Medicine

Philology: Introduction to the Significance of Language Analysis

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When you first enter an ancient history or archaeology degree you are introduced to several sets of material evidence. Notably, the archaeology, material evidence, and philological evidence. But the philological side is more often than not rarely mentioned again. This is quite a shame considering some of the most interesting and revealing information comes from the ancient written sources. People generally fall into the trap of ignoring the writing in favour of the archaeology and artefacts and frankly you can’t really blame them because humans are naturally attracted to pretty visual things. I see this every day with the likes and shares on my Facebook page. But philology is all important too and if students can learn even a little about ancient writing and textual criticism, a whole new side to history and analysis opens up to them as it should.

DSCN0428BB - Clay Tablets with Liner B Script
DSCN0428BB – Clay Tablets with Liner B Script (Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis))

Philology is derived from the Greek terms φίλος (love) and λόγος (word, reason) and literally means a ‘love of words’. It is the study of language in literary sources and is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics. Philology is generally associated with Greek and Classical Latin, in which it is termed philologia. The study of philology originated in European Renaissance Humanism in regards to Classical Philology but this has since been combined to include in its definition the study of both European and non-European languages. The idea of philology has been carried through the Greek and Latin literature into the English language around the sixteenth century through the French term philologie meaning also a ‘love of literature’ from the same word roots.

Generally philology has a focus on historical development. It helps establish the authenticity of literary texts and their original form and with this the determination of their meaning. It is a branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development and relationships of a language or languages. This makes it all the more significant to study as language is one of the main building blocks of civilisation.

There are several branches of philological studies that can also be undertaken:

Comparative philology is a branch of philology which analyses the relationship or correspondences between languages. For instance, the commonalities between Latin and Etruscan or further flung languages of Asian or African provinces. It uses pre-determined techniques to discover whether languages hold common ancestors or influences. It uses comparison of grammar and spelling which was first deemed useful in the 19th century and has developed ever since. The study of comparative philology was originally defined by Sir William Jones‘ discovery in 1786 that Sanskrit was related to Greek and German as well as Latin.

Cognitive philology studies written and oral texts in consideration of the human mental processes. It uses science to compare the results of research using psychological and artificial systems.

Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on th...
Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on the Rosetta Stone

Decipherment is another branch of philology which looks at resurrecting dead languages and previously unread texts such as done and achieved by Jean-Francois Champollion in the decipherment of Hieroglyphs with the use of the Rosetta Stone. And more recently by Michael Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. Decipherment would be key to the understanding of still little understood languages such as Linear A. Decipherment uses known languages, grammatical tools and vocabulary to find and apply comparisons within an unread text. By doing so more of the text can be read gradually as similarities and grammatical forms become better understood. The remaining text can then be filled in through further comparison, analysis, and elimination of incorrect solutions.

Textual philology editing is yet another branch of philology with includes the study of texts and their history in a sense including textual criticism. This branch was created in relation to the long traditions of Biblical studies; in particular with the variations of manuscripts. It looks at the authorship, date and provenance of the text to place it in its historical context and to produce ‘critical editions’ of the texts.

Significant Examples:

The importance of philology is exhibited in its use and achievements. Without philology the bible translation would be even more wrong, trust me read it in the original Greek. We would not be able to translate hieroglyphs, Linear B, Linear A, Sanskrit, any ancient language. Our entire written past would be blank, we would not have the information we have now on mathematics, social structure, philosophy, science, medicine, civilisation, transport, engineering, marketing, accounting, well anything really, knowledge would not have been rediscovered or passed on without the ability to study texts and language. Understand the love of words.

Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

This page can also be followed on FACEBOOK and TWITTER for regular discussions and news updates. Enjoy and please comment and share.

Please SCROLL DOWN for the most recent posts. Previous posts can be searched through the search bar or browsed in the archives by month on the right hand side bar.

Restituta: The Training of the Female Physician

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Now that the journal has been officially launched. Here is a link to my newest academic publication for anyone interested.

