Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.02.24

Elizabeth M. Craik (ed.), Hippocrates: Places in Man.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1998.  Pp. 259.  ISBN 0-19-815227-2.  $85.00.  

Reviewed by Jennifer Clarke Kosak, Bowdoin College
Word count: 1879 words

This new edition with translation and commentary is a welcome addition to the growing field of editions and commentaries on Hippocratic treatises appearing in the last half of the twentieth century. While the two series of editions being published by the Collection des Universités de France (Budé) and in the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum (Teubner) have done a great deal to improve matters regarding the state of Hippocratic texts and attendant commentaries, much remains to be done.1 Craik has accomplished the noteworthy task of providing scholars with not one, but two detailed editions of Hippocratic works in 1998: the text, translation and commentary of the very short treatise On Anatomy appearing in Classical Quarterly 48 (1998) 135-67 and the Oxford edition of Places in Man under discussion here. Craik's work on Places in Man makes good use of important work done on the treatise in recent years and in centuries past, while providing a firm foundation upon which to open new lines of inquiry. The field of Greek medicine has been receiving attention from a growing audience of classical scholars with disparate interests in recent years, and it is to be hoped that this excellent commentary will generate still more activity. My comments here will only touch on a few of the many issues raised by the treatise and Craik's meticulous treatment of it.

C.'s work contains a general introduction, text with facing translation, extensive commentary, two appendices, an index of texts and authors cited and a general index. The introduction presents a brief survey of the evolution and nature of early Greek medicine, with special emphasis on the range of locations in which practitioners of rationalist medicine began to develop and reflect upon their craft. It also provides an overview of Places in Man itself, paying attention not only to the medical content of the treatise, but also to its prose style and vocabulary (issues revisited in greater detail in the commentary). In so doing, C. attempts to locate the provenience of the treatise, suggesting a West Greek origin as "probable" (33). C. also argues (although not at length) for a date in the first half of the fifth century -- indeed, she maintains that the treatise "may be the earliest work in the HC and the earliest surviving work of Greek prose" (33). Her belief that the text is still earlier than previous scholars have suggested (Joly in his edition [Paris 1978] proposed a date between 420 and 390 BCE) accords well with the trend of the last twenty years or so to push back the dates of Hippocratic treatises. C. gently laments that Places in Man has received less attention and respect from scholars of the twentieth century than it did from those of previous generations, and she sets out to rectify this situation.

The text presented by C. is based on that of Joly. It includes occasional reversals of Joly's edition (suggestions by Ermerins are well-represented: cf., e.g., 24.2, 42.1, 42.3, 47.2) and emendations proposed more recently by Athanassiou, Porter and here by C. herself. C.'s choices are usually supported by full argumentation in the commentary. Several of her emendations are quite attractive: in 1.2, she prints μέρεα instead of μέλεα for "parts" of the body, pointing to the author's use of this word in subsequent chapters. In 27.4, she prints ὅτι τῷ ὄντι λίην χολὴ τὸν πυρετὸν παρέχει in favor of Joly's preference for the reading of manuscript A, ὅτι οὐκ ἐχρῆν τὸν πυρετὸν παρέχειν; in so doing, she rejects the idea that the author is privileging theory over observation at this point and instead maintains that he is suggesting bile as an alternative cause for the fever. This accords well with the thrust of 27, which posits both bile and phlegm as causes of fever, even though phlegm is the predominant pathological agent in the treatise.

The commentary is, I think, C.'s greatest contribution. Joly's edition provides some commentary and analysis but is mainly focused on improving the text of Littré. C.'s commentary presents observations on a wide range of topics medical, cultural and stylistic. Each chapter of the treatise is given a general overview, with attention given not only to the theoretical and empirical aspects of medicine in early Greece but also to the author's prose style. Places in Man, as many have noted, is not as focused as some works of the Hippocratic Corpus: the material ranges widely, from theories of medicine and disease to discussions of anatomy, physiology and the pathology of specific diseases; it instructs its readers on appropriate treatments and finishes with a brief look at gynecology. It has many affinities with certain other Hippocratic treatises, notably On Ancient Medicine, The Art of Medicine, Breaths and Affections, which are noted throughout the commentary and given special attention in an appendix. These treatises are each directed at a particular theme, but even they admit material that we might consider non-germane or discuss topics in a way that makes their relevance less than immediately obvious. Hence, as C. argues in the commentary and demonstrates through numerous short analyses in the commentary, the lack of focus in Places in Man does not mean that the treatise lacks doctrinal coherence. Instead, this lack of focus may reveal to us the criteria which authors in the early days of Greek prose judged appropriate for putting together a coherent work, or it may reveal at least how they were struggling to formulate appropriate criteria.2 Similarly, the fact that Places in Man puts forth a rather confused or, at any rate, confusing aetiology of disease may not reflect the incompetence of the author but rather the formative stages of Hippocratic doctrine (so C. maintains). Thus, in contrast to most Hippocratic writers, the author relies on a largely monocausal scheme of disease causation, with phlegm as the dominant pathological agent and bile appearing as an occasional partner.3 The standard bipartite scheme of bile and phlegm as equally troubling factors is absent here, as is the concept of four pathological agents (most clearly expressed in Nature of Man). Phlegm is here connected with heat, as is bile, though in other (later?) treatises, it is a cold substance. C.'s analysis of this problematic substance is nuanced and thorough. Moreover, she has a provocative, but to my mind convincing, note at 1.3 in which she argues that the pathological nature of phlegm was recognized in Homer: she interprets the φλέγμα κακόν of Iliad 21.334-7, traditionally translated as a "terrible blaze," instead to be an early allusive reference to the notion of a rush of (deadly) phlegm in the body" (99). This arguments accounts for the rather odd use of τεύχεα in the Homeric passage, which C. believes refers to the vessels in the body rather than to the armor of the Trojans; the word is used in just such a way in Places in Man.4

