Divine or Demonic? A Social Approach to Epilepsy from Greco-Roman Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages
Date of Award
This thesis seeks to evaluate how epilepsy was defined, perceived and understood in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as how these ideas were adapted and changed during the early centuries of Christianity. To this end, the thesis is divided into six parts. The Introduction briefly explains epilepsy and discusses how the social approach method can be applied to the disease. Chapter I introduces the Hippocratic understanding of epilepsy and outlines the Greco-Roman religious concepts of pollution and purification, which frequently informed ancient perceptions of epilepsy. The first chapter also analyzes the general relationship between disability, disease and divine selection in the ancient world, using Anchises as a model example. With these issues in mind, Chapter II examines Aristotle’s notion of “great men” and contemplates how such leaders as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Caligula may have used rumors of their epilepsy to gain prestige and connect themselves with the divine. Conversely, Chapter III considers the unfortunate realities of having epilepsy in ancient Rome based on its common Latin names and the writings of Pliny the Elder and Apuleius. Chapter IV furthers this line of inquiry, assessing how epilepsy and epileptics are portrayed in the Gospels and, in turn, considering how the Gospels directly influenced medieval stigmatizations of the disease. Ultimately, I conclude that epilepsy is still widely misunderstood in the developing and developed worlds based on several recent sociological studies and argue that increased funding, awareness and discussion of epilepsy might help dispel these millennia-old misconceptions.
Sumrall, James Nicholas, "Divine or Demonic? A Social Approach to Epilepsy from Greco-Roman Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages" (2021). Honors Theses. 1870.
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Ancient History, Greek and Roman through Late Antiquity Commons, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Commons, Medieval History Commons