Hippocratic Pain

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Classical Studies
ancient medicine
history of pain
humoral medicine
Classical Literature and Philology
History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
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This dissertation assesses the manifold functions of pain in the practice of Hippocratic medicine and examines the interpenetration of pain and Hippocratic theories of the body. Chapter One contrasts the Hippocratic view of pain with the modern understanding of the phenomenon. While the experience of pain is actually subjective and need not necessarily be associated with a physical cause, Hippocratic authors conceived of pain as an objective phenomenon that was always caused by material change. The following three chapters of this project explore the consequences of this relationship between pain and material. Chapter Two argues that, owing to its connection with material change, Hippocratic pain gains special semiotic currency: hence, pain is often the crucial or only sign of disease. As a symptom, pain is used to classify and identify diseases, predict the course or outcome of a disease, determine the type and application of treatment, and prove important theories, such as the theory of humors. Chapter Three argues that the strategies whereby the physician perceives the patient's pain rely on - or at least reveal a belief in - the objectivity of pain experience and expression. Nevertheless, the Hippocratic physician shaped the phenomenon of pain both by prompting the patient to report only particular, "relevant," pains and by investing certain dimensions of the pain experience with special significance. Chapter Four explores what happens to pain when the body within which it operates is "marked" as young or old, male or female. In some cases, the material etiology and association with change that define pain dictate how these patients were assumed to have felt (e.g. the bodies of unborn infants must of necessity experience pain if they undergo change). At the same time, however, assumptions about how marked bodies work can influence the presentation of pain in these patients (e.g. assumptions about the reliability of children and women influence how pain in these marked bodies is communicated to the physician).

Ralph M. Rosen
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