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

Project description

Medicine and Mysticism in Aelius Aristides’ Sacred Tales’

I am utterly fascinated by the ancient religious and philosophical ideas and practices and try to look for them wherever I can really: literature, epigraphy, material culture. I have worked for years on the concept of ‘divine epiphany’ in Greek literature and culture and I am finishing a monograph on the topic. It is my firm belief that divine epiphanies in Greek literature and culture not only reveal what the Greeks thought about their gods. The advent of the god into the mortal sphere tells us just as much about the preoccupations and the assumptions of the culture involved. My fascination with divine epiphanies as means of negotiating conceptual boundaries and establishing cultural and political identity led me to the study of a superb corpus of inscriptions from Greek mainland and Asia Minor (mainly Hellenistic and Imperial), where divine epiphanies of local deities are accounted for especially in a political and military context. This was roughly the focus of my research in BIAA in Ankara. The same enthrallment with mortal-immortal interactions led me eventually to the divine epiphanies of healing deities and the man, who claims to have had a most impressive record of interactions with the divine: Aelius Aristeides and his Hieroi Logoi.

My current project is called: ‘Medicine and Mysticism in Aelius’ Aristeides’ Sacred Tales’, and focuses primarily on the narratives in the Hieroi Logoi, which point to a close correlation between initiatory experience in some of the most popular mystery cults of the imperial era (like the mystēria of Demeter, Isis and Sarapis) and Aristeides’ portrayal of: a) the exclusivity of the therapeutic experience of the Asklepieion of Pergamum; b) the symbiotic relationship between somatic and psychic suffering and recovery; c) Aristeides’ representing the community of his fellow patients as mystai; and finally d) Aristeides’ depiction of disease as a perpetual near-death experience.