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Author: Michiel Meeusen

Abstract

In the preface to the second book of Table Talk (Quaestiones convivales), Plutarch writes that he simply jotted down the conversations from the first book “at random, without any distinction, as each came to mind.” Scholars have taken this statement to be highly programmatic for the work’s underlying writing process and method of composition more generally, including the structuring principles that guide it, however idiosyncratic they may be. Other miscellanistic authors (like Aelian, Athenaeus, Gellius, and Pamphila) also emphasize the artless and haphazard organization of their writings, so that we can rightfully speak of a genuine miscellanistic topos. The aim of this chapter is to examine how this miscellanistic strategy takes effect as an intertextual phenomenon in Plutarch’s other collections of Questions, where there is no obvious structuring principle either, except from the overarching thematic rubrications (we have collections of Roman, Greek, Platonic and Natural Questions). How unstructured are these collections really, and how does this relate to the miscellanistic organization of the materials in Table Talk? Examining how Plutarch’s mentality of intricacy takes effect in these collections is particularly worthwhile, since they stand relatively close, from a compositional perspective, to the author’s personal notes (ὑπομνήματα). As we will see, aspects of inquisitive spontaneity and specificity seem to far outweigh the demand for a clear organization of the contents. It is this mind-set that lies at the basis of Plutarch’s project of wide learning (πολυμάθεια), which he aims to communicate to his reader.

In: The Dynamics of Intertextuality in Plutarch
In: Plutarch in the Religious and Philosophical Discourse of Late Antiquity
In: Ancient Greek Medicine in Questions and Answers
Author: Michiel Meeusen

Abstract

The aim of this chapter is to examine one of the central explanatory—or rather anti-explanatory—concepts Ps.-Alexander of Aphrodisias expounds in the preface to the first book of his Medical Puzzles and Natural Problems and which he sporadically uses in addressing specific medical-naturalist problems collected in it—that is the concept of “unsayable properties” (ἰδιότητες ἄρρητοι). This concept relies on the author’s conviction that for certain natural/medical phenomena the human intellect fails to provide a proper explanation due to the particular nature of the phenomenon at hand. He ascribes this failure to a lack of descriptive resources on the side of the researcher, which is symptomatic of the weakness of human intelligence and discourse more generally. Ps.-Alexander incorporates the concept in a specifically aetiological context, where it ties in closely with more meta-physical preconceptions about the world, seen as a divinely organised cosmos. By analysing and contextualising Ps.-Alexander’s concept and use of ἰδιότητες ἄρρητοι, this study aims to shed a light on the ancient debate about what medical physicians were expected to know and what was knowable to them. This question is important, as it reflects on the epistemic limits of ancient medical-naturalist research as conceived by its own practitioners, thus giving a concrete idea of what kind of questions were better left unresolved.

In: Ancient Greek Medicine in Questions and Answers
In: Plutarch’s Religious Landscapes
Editor: Michiel Meeusen
This volume provides a set of in-depth case studies about the role of questions and answers (Q&A) in ancient Greek medical writing from its Hippocratic beginnings up to, and including, Late Antiquity. The use of Q&A formulas is widely attested in ancient Greek medical texts, casting an intriguing light on its relevance for the medical art at large, and for ancient medical practice, education, and research in specific (diagnostics, didactics, dialectics). The book aims to break new grounds by exploring, for the first time, the wide complexity of this phenomenon while introducing a coherent approach. In so doing, it not only covers highly specialized medical treatises but also non-canonical authors and texts, including anonymous papyrus fragments and collections of problems.
In: Mnemosyne