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

Project description

Πρόφασις in De morbo sacro

The term πρόφασις is of uncertain derivation: whereas usually derived from προφαίνω, it is equally possible, both on formal and semantic grounds, to trace its origin back to πρόφημι: as shown by the range of meanings of πρόφασις (going from “cause, motive” to “pretext, excuse”), these two derivations seem to be somehow blended together. Galen (Hipp. Epid. I, CMG V, 10, 1, p. 30) distinguishes three different meanings of πρόφασις in Hippocrates: a) pretext, literally “falsely alleged cause” (ψευδῶς λεγόμεναι αἰτίαι), b) manifest cause (φανεραὶ αἰτίαι), and c) any cause (πᾶσαι ἁπλῶς).

The treatise On the Sacred Disease (De morbo sacro, DMS), composed most probably in the last third of the 5th century BCE, belongs to the oldest books of the Hippocratic collection and is thus one of the most ancient Greek medical texts.

The purpose of the present project is to study the notion of πρόφασις in DMS, to analyze its occurrences semantically and examine it both in its relation to αἴτιον and φύσις within the treatise and in the larger context of the Greek medical discourse. In DMS, πρόφασις occurs eleven times. It is therefore a prominent term whose analysis is susceptible to shed light on the overall interpretation of the treatise: and this even more so given that three times out of eleven, it is accompanied by another central notion, viz. φύσις. The outcome of the project shall present a contribution to the study of πρόφασις, an important concept in the Greek scientific thought.