Calls for Papers

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.