BMCR 2021.09.17

La santé du prince: corps, vertus et politique dans l’antiquité romaine

, , La santé du prince: corps, vertus et politique dans l'antiquité romaine. Horos. Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2020. Pp. 276. ISBN 9782841373659

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

After several books in French about body and health in Antiquity (e.g. Lydie Bodiou, Véronique Mehl (eds.), Dictionnaire du corps dans l’Antiquité, Rennes, PUR, 2019 or Caroline Husquin, L’Intégrité du corps en question. Perception et représentation de l’atteinte physique dans la Rome antique, Rennes, PUR, 2020), Anne Gangloff from the Université de Rennes and Brigitte Maire from the Université de Lausanne publish a collective volume more specifically about the health of Roman emperors: how it was dealt with, considered, and depicted. Of the twelve contributions, nine are in French, two in German, and one in English, but short English summaries are provided at the end with biographical presentations of all authors for readers not entirely fluent in some of these languages.

The topics of the papers are quite diversified in approach, time, and main characters, but, as Anne Gangloff’s introduction and conclusion emphasize, the whole work has an undeniable unity, reinforced by its first and last contributions: Stannis Perez reflects on how studying history from the perspective of bodies can be both fecund and dangerous, while Jan B. Meister examines one peculiar case of “historical perspective turned bad,” Ernst Müller’s, a German chief doctor from the Interwar Period, who pretended to physiognomonically diagnose Roman emperors by looking at their numismatic and statuary representations.

The main body of the volume is divided into two parts. The first one adopts a historical perspective: what the realia about the Prince’s health are, how imperial doctors worked, and so on. David Langslow analyzes how the authors of medical treatises often used real and false letters addressed to the emperor as a rhetorical strategy to introduce their work. Alessia Guardassole examines the case of Menecrates, an imperial doctor from the first half of the first century, especially how he tried to prevent modifications of his recipes. Anne Gangloff concentrates on the use of ualetudo and ὑγίεια on coins and inscriptions: the importance of the emperor’s health that they highlight is confirmed by the reactions of the crowd to imperial diseases in historical works, but, more than his good health, what people was concerned with was the emperor’s capacity to rule. Then Pascale Gaillard-Seux deals with the question of the influence of the body on the mind and the way it appears in later praise speeches. Eventually, Véronique Boudon-Millot presents three different points of view on Marcus Aurelius’ health: those of Galen, his doctor; of Marcus Aurelius himself; and of the historians in the Historia Augusta and Cassius Dio.

The second part addresses the way the emperor’s health could be depicted in written sources, mainly historical. Caroline Husquin links Caligula’s ‟madness” to the figure of the tyrant. Michel E. Fuchs reexamines Domitian’s reign from the perspective of what he actually accomplished and how he wanted to appear, not from what was said about him afterwards. Laure Chappuis Sandoz deals with the literary representation of excrement as a moral judgement on the lack of self-control, the way Claudius is depicted in Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis being one illustration of her point. Then Audrey Becker questions the way Cassius Dio writes about imperial diseases, especially Caracalla’s, and shows that he does not necessarily present them as a sign of tyranny or illegitimacy. Finally, Matthias Haake tries to see if, like their death, imperial diseases could be a narrative mean to sum up an emperor’s rule, by having a close look at those from the ‟3rdcentury crisis”: he concludes that this literary motif was not actually used in such a way.

Overall, this a very interesting volume, with a fertile perspective that every contribution illustrates. I could not detect any typos and the indices of the people mentioned and the passages dealt with also make it very useful, though some titles could be misleading: Stannis Perez actually deals with the concept of ‟biohistory” only at the end of his paper and does not really define it, whereas Michel E. Fuchs speaks of Domitian’s ‟phobias” only in passing and also at the very end.

What is more surprising is that, except in Matthias Haake’s paper and in spite of a clear and often explicit awareness that imperial texts about the Prince are political constructions, the contributions in the second part almost never mention the many works that philologists have been publishing on ancient historiography for 40 years now, even in French (e.g. Olivier Devillers or Fabrice Galtier). The result is very careful and cautious analyses that are convincing and could be good introductions for those not much acquainted with the question, but that actually deal with well-known and already much discussed topics, e.g. the stereotype of the tyrant. In this sense, the fact that the influence of rhetoric on ancient historical works is almost never mentioned, even when Cicero is alluded to, is quite revealing.

But these points do not affect the general quality and interest of the book, which will be quite useful to all historians and philologists working on imperial representations.

Authors and titles

Introduction. Folie, maladies et santé des Césars (Anne Gangloff)
Qu’est-ce que la biohistoire politique ? Retour sur un nouvel outil historiographique (Stannis Perez)

La Santé du prince, objet d’inquiétudes et de soins
Letters to the Prince concerning health: stylistic and rhetorical aspects (David Langslow)
Épeler pour soigner le prince : témoignages sur les traités hologrammatiques à l’époque impériale (Alessia Guardassole)
Le souci pour la santé du prince, d’Auguste aux Sévères (Anne Gangloff)
Hygiène de vie du prince et formation de la vertu (Patricia Gaillard-Seux)
De la thériaque pour le prince : Marc Aurèle face à la maladie et aux empoisonnements (Véronique Boudon-Millot)

Symptômes physiques et politiques : “imaginaires de la santé du prince”
Corps du prince, réputation et postérité entre politique et pathologique : l’exemple de Caligula (Caroline Husquin)
Phobies de Domitien (Michel E. Fuchs)
Si bene ructauit…”: diagnostics d’un malaise social chez les satiristes impériaux (Laure Chappuis Sandoz)
La mauvaise santé de l’empereur et son illégitimité politique au début du IIIe siècle. L’exemple de Caracalla (Audrey Becker)
,Der kranke Mann am Tiber‘? Retrospektive Krankheits- und Gesundheitsdiskurse über Kaiser in der ,Krise des dritten Jahrhunderts‘ bei paganen und christlichen Autoren des vierten Jahrhunderts – eine Gedankenskizze (Matthias Haake)
Physiognomische Ferndiagnosen: Ernst Müllers Cäsaren-Porträts und ihre Rezeption in der Weimarer Zeit (Jan B. Meister)

Pour conclure (Anne Gangloff)