Calls for Papers

CFP-"Medical Modernities"

Society of Classical Studies 156th Annual Meeting


JANUARY 2-5, 2025




Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine


“Medical Modernities”


Organized by Aileen Das (University of Michigan) and Calloway Scott (University of Cincinnati)



When reflecting on the causes for the errors in Galen’s writings, the medieval Islamicate physician-philosopher Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (d. c. 925 CE) proposes in his Doubts about Galen (Koetschet 2019) that the ‘arts never cease progressing towards and approaching perfection’. Additional discoveries, he continues, are more easily reached because ‘what took the ancients a long time to find out comes to their successors very quickly’. Al-Rāzī seems to be exceptional in his forthrightness about the advantages contemporary, or ‘modern’, physicians have over their forebearers in the practice of their craft. There is a rich body of scholarship (e.g., von Staden 2009; Tieleman 2023) that has tracked how past Greco-Roman doctors such as Galen himself choose to align themselves with famous precursors, notably Hippocrates and Plato, to construct their expertise, even when their own theories respond critically to these authorities. This panel invites papers that consider how physicians across time and in various antiquities mobilize the medical past to define their contribution to their respective medical tradition(s). Papers could, for example, focus on how ancient doctors position themselves in relation to their modern contemporaries as opposed to past practitioners. For instance, a contribution could contextualize the Hippocratic writers’ own understandings of medicine’s capacity to be completed in relation to other fifth-century BCE notions of the nature of ‘art’ (technē). A more expansive approach might pursue how medical traditions construct their ‘modernity’ against the perceived past of ‘Others’, such as Greek modernity as opposed to Egyptian antiquity. Alternatively, a general line of inquiry could explore how doctors conceive of medicine’s chronology: what constitutes the medical past, present, and future?; is it a closed tradition capable of reaching perfection, as al-Rāzī suggests, or is it open-ended? We also encourage submissions that approach this topic from a presentist angle: how do biomedical practitioners today invoke the medical past in their archaeologies of certain diseases or methodologies? Along this line, papers could tackle the ethically fraught issue of retrospective diagnosis, where modern physicians or historians attempt to interpret in biomedical terms what ancient actors suffered from based on (primarily) textual and material evidence. What pedagogical purpose does retrospective diagnosis serve, if any, in the teaching of the medical past? How is retrospective diagnosis an outcome of modern divisions in the academy: does this type of scholarship replicate disciplinary silos, in which doctors and historians produce their own separate histories of medicine, or encourage new disciplinary configurations?


Abstracts must be no more than 500 words, not including bibliography, and should contain the following information:



The abstract should make it clear that the paper is suitable for oral presentation within a 20-minute time limit. For full details, please see the SCS Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts.


Please send anonymized abstracts (no personal details in the abstract or accompanying document) by email to Aileen Das (University of Michigan) at by March 15, 2024. The organizers will review all submissions anonymously, and their decision will be communicated to the authors of abstracts by April 5, 2024.


Works Cited

Koetschet, Pauline (2019). Abū Bakr al-Rāzī «Doutes sur Galien». Berlin: De Gruyter.


Tieleman, Teun (2023). ‘Galen Between Medicine and Philosophy”, in Aileen R. Das (ed.), Galen’s Humanistic Medicine. Göttingen, Mohr Siebeck, 127–134.


Von Staden, Heinrich (2009) ‘Staging the Past, Staging Oneself: Galen on Hellenistic Exegetical Traditions’, in Chris Gill, Tim Whitmarsh, and John Wilkins (ed.), Galen and the World of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 132–56.


CFP-"(New) Materialities of Medicine"

Society of Classical Studies 155th Annual Meeting

January 4-7, 2024

Chicago, Illinois

Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine


“(New) Materialities of Medicine”


Organized by Colin Webster (UC Davis) and Aileen Das (Michigan)



