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This volume aims at exploring the ancient roots of ‘holistic’ approaches in the specific field of medicine and the life sciences, without, however, overlooking the larger theoretical implications of these discussions. Therefore, the project plans to broaden the perspective to include larger cultural discussions and, in a comparative spirit, reach out to some examples from non Graeco-Roman medical cultures. As such, it constitutes a fundamental contribution to history of medicine, philosophy of medicine, cultural studies, and ancient studies more broadly. The wide-ranging selection of chapters offers a comprehensive view of an exciting new field: the interrogation of ancient sources in the light of modern concepts in philosophy of medicine, as justification of the claim for their enduring relevance as object of study and, at the same time, as means to a more adequate contextualisation of modern debates within a long historical process.

Contributors are: Hynek Bartoš, Sean Coughlin, Elizabeth Craik, Brooke Holmes, Helen King, Giouli Korobili, David Leith, Vivian Nutton, Julius Rocca, William Michael Short, P. N. Singer, Konstantinos Stefou, Chiara Thumiger, Laurence Totelin, Claire Trenery, John Wee, Francis Zimmermann.
In: Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception
In: Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception


‘Holism’, strangely enough, given the absolute quality it indicates, is a concept that can only be grasped through negative examples: what it is contrary to, the paradigms to which it constitutes an alternative. Definitions of ‘holism’ thus usually involve the interdependence among the parts composing an individual object; their relationship with that object as their container and sum; its insertion within a context, environmental or cosmic; and crucially, the existence of an additional quid which defines that object as a totality independent of its components – the idea that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’

In all these senses, the significance of the relationship between ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ can be much broader than the medical and anatomical discussions with which we would most immediately associate it, and which are under the spotlight in this volume. The breadth and malleability of the concept are key to a cultural history which is extremely long, despite the fact that ‘holism’ itself, like many such labels, can easily be seen as anachronistic if applied to the pre-modern world. This chapter aims to offer a glimpse of this long history and to illustrate the relevance of the Graeco-Roman past to our understanding of the idea of holism, and to its various manifestations throughout the centuries which separate us from the ancients.

Open Access
In: Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception
In: Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception
In: Mental Disorders in the Classical World
In: Homo Patiens - Approaches to the Patient in the Ancient World
In: Popular Medicine in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Explorations