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

Project description

Inquiry of medical sources of early Christian literature, with a special focus on the so-called eighth book of Stromata by Clement of Alexandria

In his seminal study Medicinisches aus der ältesten Kirchengeschichte (Leipzig 1892) Adolf von Harnack collects passages that betray not only the interest in medical questions on the part of some early Christian writers, but also their knowledge of medical sources. The most intriguing cases in point include physiological discussions in Pseudo(?)-Athenagoras' De resurrectione and Clement of Alexandria's Paedagogus, as well as medical psychology in Tertullian's De anima. Whereas for Tertullian, his main source is Soranus of Ephesus, the sources of Pseudo-Athenagoras and Clement are more obscure. In both cases, commentators have mentioned Galen of Pergamum as a possibility, but the arguments in favour of this hypothesis are inconclusive.

However, the early Christian interest in medical writings is not exhausted with physiological and psychological topics, but concerns scientific methodology as well. A well-known example is provided by the report of Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. V 28,14 Bardy) about a group of Christian intellectuals in Rome at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries who held Galen in high esteem for his logical works. Eusebius' report can now be complemented with the so-called eighth book of Stromata by Clement of Alexandria, a collection of notes from a philosophical source dealing with scientific methodology. Commenting on the section about causes, Jean-Joël Duhot observes that the character of some passages is "indisputably medical" (La conception stoicienne de la causalité. Paris 1989, 211-235). In a recent study (published in Vigiliae Christianae 65/2011, 343-375) I have adduced other arguments to the effect that the source of the section on causes is medical, and suggested that the same could be the case with some other parts of the text as well, most notably with the parts on the method of discovery (which includes an embryological discussion) and on the demonstrative method. Basing myself on a number of parallels in the Galenic writings, some of them very close, I have further proposed the hypothesis that the source of the "eighth book" or its part may be identified as Galen's lost writing on demonstration.

The main goal of this project is to develop the line of research started by my earlier study of the so-called eighth book of Stromata towards the completion of a commented translation of this text and an introduction that will include an inquiry of the reception of medical sources in early Christian literature. In the course of my study, I will further explore the Galen hypothesis and its possible relevance to other sections of the text, notably the polemic against Pyrrhonian scepticism, the chapter on division and definition, the chapter on categories and the chapter on causes.