Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-2-2021

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis



First Advisor

Molly Pasco-Pranger

Second Advisor

Mary Hayes

Third Advisor

Brad Cook

Relational Format



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.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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