Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Workshop "Early Greek Philosophy and Life Sciences"

9-11 January, 2014 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | registration required


Early Greek philosophy is normally interpreted as focusing on the creation and workings of the cosmos. However, various thinkers who are included in Diels’s handbook, such as Alcmaeon, Parmenides, Hippo, Menestor, Philolaus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Diogenes of Apollonia, are also interested in the study of human beings, animals, and plants. A survey of the extant sources shows that the formation and development of living beings, their biological functions, the relationship between mind and body, the anatomy and constitution of the body, the aetiology of health, disease and old age, and the process of sex differentiation are issues of primary importance in the treatises Peri physeos. Conversely, several medical theorists, such as the authors of On regimen, On the nature of man, On ancient medicine, On flesh, and On sevens not only deal with the same issues and try to understand them in relation to the large-scale processes, but also are concerned with methodological and doctrinal developments in “natural philosophy”, thus rejecting, modifying, and integrating philosophical ideas and concepts into their systems. The aim of this workshop is to reconsider the relevant textual evidence, which is often neglected in Presocratic scholarship, and address the following questions:

  • How did the representatives of early Greek philosophy and medicine interpret, criticise, and influence one another?
  • What can we assert about the use of empirical data in support of their doctrines, the role of polarity and analogy in the formulation of their systems, and the impact of social, moral and religious norms on their understanding of microcosmic structures?
  • Did they recognize any relation between the bodily functioning and the workings of the cosmos?
  • How was the opposition between “life and death” defined and described by each thinker, and to what extent did the study of living beings manage to establish itself as a significant part of the “inquiry concerning nature”?
  • What is the role of source-authors, such as Aristotle, Aetius, Anonymus Londiniensis, Galen, and Censorinus, in the transmission of Presocratic texts dealing with living beings?


Date and venue

The dates are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9-11 January, 2014. The workshop will take place at the Humboldt University in Berlin (Room 2103, Hauptgebäude), which is located in the city centre (Unter den Linden 6). We are planning to have 11 invited speakers. Our aim is to start on Thursday morning and finish at lunchtime on Saturday.



Our meeting will take the form of a workshop, allocating each speaker a 60-minute slot. Each presentation should be up to 30 minutes long, leaving at least 30 minutes for a roundtable discussion. In order for the discussion to be as fruitful as possible, it will be based on pre-circulated material that will be sent to the participants two weeks before our meeting. The workshop will be open to members of the research group of Professor Philip van der Eijk “Medicine of the Mind – Philosophy of the Body: Discourses of Health and Well-Being in the Ancient World” and registered participants who will also receive the material in advance and may participate in the discussion. The pre-circulated material should include either an advance draft of your paper or a handout with the sources to be discussed (ancient texts and translation) accompanied by a brief note introducing the topic and the main points that you are most interested in discussing.



The workshop is funded by the Research group ‘Medicine of the Mind, Philosophy of the Body’ (funded by the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Stiftung), by the Topoi Research Group ‘Mapping Body and Soul’ (funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and by the Ancient Philosophy and Science Network (funded by DAAD).


Registration and contact

The workshop is free to attend, but registration is required for organisational purposes and in order to gain access to the pre-circulated material. For registration and queries, please do not hesitate to contact the workshop organiser, Stavros Kouloumentas at



A provisional programme can be downloaded here (.pdf).

Thursday, 9th January

Welcome address

Chair: Chiara Thumiger (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Maria Michela Sassi (Università degli Studi di Pisa)
The matter of mind for the Presocratics

Coffee break

Claire Louguet (Université Lille 3)
Aristotle’s criticism of pangenetic theories: a fresh start?


Chair: Orly Lewis (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Stavros Kouloumentas (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Alcmaeon on health and disease

Coffee break

Daniela Manetti (Università degli Studi di Firenze):
In defence of a “worthless” philosopher: Hippo of Croton


Friday, 10th January

Chair: Roberto Lo Presti (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Elizabeth Craik (University of St Andrews)
[Hippocrates] On flesh

Coffee break

Hynek Bartoš (Charles University, Prague)
The concept of pneuma in On regimen


Chair: Philip van der Eijk (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

David Sedley (Christ’s College, Cambridge)
Empedoclean superorganisms

Coffee break

Constantinos Macris (CNRS, Paris)
The Pythagorean taboo on beans: between religion and dietetics, cosmology and magic-chemical experimentation


Saturday, 11th January

Chair: Colin Guthrie King (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

David Sider (New York University)
Anaxagoras on nutrition

Coffee break

Miriam Peixoto (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais)
Life, birth and death in the physiology of Democritus

Coffee break

Lorenzo Perilli (Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata)
Outside the Hippocratic Corpus: losers and winners in early Greek science