The commentary makes ample references to literature outside the Hippocratic Corpus, noting parallels to poets, historians and philosophers. The author's interest in the roles of similars and opposites in medicine and physiology, his belief in the importance of balance (C.'s translation of the term καιρός and some of its compounds; see introduction to 44) as a medical and physical principle, his position on the value of change (a controversial issue in the HC) and his arguments about τέχνη and τύχη receive due attention from C.'s commentary. Likewise, C.'s discussion of the treatise's use of the term εἶδος will be of interest to students of ancient philosophy (see on 44.1). The commentary is also alert to traditional forms of medical thinking in Greek society and the ways in which these are reworked by sophisticated writers -- though it can be difficult to differentiate the traditional from the Hippocratic, given the paucity of direct evidence for the former.

The careful attention given to the prose style and organization of the treatise is especially useful, given C.'s bold if nonetheless subjunctive assertion on its date. In the general introduction, she analyzes the most significant idiosyncrasies of the author's style -- the use of ὥστε for ἅτε, the use of a plural verb when the subject is neuter plural and the use of jussive infinitives -- and of his vocabulary -- a preference for compound forms and the use of some Homeric words and Doric forms. She notes, too, the "epic tinge" (21) that colors the treatise, with its occasional use of hexametric expression and similes. In the overview to each chapter, she goes further, noting the particular strategies of expression within the chapter and any significant differences from the rest of the treatise. These analyses are often further augmented by discussions of individual sentences or vocabulary use. Thus, C.'s work will be helpful to those interested in pursuing larger questions about the development both of Greek prose writing in general and of the short prose treatise in particular.

C.'s redating of the treatise raises several issues involving not only the interpretation of the Places in Man itself but also the history of medical writing in the fifth century. Places in Man has received less attention from scholars in the twentieth century than from those in previous generations because many have perceived it as one of the less sophisticated treatises in the Corpus. C.'s date for the treatise suggests the treatise has gained this reputation not because its author is less astute than other Hippocratics but rather because he is an early pioneer in the field. As to the larger question of the development of medical writing in the fifth century, C.'s work exposes some of the problems raised by the limitations of our evidence. For example, C. occasionally makes mention of earlier and no longer extant source material that the author is reworking in his text (see, e.g., pp. 151, 172, 186; on p. 160, she speaks of "a common body of source material or stock of ideas," leaving open the question of whether these sources were transmitted in written or oral form). She is hardly alone and surely not incorrect in arguing for the existence of other sources available to the authors represented in the HC and not to us; evidence internal to the Corpus itself supports this theory, as do more indirect sources, such as Anonymous Londinensis, Galen and Erotian. Moreover, scholars have argued that even some of the treatises we have show evidence of being compiled over time, exhibiting different 'archaeological' levels (e.g., on the gynecological treatises, H. Grensemann, Knidische Medizin [Berlin and New York 1975]). Nonetheless, C.'s argument that Places in Man may be the earliest surviving piece of Greek prose (let alone the earliest surviving Hippocratic treatise) raises questions about how many written sources this treatise itself may have had to draw on. It also underscores the problem of our lack of knowledge about when and why medical treatises began to be written, their audience, their accessibility in antiquity, their quantity, etc. If C. is right about the date of Places in Man, the treatise deserves attention not only from those interested in Greek medicine, but also from those who are investigating issues of literacy and Greek prose writing in the Classical period of Greek history. C.'s thorough and thoughtful edition provides a firm foundation upon which to base such investigations.


1.   Harvard's Loeb Classical Library should not go unmentioned either, in terms of providing new editions of texts in recent years, but this series does not, of course, provide detailed commentary.
2.   As C. notes, the authenticity of the final chapter (47) has often been disputed, since it seems very much an afterthought to the theoretical sections that have gone before. However, as the citations from Erotian and Galen demonstrate, the text has good credentials for being included; moreover, the content of the chapter has been shaped to fit in well with the author's theories (as C. argues on p. 220). Furthermore, as C. reminds us, the treatise Glands has a similar structure, with gynecological material added at the end. Other treatises, too, seem to shift gears suddenly, if not always so dramatically as Places in Man. Consider, for example, sections 11-15 of Nature of Man, in which the author compiles various anatomical and medical issues whose relevance to the main thesis of the treatise he makes no attempt to demonstrate; introductory or transitional sentences are lacking and no summation is given: the treatise ends abruptly.
3.   On the role of bile throughout the treatise, C.'s manner of expression in the introduction is a bit misleading: while stressing the ambiguity of the author's position, she argues that, in the author's view, bile arises from disease rather than disease from bile (p. 14). Certainly this seems to be the case in 10.1, but elsewhere in the treatise, as C. observes both in the introduction and in the commentary on this passage, the picture is more complicated.
4.   It is also true that bile has a long history as a pathological agent in its own right, perhaps going back as far as Homer, if the χόλος of Achilles has any physiological basis.

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