The new materialist turn in the humanities has returned focus to embodied experiences, physical infrastructure, and tangible things. Although many studies in ancient medicine remain resolutely bound to texts and philological methodologies, the orientation of healing towards a somatic object, however construed and conceptualized, has kept physical realities a perpetual, if sometimes uncomfortable, presence in the discipline. The publication of Lawrence Bliquez’s The Tools of Asclepius (Brill 2014) made the implements of Greek and Greco-Roman medicines more easily accessible to scholars, while Debby Sneed’s discussion of accessibility ramps in healing cults, or Jane Draycott’s surveys of prosthetics, have made materiality a vivid access point to ancient experiences of health, illness, and disability. How can continued work on recipes, and materia medica help expand entryways into the past? How can we rethink what materiality might mean within ancient theoretical frameworks that consider sympathy, celestial and solar “influences,” and the spoken/sung word within physical terms? What about votives, reliquaries, and other religious objects? How can we incorporate these articles of healing practice within broader material accounts of health and illness? The recent passing of Bruno Latour might also serve as call to reframe ancient medicine around non-human agents, such as plants, whose survival was ensured—and sometimes endangered—as a result of their bioactive properties. How can we revisit the relationship between theoretical and material things, especially since lived physical realities are themselves entangled with and constructed by conceptual, social, and linguistic frames, as new materialist approaches have revealed? Physical objects also cross borders and time periods, operating as proxies for the spread of ideas as well as indicators of lived practices. Can centering such objects help us cross cultural and linguistic boundaries to create new, productive, global histories of medicine? What about medical objects that help up cross temporal, as well as spatial boundaries? How should we think about implements that operated within multiple medical frameworks? Does materiality look different in Greece, Rome, Egypt, Assyro-Babylonia, Persia, India, or elsewhere? How should we think about material transmission of knowledge in the form of manuscripts alongside sustained and lived material practices? The organizers invite contributions on any aspect of the materials and materiality of ancient medicine, with special interest in papers that present reflect on how their approaches help reframe older theoretical issues, or present vivid illustrations of how material objects can form the center of investigations into medicines of the past.


Abstracts must be no more than 500 words, not including bibliography, and should contain the following information:

The abstract should make it clear that the paper is suitable for oral presentation within a 20-minute the time limit. For full details, please see the Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts.

Please send anonymized abstracts (no personal details in the abstract or accompanying document) by email to Colin Webster (UC Davis) at by March, 17, 2023. The organizers will review all submissions and communicate their decision by March 27, 2023.



Works Cited


Bliquez, Lawrence (2014). The Tools of Asclepius: Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times. Boston/Leiden: Brill.


Draycott, Jane (2019). Prostheses in Antiquity. London/New York: Routledge.


Sneed, D. (2020). The architecture of access: Ramps at ancient Greek healing sanctuaries. Antiquity, 94 (376), 1015-1029.


Society of Classical Studies 154th Annual Meeting

JANUARY 5-8, 2023


Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine 

“Addiction, Dependency, and Habit”

Organized by Colin Webster (UC Davis) and Aileen Das (Michigan)



The opioid crisis has been devastating American families for almost two decades now, but despite its incredible human toll, it has barely made a ripple in academic debates, even as we enter another revolution in the use of psychotropic drugs to treat issues of mental health. We live in the conceptual shadow of moralizing prohibitions, the war on drugs, the medicalization of substance abuse, and the consequences of all these approaches. This panel seeks to explore the discourses around addictions, habits, and dependencies in antiquity, attempting to analyze these issues without the familiar frames of modern psychology and modern biomedicine. How were such issues conceptualized in antiquity? Without the categories of “psychoactive” or “psychotropic” substances, what counts as a problematic substance dependency? The Lotus-eaters of the Odyssey (Od. 9.82–104) stand as an early warning against pharmacologically induced bliss. Yet, ancient physicians frequently prescribed drugs that are high-risk for habit-formation, most notably opium and alcohol. Marcus Aurelius reportedly consumed the opium-containing drug theriac every day, and this “habit” [ethos] both created a potential addiction and allowed him to endure the hardships of military campaign (Gal. De antidotis 14.4K; cf. Diod. Sic. 71.6.3–4). Mithridates, in order to keep himself immune to poison, consumed toxic substances every day so that, as Pliny says, “he might render them harmless through habit itself [consuetudine ipse]” (Pl. NH 24.3.6; cf. Gal. De antidotis 14.4K). What does it mean when medical treatments produce dependencies or create harms? What are the dangers presented by long-term therapeutic interventions? How can we think about these issues using disability and chronic illness as frames, where the boundary between addictions and life-improving treatments is even less clear? Moreover, regimen-based medical approaches enforce near-constant attention to health in a way that itself flirts with the pathological. Eating-for-health can easily slide into a compulsive eating disorder. How do philosophical and medical notions of habit, dependency and immoderation interact? Is “moderation” the only morally-tinged principle guiding medical consumption patterns? Beyond philosophy, are there literary or mythic reflections on the dangers or benefits of pharmacological or medical dependencies? How do intraregional and intracultural drug trades shape attitudes toward particular substances? How do religious rituals involving pharmacological and therapeutic substances structure their use more broadly, either mitigating or promoting dependency? How did the prevalence of wine in Greek medicine affect its reception within Islamic tradition? Proposed papers are welcome to address these issues or any other related topics, including, but not limited to questions of chronic illness, pain, mortality, harm-reduction, risk-assessment, mental illness, gender, economics, and trade, whether in Greek, Roman, or other pre-modern contexts. Please send abstracts that follow the guidelines for individual abstracts (see the SCS Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts) by email to Colin Webster (UC Davis) at by March, 11, 2022. Ensure that the abstracts are anonymous. The organizers will review all submissions anonymously, and their decision will be communicated to the authors of abstracts by March 28, 2022.