Metz Medica – Female doctor inscription from Rome in Latin

Restituta: The Training of the Female Physician

“The ‘Restituta Inscription’, IG XVI 1751, is a unique inscription dedicated by a woman, Restituta, to her professor and patron Claudius Alcimus, who was also a doctor of Caesar. The inscription is unique because it is the only excavated epigraph that documents the relationship between a female physician and her male teacher.The content alone makes the ‘Restituta Inscription’ significant to understanding the role played by women in the medical profession of first-century-CE Rome. The purpose of this paper is to place the ‘Restituta Inscription’ within its historical context and to interpret its content in terms of both the dedicator’s connection to the medical profession as well as the interaction between males and females within that profession. Supplementary inscriptions and literary evidence will assist in this analysis…”

 

Graecomuse and Parkinson’s Disease

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Hello again to all my dear followers! This post is kind of a follow up to my post on the Parkinson’s Disease in Ancient History. It is all very well looking at the past but we must also look to the future.

I would love for some of you to take the five minutes to read the below information and/or visit my fundraising page just to raise a little more awareness about Parkinson’s Disease.

Fellow Parkinson’s Fundraiser Misty!

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system resulting in decreased motor skills due to the death of dopamine-generating cells. Symptoms include tremors and rigidity, gait, slowness in movement, cognitive issues, sensory and emotional issues, sleep problems and depression. With over 80,000 people in Australia living with Parkinson’s, it is almost certain that you know someone affected by it.

The Role Reversal

There is unfortunately a limited awareness of Parkinson’s Disease in modern society. If you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s for yourself, family or friends, then please go to http://www.parkinsons.org.au/ which provides information, support, helplines and ways you can help.

It’s only in the last while, with the likes of celebrities such as Michael J Fox, Mohammed Ali and the last Pope being affected, that it is finally getting some coverage.

Join Team Fox

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are effective treatment and therapyoptions that can help manage symptoms, so people with Parkinson’s disease can continue to enjoy many years of independent and productive lives.

A Shaky Beginning: Parkinson’s Disease in Ancient History

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After finding out that an average of 30 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease every day in Australia I started to wonder how long humans have known and dealt with the disease. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system resulting in decreased motor skills due to the death of dopamine-generating cells. Symptoms include tremors and rigidity, gait, slowness in movement, cognitive issues, sensory and emotional issues, sleep problems and depression. With over 80,000 people in Australia living with Parkinson’s, it is almost certain that you know someone affected by it.

Mucuna Pruriens Bak

The oldest surviving reference to what could be Parkinson’s is in the traditions of Ancient India, with the treatment of the disease in the ‘Ayurveda’, an ancient system of medicine dating from around 5000-3000 BC. Gourie-Devi et.al explains in his ‘Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease in ‘Ayurveda’: Discussion Paper’ that the neurological disorders in the Ayurveda are thought to be due to an imbalance of ‘vata’. Parkinson’s is believed to be what is described as kampavata which bears a strong resemblance to the clinical features of Parkinson’s. The Ayurveda’s description of kampavata includes tremors, stiffness, depression and a depletion of movement. The Ancient Indians prescribed a number of drugs to battle the symptoms of the disease, some of which scientists have come back to review today. These include the root of Withania somifera, the seed of Mucuna Pruriens Bak, Root of Sida Cordifolia and the fruit of Hyocyamus reticulatus. In recent years, the experimentation with Mucuna Pruriens Bak has resulted in significant improvement in trial patients. This is recorded in Vaidya et.al Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease with the Cowhage Plant – Mucuna Pruriens Bak.

The Chinese appear to be the next to make descriptions suggestive of Parkinson’s Disease. These date to around 425 BC. Zhen-Xin Zhang et.al (2006) asserts that traditional Chinese medicine recommended an antitremor pill which is still used to this day in the traditional sphere. He suggests that based on the evidence provided by Zhang Zihe, in the first recorded case of Parkinson’s Disease in the manuscript Ru Men Shi Qin, the disease was first described in China around 2400 years ago.

