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Reading Communities and Hippocratism in Hellenistic Medicine

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2015

Marquis Berrey*
Affiliation:
University of Iowa E-mail: marquis-berrey@uiowa.edu

Argument

The sect of ancient Greek physicians who believed that medical knowledge came from personal experience also read the Hippocratic Corpus intensively. While previous scholarship has concentrated on the contributions of individual physicians to ancient scholarship on Hippocrates, this article seeks to identify those characteristics of Empiricist reading methodology that drove an entire medical community to credit Hippocrates with medical authority. To explain why these physicians appealed to Hippocrates’ authority, I deploy surviving testimonia and fragments to describe the skills, practices, and ideologies of the reading community of ancient Empiricist physicians over the one-hundred year period 175 to 75 BCE. The Empiricist conception of testimony taken on trust operative within that reading community elided the modern distinction between personal and institutional targets of trust by treating Hippocratic writings as revelatory of the moral character of Hippocrates as an author. Hippocrates’ moral character as an honest witness who accurately observed empirical phenomena aligned with the epistemic virtues of an empirical medical community who believed that medical knowledge came from personal experience. So I argue that Empiricist reading culture constructed a moral authority of honesty and accuracy from Hippocratic writings, enlarged the personal authority of Hippocrates among medical readers, and contributed to the development of Hippocratism.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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