30-31 août 2016 // Where does it hurt ? Ancient Medicine in Questions and Answers

Poster congres QAFaculty of Arts (Literary Studies), Institute of Philosophy (DWMC) & Lectio, International conferenceWhere does it Hurt? Ancient Medicine in Questions and Answers

Asking the right questions and obtaining the right answers is vital to modern medical healthcare. It is essential for efficient doctor-patient communication, forming an important component of medical treatment. This was no different in Antiquity. Already the Hippocratic writings give us an idea of which kinds of questions physicians asked in diagnosing their patients, and which answers they received in return. However, one can imagine that patients or, in case of severe illness, their relatives were often incapable of providing an accurate answer to (some of) the doctor’s questions. Galen, for instance, says that certain types of pain are actually felt by patients, but cannot be described by them when asked to. As such, a good doctor had to be able not simply to ask the right questions, but also to look for the right answers himself, if necessary.

The use of question-and-answer (Q&A) formulas is widely attested in ancient medical literature. By employing specific interrogative turns in their discourses, medical authors not only sought to provide practical information for proper treatment of patients, but also to amass theoretical insights about the human body and its physiological and pathological processes more generally. The popularity of the Q&A format is largely due to the fact that it became well-entrenched in the ancient medical school curriculum. Through its dialogical and interrogative structure, it provided teachers and students with a useful method to question and memorize all types of medical knowledge, both practical and theoretical. Once condensed in a textual form, it was also useful in transferring this knowledge between author and reader.

The conference, which brings together scholars of medical history and from related fields, such as classics, literary studies, linguistics, digital humanities, philosophy and psychology, wants to offer a better understanding of this multi-faceted and widely attested phenomenon of questions and answers in ancient medical literature, from the Hippocratic writers to Late Antiquity and its reception in early Byzantine times. ‘Medical literature’ is understood in a broad sense, encompassing not only the highly specialized medical treatises of authors like Galen, but also, i.a., literary sources (esp. drama), collections of probèmata, and (anonymous) papyri, which all somehow relate to the world of ancient medicine.

Keynote lecture by Robert Mayhew


Practical information

Date: 30-31 August 2016

Venue: The Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, Janseniusstraat 1, 3000 Leuven


Participation if free, but registration is required via Erika.gielen@kuleuven.be or Michiel.meeusen@kuleuven.be before 22 August 2016.


Scientific and organizing committees

Pieter De Leemans (Leuven), Kristoffel Demoen (Gent), Erika Gielen (Leuven), Jan Godderis (Leuven), Christian Laes (Antwerpen), Marie-Hélène Marganne (Luik), Robert Mayhew (Seton Hall), Michiel Meeusen (Leuven), Jan Opsomer (Leuven), Luc Van der Stockt (Leuven), Gerd Van Riel (Leuven)


Conference program

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