Society for Classical Studies 2022 Annual Meeting

Jan. 5–8, 2022 

Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Ancient Medicine and Pharmacology

Infection, Pandemic and the Borders of Medicine 

Organized by Colin Webster, UC Davis          


Viral infections are so wedded to our modern disease ontologies that most histories of ancient medicine start by marking their absence. In fact, plagues and pandemics sit uncomfortably within the history of Greek and Latin medicine. As Vivian Nutton states, there was “little or no connection between the practitioners of ancient medicine and public health” (2000: 70–71). Yet, as Parker (1983), Nutton (1983) and Leven (1993) discuss, ancient authors—medical and otherwise—did promote various theories to account for widespread illnesses, whether attributing them to miasma, environmental effects, noxious airs or simple transmission by contact. Greek responses to plagues included purifications, paeans, temple dedications and ritual sacrifice. Roman sources, too, describe historical pandemic-averting measures, whether scapegoating, religious propitiation, or the importation of foreign rites. Multiple ancient authors cast pandemics as external infiltrations, attacks on the homeland from without. Yet such foreign pathogens quickly become endemic, as diseases get woven into the fabric of local life, social systems and physical architecture (cf. Sallares 2002). Plagues reveal the connections between European, Asian and African populations and highlight the shared world of antiquity. They also show how local communities face and conceptualize these diseases in unique ways.


This panel seeks to open up the discussion of plagues and pandemics relative to the faults lines that have opened in light of our current crisis. The plagues of antiquity have been characterized as “great levelers” (Scheidel 2017) and empire enders (Harper 2017), as well as windows into the shared community of human vulnerability. Yet our own pandemic has highlighted how unequal the distribution of such vulnerability can be and who makes money from public medical crises. Livy catalogues the various social and economic vectors along which plagues travelled in antiquity. Does recent work on bioarcheology and genetic analysis (Grmek 1991; Salares 2006; McCormick 2006; Morelli, Song, and Mazzoni et al. 2010; Gourevitch 2011) or cross-cultural comparative analysis (Little, ed. 2012) help us further understand how pandemics affected (and assembled) different social and ethnic groups? Plagues are public health crises that move through political, religious, economic and social geographies. In so doing, they dismantle any notions of medicine as a field in isolation and instead disclose the connectedness of bodies, cultures and spaces. Michelakis (2019) and Gardner (2019) have recently examined the compression between narratives of disease and social unrest in Greek and Latin literature respectively. Raza Kolb (2021) has traced the modern (post-)colonial compression of terrorism and disease. What other phenomena in antiquity get expressed in terms of plagues? Do ideas get described this way? Ideologies? Religions? Piracy? Can these disease-like phenomena be treated by (quasi-)medical means? What can the relative absence of medical responses to plagues say about the recognized limits of physicians and other healers? Can the chaotic transmission of (mis)information through current media channels help us rethink the implied rationality of the “medical marketplace” model? How do physicians treat the trauma pandemics leave behind? What forms of therapy supplemented or dovetailed with medicine? Proposed papers are welcome to address these issues or any other topics related to plagues and pandemics, including, but not limited to, questions of race, ethnicity, slavery, disability, gender and migration.


