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

Project description

Alcmaeon of Croton: An Edition of the Fragments and Testimonies with Translation and Commentary

Alcmaeon of Croton is a fascinating, but rather neglected, thinker of the sixth century BC whose interests extended from astronomy and epistemology to medicine and physiology. He was the first to identify the brain as the seat of thinking, to excise the eye, to argue for the immortality of the soul, and to put forward a rational explanation of health and disease reflecting the political struggles that took place in Magna Graecia. Although several articles have been written so far in journals and most studies on the early Greek philosophy and medicine include brief sections on his work, there is still no monograph on Alcmaeon written in any modern language (with the exception of an outdated Latin commentary produced by Wachtler in 1896). This is disappointing, considering how much progress has been achieved in the examination of other contemporary thinkers who displayed similar interests to Alcmaeon, the critical evaluation of the doxographical tradition, and the new textual evidence that enriches substantially the select sources published in the Fragmente der Vorsokratiker by Diels and Kranz in 1951.

My aim is to fill this gap in the study of early Greek thought by preparing a full edition and interpretation of the textual evidence concerning Alcmaeon. The sources are arranged in a chronological order, as far as it can be established with some security, and are divided into fragments and testimonies. They are accompanied by translation and introductory remarks that help us to understand the motivations of an author who refers to or paraphrases or quotes Alcmaeon’s words, trace his possible sources, and set out his perspective. The commentary consists of five sections which attempt to reconstruct Alcmaeon’s doctrines in the light of the surviving evidence, place them in a historical context as far as possible, survey the relevant literature, and clarify some controversial issues regarding his research. The scope of the first section (life and work) is to provide a general context for understanding his role in the development of early Greek philosophy and medicine, his social and intellectual enviroment, and the structure of his treatise. The other sections focus on the interpretation of the textual evidence, which is divided into four thematic groups (cosmology, epistemology, the soul, life sciences). Special emphasis is given to the following issues:

  1. What can we assert about the structure and scope of his treatise, the use of empirical data in support of his doctrines, and the role of polarity and analogy in the formulation of his system?
  2. Were there any fixed boundaries between different intellectual activities in early Greek thought, such as medicine, natural philosophy and politics, in the light of Alcmaeon’s concerns?
  3. Did he recognize any relation between the bodily functioning and the soul’s movement, as well as any norms (e.g. cyclical movement, interaction of opposites) applicable to the whole cosmos?
  4. To what extent can the principal Hippocratic doctrines concerning health, disease and cure illuminate crucial aspects of the medical theory of Alcmaeon, including the constitution of the human body, the interaction of opposites, and the aetiology of health and disease?
  5. What was Alcmaeon’s relation to other important thinkers of the fifth century BC, such as the author of On Ancient Medicine, the early Pythagoreans and Plato?