04462 - History of Science and Technique

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Quality education

Academic Year 2021/2022

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

Ancient Medicine and the relationship between body, mind, and brain.

The course will explore the most relevant theories and practices of Graeco-Roman medicine: we will trace the historical development of ancient medicine from Hippocrates to Galen, with some references to the reception of Galen’s science in the Byzantine and Oriental (Syriac and Arabic) traditions. The second part of the course will deal with a more specific topic, namely the body–mind relationship, with particular attention to Aristotle’s biological writings and their reception. We will read and comment on a selection of ancient sources (in translation) in order to discuss the different models that the Ancients proposed to explain the relation between the physiology of the body and the activities of the soul: which role do the brain and the heart play in these models? Can a soul get sick? Which kind of pathologies are mania, phrenitis and melancholy?

In the first part of the course ('Ancient medicine', ca. 40 hours), the following topics will be covered:

Hippocrates and the Hippocratic collection

Hellenistic medicine

The medical ‘sects’ and medicine in Rome

Galen of Pergamon

The Galenism in Late-Antiquity and in the Syro-Arabic tradition

The second part of the course (body-mind-brain relationships; ca. 20 hours) will deal with:

Medicine in Aristotle

Brain, blood, heart and pneuma: their role in Aristotle’s writings

The melancholy of ingenious men


(1) V. Gazzaniga, La medicina antica, Roma: Carocci, 2018.

(2) M. Vegetti, “Tra il sapere e la pratica: la medicina ellenistica”, in M.D. Grmek (a cura di), Storia del pensiero medico occidentale. 1. Antichità e Medioevo, Bari: Laterza, 1993, pp. 73–120 (available on Virtuale)

(3) T. Manzoni, Aristotele e il cervello. Le teorie del più grande biologo dell’antichità nella storia del pensiero scientifico, Roma: Carocci, 2007.

(4) Bruno Centrone (a cura di), [Aristotele], Problema XXX, 1. Perché tutti gli uomini straordinari sono melanconici, Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2018.

(5) Selection of primary sources that have been read and commented on in class (available on Virtuale)

Students who will not attend classes are also expected to read:

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

(7) 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