays, giving people a chance to listen to the lectures and do the readings before jumping into discussion.

See here for a copy of the syllabus, and here for the intro video.

Course Learning Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze ancient medical practices in historical context
  2. Describe the evolution and theory of humoral medicine
  3. Describe the basic principles of Hippocratic medicine 
  4. Utilize the concept of the medical marketplace to analyze ancient medicine
  5. Compare and contrast forms of religious healing in ancient and early medieval Europe
  6. Demonstrate skills in reading a variety of types of primary sources
Topics Covered
  • Health and Healing in Pre-Modern Societies
  • The Medical Marketplace in Antiquity
  • The Hippocratics
  • Roman Medicine
  • Alexandria and Anatomy
  • Humoral Bodies
  • Bodies and Souls
Course Prerequisites

Introduction to Online Learning

Course Faculty

Mary Fissell, PhD, mfissell@jhmi.edu