Unit 4 - The Relation of Philosophy and Medicine in Antiquity
University of Thessaloniki (EL)
Dr. Chiara Thumiger, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, in her paper entitled, “On the therapy of the word in Greek Medicine” traces the origins of another modern science, of psychotherapy, in the Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine. She finds the origins of the therapy of the word, as she calls it, in Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus is thrown shipwrecked in the island of Phaeaces. There the King Alkinoos treats him generously, offers him a rich meal, but when his singer starts singing the adventures of famous Odysseus, without suspecting who is the stranger he has in front of him, Odysseus feels sorrow and depression. Alkinoos, realizing his guest’s change of mood, asks his singer to stop and he tries to soothe his stranger’s sorrowful feelings.
However, Dr. Thumiger presents us with a number of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers-physicians who in their treatises employ consciously speech, words, communication, socialization as a therapeutic method for sorrow, depression, phrenitis, insanity and other mental diseases. Among the ancient sources she discusses are included: Hippocrates, Celsus, Anonymous Parisinus, Galen and others. As she points out, in all these cases, the philosophers-physicians employ words or philosophical discourse in order to soothe and cure various kinds of mental diseases. She underlines the important role that philosophy plays for the appeasement of the diseases of the soul, a practice that was widely recognized and appreciated in modern times. But as she notices, there is a main difference between the ancient therapy of the word and modern psychotherapy. In antiquity the philosopher-therapist undertook all the talk and all the communication with the person who suffered from depression or phrenitis; in modern times, on the other hand, it is the depressed or the person suffering who talks, expresses his thoughts and feelings to the therapist, while the latter mostly listens and only talks when necessary.
Despite all the differences between the two, as Dr. Thumiger contends, there is a lot more to explore about the origins of modern psychotherapy in the texts and written works of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers-physicians.