Medicine in Antiquity

Module titleMedicine in Antiquity
Module codeCLA3112
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr David Leith (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

From plagues and human vivisection to epileptic goats, in this module you will study the diversity of approaches to diseases and healing in Graeco-Roman antiquity – whether religious, ‘rational’ or ‘popular’ – and how these were perceived by different cultures. You will also examine the impact that ancient medicine has had upon the Western medical tradition more broadly, and attempt to understand the ways in which our views of medical figures such as Hippocrates and Galen have been shaped and distorted by more recent developments and concerns.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • You will understand how medicine developed and changed from the Classical period through to Late Antiquity and beyond, and will gain a broad familiarity with a range of ancient healing traditions and a core set of influential medical writings.
  • To appreciate how modern perceptions of our ancient medical heritage have been conditioned by specific circumstances and assumptions.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. On completion of this module, you will be able to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of medicines used in Greek and Roman culture, of the way they are described and their cultural significance
  • 2. You will also be able to provide a comprehensive understanding of medical theories and practices and their social and cultural contexts, as articulated in the writings of individual doctors and medical sects

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. You will be able to combine historical and literary approaches
  • 4. You will be able to demonstrate the ability to make general cultural analyses
  • 5. You will be able to demonstrate the ability to criticise sources; and to challenge current cultural assumptions about antiquity and ourselves

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. You will be able to demonstrate the ability to research material and organise it into a coherent form within a strong argument
  • 7. Through work in seminars, you will be able to deliver confident and well-argued oral performance in the face of challenge from others
  • 8. You will be able to demonstrate the ability to work as a group and that they have developed leadership skills and co-operative problem-solving in team work on technical authors

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

An appraisal of medical theories and practices from pre-Hippocratic material to an overview of Galen and Galenism, within the context of ancient life, literature and thought.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching221 x 2 hour seminar per week
Guided independent study128Independent study


Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination502 hours1-5Mark and written feedback
Essay 303000 words1-6Mark and written feedback
Presentation2015-20 minutes1-8Mark and written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-5Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment is not available for presentations.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • E. J. and L. Edelstein, Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. 2 Vols. (Baltimore 1945).
  • P.J. van der Eijk, ‘The Role of Medicine in the Formation of Early Greek Thought’, in P. Curd and D.W. Graham (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy (Oxford 2008), ch. 14.
  • R.J. Hankinson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Galen (Cambridge 2008).
  • J. Jouanna, Hippocrates, trans. M.B. DeBevoise (Baltimore-London 1999).
  • H. King, Greek and Roman Medicine (Bristol 2001).
  • G.E.R. Lloyd, ‘The Hippocratic Question’, Classical Quarterly 25 (1975), 171-192.
  • —, Magic, Reason and Experience (Cambridge 1979), 146-169.
  • S.P. Mattern, The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire (Oxford 2013).
  • V. Nutton, Ancient Medicine. 2 nd edn. (London 2013).
  • —, ‘Healers in the Medical Market Place: Towards a Social History of Greek and Roman Medicine’, in A. Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society (Cambridge 1992), 15-58.
  • —, ‘Roman Medicine: Tradition, Confrontation, Assimilation’, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II 37.1 (1993), 49-78.
  • J.R. Pinault, Hippocratic Lives and Legends (Leiden 1992).
  • W.D.Smith, The Hippocratic Tradition (Ithaca–London 1979).
  • H. von Staden, Herophilus. The Art of Medicine in Early Alexandria (Cambridge 1989).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Classics, Medicine, Antiquity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date