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

Project description

Aetius of Amida on diseases of the brain – an analysis of parts of the sixth book of his Libri medicinales with introduction, translation and commentary


Aetius of Amida lived in the first half of the sixth century, and wrote a treatise in sixteen books commonly known as the Libri medicinales. The Libri medicinales are a diligent compilation of the medical theories and doctrines of earlier scholars, dealing with nearly all important areas of medicine, and include, among others, sections on dietetics, prognostics, diagnostics, pharmacology, gynecology, ophthalmology, and diseases of the digestive tract. In this work, Aetius draws upon the full extent of contemporary medical knowledge, but he is no mere copyist. Aetius changes, amends and rearranges the texts of earlier scholars to suit the aims of his treatise.

This project is concerned with the sixth book of the Libri medicinales, which is devoted to diseases of the head. In this book, Aetius discusses diseases of the brain as well as diseases affecting the hair, ears, and nose. The section on diseases of the brain also includes a discussion of what might be called “mental illnesses”: affections which impair mental capacities, such as phrenitis, lethargia, melancholia or mania. The aim of this project is to provide a translation and detailed commentary of Aetius’ discussion of these “mental illnesses”. Given that the sixth book has never been translated into any modern language, let alone commented on or analysed, this project seeks to break new ground. It provides, on the one hand, a thorough analysis of Aetius’ way of working and his compilation technique, and attempts, on the other, to make a contribution to the exploration of the status of mental illnesses in Late Antiquity.