Please send abstracts of 500 words maximum (excluding bibliography) by email to Colin Webster at by March 1, 2021. Ensure that the abstracts are anonymous and follow all guidelines for individual abstracts (see the SCS Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts). The organizers will review all submissions anonymously, and their decision will be communicated by March 15, 2021.



Select Bibliography


Bagnall, Roger S. (2002). “The Effects of Plague: Model and Evidence.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 15: 114-120.

Bradley, Mark. (2012). Rome, Pollution and Propriety: Dirt, Disease and Hygiene in the Eternal City from Antiquity to Modernity. Cambridge University Press.

Duncan-Jones, Richard P. (1996). “The Impact of the Antonine Plague.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 9: 108–136.

Flemming, Rebecca. (2010). “Pliny and the pathologies of empire.” Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar 14: 1-24.

_____  (2018).Galen and the plague.” In C. Petit (ed.), Galen's Treatise Περὶ Ἀλυπίας (De indolentia) in Context (Leiden: Brill), pp. 219-244.

Gourevitch, Danielle. (2011). Pour une archéologie de la médecine romaine. Paris. Editions de Boccard.

_____  (2013). Limos Kai Loimos: A Study of the Galenic Plague: 10 (Collection Pathographie). Paris. Editions de Boccard.

Gardner, Hunter. (2019). Pestilence and the Body Politic in Latin Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grmek, Mirko D. (1991) Diseases in the Ancient Greek World. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Harper, Kyle. (2017). The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Leven, Karl-Heinz. (1993). “Miasma und Metadosis—antike Vorstellungen von Ansteckung.” Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte 11: 44-73.

Little, Lester. (Ed.). (2006). Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541–750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Littman, Robert J., and Maxwell L. Littman. (1973). “Galen and the Antonine Plague.” The American Journal of Philology 94.3: 243-255.

Longrigg J. (1992). “Epidemic, Ideas and Classical Athenian Society.” In T. Ranger and P. Slack, eds. Epidemics and Ideas: Essays on the Historical Perception of Pestilence. Cambridge University Press, pp. 21–44.

McCormick, Michael. (2003). “Rats, Communications, and Plague: Toward an Ecological History,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 34: 1-25.

_____ (2006). Toward a Molecular History of the Justinianic Pandemic. In L. Little (Ed.), Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541–750 (pp. 290-312). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michelakis, P. (2019). Naming the Plague in Homer, Sophocles, and Thucydides. American Journal of Philology 140(3), 381-414.

Mikalson, J. D. (1984). “Religion and the Plague in Athens, 431-423 BC.” Studies Presented to Sterling Dow 1: 217.

Morelli, G., Song, Y., Mazzoni, C. et al. (2010). “Yersinia pestis genome sequencing identifies patterns of global phylogenetic diversity.” Nature Genetics 42: 1140–1143.

Northwood, S. J. (2006). “Grain Scarcity and Pestilence in the Early Roman Republic: Some Significant Patterns.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 49.1: 81-92.

Nutton, Vivian. (1983) “The seeds of disease: an explanation of contagion and infection from the Greeks to the Renaissance.” Medical History 27.01: 1-34.

_____  (2000). “Medical Thoughts on Urban Pollution.” In Valerie M. Hope and Eireann Marshall, eds., Death and Disease in the Ancient City. Routledge, pp. 65-73.

Parker, Robert. (1983). Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raza Kolb, Anjuli Fatima. (2021) Epidemic Empire: Colonialism, Contagion, and Terror, 1817–2020. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Sallares, Robert. Malaria and Rome: A History of Malaria in Ancient Italy: A History of Malaria in Ancient Italy. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Sallares, Robert. (2006). “Ecology, Evolution, and Epidemiology of Plague.” In L. Little (Ed.), Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541–750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 231-289.

Scheidel, Walter. (2003). “Germs for Rome.” In C. Edwards and G. Woolf (eds.), Rome the Cosmopolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 158-176.

_____  (2018). The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Scobie, Alex. (1986). “Slums, Sanitation, and Mortality in the Roman World,” Klio 68.2: 399- 433.

Stathakopoulos, Dionysios. (2004). Famine and pestilence in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics. Aldershot.