04462 - History of Science and Technique

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

The history of science is by now a discipline present in almost all Italian universities and part of many degree courses of study, both in the humanities and sciences. The central role this course plays in university education is principally based on two fundamental motivations: 1) the recognition of the history of science as an ideal discipline in order to surpass the problematic fracture between humanist culture and scientific culture 2) the evidence that the development of science and technology is the most decisive and apparent aspect of the contemporary world. The history of science and technique course is therefore firstly characterised by its highly interdisciplinary content and by the possibility to offer outlooks of analysis and study that differ from and are alternative to the traditional approach of fields of knowledge, both in the humanist and scientific worlds.

Course contents

Medicine, science and philosophy between Hippocrates and Galen

The course will explore and discuss the mutual relationships between science, technology and philosophy by taking ancient medicine as a relevant case-study. In particular, the origins of Hippocratic medicine are deeply rooted in the ancient philosophical discourse, while, at the same time, Hippocratic authors sometimes tried to define the scope of their art in opposition with the coeval natural philosophy. Moreover, medicine is clearly entangled with various scientific and philosophical doctrines in Galen’s project of refunding the medical art. Non only mathematics, astronomy, logic or natural philosophy were part of the ancient medical discourse: moral philosophy as well played a central role, both in ancient deontological codes and in Galen’s attempt to regulate the passions of human soul to by treating those organs that were believed to control that passions.

The course will offer a general introduction to Hippocrates, Galen, and their reception up to the early Middle Ages. The main topics covered in the classes will be:

Medicine and Presocratic philosophy (10 hours)

Hippocrates and the writings attributed to him (15 hours)

Medicine in Plato and Aristotle (5 hours)

Hellenistic Medicine (5 hours)

Galen of Pergamum (20 hours)

The reception of Hippocrates and Galen between Byzantium and Baghdad (5 hours)


Classes will start on Monday, 30 September


(A) Mirko D. Grmek (ed.), Western Medical Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass. - London: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 1-169 + 273-290

Chapters: Introduction (Mirko D. Grmek); The Birth of Western Medical Art (Jacques Jouanna); Between Knowledge and Practice: Hellenistic Medicine (Mario Vegetti); The Paths of Knowledge: Medicine in the Roman World (Danielle Gourevitch); Reception and Tradition: Medicine in the Byzantine and Arab World (Gotthard Stohmaier) + Therapeutic strategies: Drugs (Alain Touwaide).

(B) Giulia Ecca, Etica medica sulle orme di Ippocrate (Milano: Editrice Bibliografica: 2018).

 (C) Mario Vegetti "L'immagine del medico e lo statuto epistemologico della medicina" in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II 37.2, pp. 1672-1717.

(C) Students will read (in translation) one treatise of the following list:

(1) Hippocrates, On ancient medicine (De prisca medicina). Suggested translation: W.H.S. Jones, Hippocrates (London, Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb, 1948), vol 1, pp. 1-64. 

(2) Hippocrates, The Sacred disease (De morbo sacro). Suggested translation: W.H.S. Jones, Hippocrates (London, Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb, 1952), vol 2, pp. 127-183.

(3) Hippocrates, Nature of Man (De natura hominis) + The Art (De arte). These two writings will count as a single treatise. Suggested translation: W.H.S. Jones, Hippocrates (London, Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb, 1952-53), vol. 2, pp. 185-217 and vol 4, pp. 1-41.

(4) Galen, An Exhortation to Study the Arts (Exhortatio ad medicinam). Suggested translation: P. Singer, Galen, Selected Works (Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 1997), pp. 35-52.

(5) Galen, The Capacities of the Body Depend on the Mixtures of the Body (Quod animi mores). Suggested translation: P. Singer (ed.), Galen's Psychological Writings (Cambridge: CUP, 2014), pp.335-424.

Teaching methods

Traditional lectures about the topics of the course;

Relevant passages of both medical and philosophical ancient sources will be read and commented on during the classes.

Students will be encouraged to deliver short presentations on particular topics (either individually or in groups)

Assessment methods

The exam consists in an oral interview during which the methodological and critical skills acquired by the student will be evaluated . The student will be invited to discuss the texts covered during the course and to contextualise them in their historical epoch. The achievement of a systematic knowlege of the issues addressed during the classes and a critical approach to the sources combined with precision of language will be assessed with marks of excellence (28-30). Mechanical and / or mnemonic knowledge of the texts combined with scholastic exposé will be assessed by good marking (23-27); training gaps and superficial contextualization and knoledge of the texts will be assessed with sufficient markings (18-22). Lacks of any of the above requirements will lead to a negative marking.

Teaching tools

Use of ppt slides and multimedia educational tools.

Office hours

See the website of Matteo Martelli