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Title: Oribasius' woman : medicine, Christianity and society in Late Antiquity
Author: Musgrove, Caroline Joanne
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 4907
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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As a writer of medical summaries and compendia, Oribasius has often been dismissed as a harbinger of late antique medical decline. This dissertation challenges this long-lived assumption by revaluating the compiler and his writings, and the place of medicine in the cultural and social landscape of late antiquity. Chapter one examines the scholarly biases that surround Oribasius’ career, positing that his Medical Collections were produced in response to the intellectual priorities of the Emperor Julian’s scholarly circle. Moreover, both the medical art and the physician were highly regarded in the fourth century, as chapter two demonstrates. Not only do the Collections reflect the priorities and order of empire, but the idea of the medical encounter granted both emperor and bishop a symbolic language with which to pose and articulate social questions in this period. Chapters three and four outline the ways Oribasius engaged with the medical realities of his day, by retaining in his compilation a sense of personal experience and patient interaction. In his borrowed case histories, female subservience in the face of medical authority is expected; whilst the hierarchy of the elite household is shown to dictate his approach to the patients within it. A messier reality of female agency in their own physical and spiritual care is better captured by Christian writers in the miracle account and sermon, in part because Christians like the Cappadocians and John Chrysostom imbued female choice with new theological meaning. Chapter five sets Oribasius’ approach to the female patient in the broader context of late antique social shifts. The compiler’s careful delineation of responsibility and blame in dealings with vulnerable pubertal and pregnant women reflect an attempt to reaffirm an unwritten social contract with the elite and the paterfamilias; a social priority which is also apparent in the legal compendia of the period. Christian writers, meanwhile, drew metaphorically upon medical discourses of generativity and patrimony to distinguish Christian society from the classical past, as chapter six demonstrates. In the final analysis, Oribasius’ Collections are shown to be intimately and variously in dialogue with the society that produced them, reflecting both the high standing of the art in late antiquity, and its symbolic role in defence of the social world, patriarchy and empire. Christian interactions with medicine are shown to reflect many of these same priorities, and to engage with medical norms in more pervasive ways than has often been noted. But it is only in the Christian text that the medical writers’ woman transcends the determinisms of her traditional generativity and physical inferiority, so central to the writings of Oribasius and his classical predecessors.
Supervisor: Flemming, Rebecca Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Oribasius ; late antique medicine ; Early Christianity ; women's medicine ; ancient medicine ; generation ; motherhood ; virginity ; medical compilation ; ancient gynaecology ; fourth century ; women's agency ; asceticism ; social history of medicine ; case history ; Christian sermon ; Christianity and medicine ; Medical Collections ; self-care ; medical metaphor ; medical accountability ; female nature