THE FRONTIERS OF ANCIENT SCIENCE: Essays in honour of Heinrich von Staden

Edited by Brook Holmes and Klaus-Dietrich Fischer

De Gruyter (2015) h/b 754pp £97.99 (ISBN 9783110333923)

This is a big heavy book (1.4 Kg) containing essays written in honour of a fine scholar of Ancient Medicine and Science. The nature of the enterprise means that there is no overall theme—the topics are picked by the authors, and the essays listed in alphabetical order of the authors. There are 29 of them, on average 20 pages long, 22 in English, and the remainder with an abstract in English.

Clearly even a brief review of each contribution is not practical. To assist the possible buyer, here follows a list of the authors, with the topic of their essay (not usually the title) and occasional brief comments.
Andorlini: the medicinal use of papyrus (ref. esp. Soranus.)
Asper: Early Greek texts and Near Eastern Influence. Unusually he considers Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian simultaneously. Most writers do only two. Recommended.
Baltussen: Comparison of the Hippocratic Oath with Indian and Chinese equivalents.
Bowen: The Platonist philosopher Simplicius, and his influence on St. Thomas Aquinas.
Falcon: Aristotle and the study of animals and plants.
Faraone: Egyptian eyes on Greek amulets.
Fischer: Texts which advise how to stay healthy, from the Hellenistic period onwards. In German.
Gotthelf: Teleology and Embryogenesis in Aristotle.
Gourevitch and Charlier: An unpublished ex-voto from S. France, with ‘ailing eyes’ and a problematic inscription. In French (great fun.)
Brooke Holmes: ‘Symptoms’ in Greek medical writing (the word symptoma first appears in post Hippocratic texts.)
Huffman: Mathematics in Plato’s Republic.
Ierodiakonou: Hellenistic philosophers and the description of changing colours.
Jouanna: Erotian; a new gloss on Hippocrates’ Prognostic.
Katz: Aristotle’s Badger. There is little written about this ‘shy nocturnal mustelid.’
Laird: Heron of Alexandria and the principles of mechanics. The principles behind the windlass, lever, pulley, wedge and screw.
Lang: Plato, divine art and the production of body. Difficulties with the word ‘dimension’ in translation.
Lo Presti: The sleep/epilepsy analogy in Aristotle and mediaeval Aristotelianism.
Marcone: The application of the word numen to Augustus. In Italian.
Menn: How Archytas doubled the cube (highly technical.)
Moyer: Revised astronomical dating of Thessalus De virtutibus herborum.
Nutton: Galen’s full name: new evidence from peri alupias.
Potts: Trepanation.
Proust: Lists in cuneiform mathematics. In French.
Rochberg: Conceiving the History of Science Forward (her title). Mesopotamian science was adept at recording and predicting the movements of heavenly bodies. Using a time-line which runs from left to right, if one starts with modern science and, thinking backwards (right to left), asks what preceded modern astronomy, one may arrive at Babylonian mathematics. If one starts with the Babylonians and, thinking forwards, asks what they thought they were doing, they were trying to read divine writings, messages, signs in the skies. Then the linear descendent of their work is astrology, not astronomy. We should be reading more of this sort of thinking. In an ancient decoded language, Middle Egyptian (ME) grammars are written from left to right, the normal direction for historical linguistics. Late Egyptian (LE) grammars are written right to left, as the language was decoded from Coptic. The result at the ME/LE interface is a small linguistic explosion (not many dead) from which the smoke has not yet cleared.
Roselli: On a spurious Commentary on Prorrhetic I, and Galen’s attempts to disown it. In Italian.
Rutten: On a Latin commentary on the Hippocratic Oath published in 1577 in Rostock by the physician Peter Memm. In German.
Schiefsky: The Belopoeica of Philo of Byzantium, written around 200 BC. Designs for artillery engines
Schlange-Schoningen: Galen’s attitude towards monarchical rule. In German.
van der Eijk: Galen on the assessment of bodily mixtures. We end on a high note. Have you ever been confused by the four qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry) and the four humours, and how Galen seemed to mix and muddle both sets? Read this paper, and you will be, if not totally clear on this difficult matter, less confused.

In summary, a very good book, and a fine tribute to a fine scholar. I have scanned it rather than reviewed it. Very few people could, possibly only von Staden. But the standard, where I can judge, is high, and there is something for every one. At the price, it is a book most of us in Classics for All will consult in the library, perhaps with quite a few trips.

It is a big heavy volume, beautifully bound and printed, agreeable to handle. I saw a couple of possible mis-transliterations, nothing else amiss. Footnotes, not Endnotes. Well done, De Gruyter

K.B. Saunders


One thought on “THE FRONTIERS OF ANCIENT SCIENCE: Essays in honour of Heinrich von Staden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s