Nestor and Telemachus

There are several references to ailments that are very similar in symptoms to Parkinson’s in the Ancient Greek literature. We cannot for certain say that these were Parkinson’s but the similarities suggest that the Ancient Greeks and later the Romans had knowledge of similar ailments and the known symptoms. Homer tells in the Odyssey that King Nestor suffers from symptoms which are typical of Parkinson’s and hence can no longer compete in athletic contests. Erasistratus of Keos describes in the third century BC a freezing that occurs such in Parkinson’s when he describes ‘paradoxos’: a type of paralysis which effects a person when walking by making them stop suddenly and being unable to continue, which wears off after some time. Dioscorides also mentions in his Materia Medica that beaver testicles are helpful in the treatment of lethargical problems, tremblings and convulsions alongside neurological and diseases of the nerves, when prepared with vinegar and roses. Celsus describes a similar ailment in his de Medicina Octo Libri and Galen is often said to give the first definite definition in his description of disorders of motor function. Galen, in his On Tremor, Palpitation, Convulsion and Shivering even distinguishes between the different forms on the basis of their origin and appearance.

The Byzantine period and following Medieval period saw the likes of Paul of Aigina (625-690AD) and Ibn Sina (980-1037AD) who provide further discussion of ‘shaking palsies’. The first definitive study of Parkinson’s Disease in Western medicine though is ascribed to its namesake, the English doctor James Parkinson. James Parkinson published a detailed description in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817.

There is unfortunately a limited awareness of Parkinson’s Disease in modern society. If you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s for yourself, family or friends, then please go to http://www.parkinsons.org.au/ which provides information, support, helplines and ways you can help.

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Recommended Reading: Blum and Blum, Health and Healing in Rural Greece

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Blum, R. and E. Blum (1965). Health and Healing in Rural Greece: A Study of Three Communities. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

This study of rural healing traditions in 1960s Greece is an excellent starting point for those historians who wish to read into the anthropological field. The aim of the book is to provide an understanding health beliefs in the rural societies of Greece by looking at two peasant communities called Dhadhi and Panorio, and a shepherd encampment in the region of Doxario called Saracatzani.

Blum and Blum provide an interesting and complete study of each community based on personal experience in the areas, interviews, statistics and histories. In doing so we are presented with comparison of ancient and modern methods and traditions concerning healing practices. Comparisons are drawn from the ancient literary evidence in relation to homeopathic forms of medicine and beliefs concerning modern technological and rational medicine. Blum and Blum highlight the mutual obligations seen within the traditions and the communities’ cooperation.

Unlike many modern scholars dealing with medical traditions in the modern world, Blum and Blum move beyond the herbal and scientific aspects and into discussions of magic and ritual, superstition and midwifery. The study is filled with illuminating figures concerning health practices including issues with water supply, cleanliness and focus on ancient herbal methods over modern medicine. The examples of cures in these communities are particularly interesting and illustrate the uniqueness of the environment and their beliefs. My favourite being the use of mouse oil to cure basically anything. (One takes a mouse, drowns it oil in a jar, leaves the mouse in the jar of oil in the sun for one year, take and apply to affected areas. My only issue is that if you haven’t got any handy you will be waiting a very long time for your cure to mature. And I’m also against the drowning of the innocent mouse!!! Poor thing.)

Blum and Blum focus on a range of folk healers and practices specific to both the male and female sexes. The information that they find draws certain conclusions that ancient traditions have been maintained and transferred into the modern rural healing traditions.

For someone who has not read widely on anthropology it was an enlightening introduction to modern scholarship and the links between traditions. Additionally it allows one to clearly see the types of studies undertaken by anthropologists in different environments and how those techniques relate to other disciplines; including archaeology, history, psychology and sociology.

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