teaching, doctors

Greek and Roman Medicine: academic friendship

I was delighted today to hear that the publisher of French version of my Very Little Book, Greek and Roman Medicine (2001) has now made it available on open access. The link you need is here. Even if French isn’t your strongest language, I’d recommend it just for the illustrations. This is how I came to co-write that French version, La Médecine dans l’Antiquité grecque et romaine (2008).

In the academic world, things can be pretty cut-throat, but people also make firm friendships. Two of my best ones, which continue even now, are with Monica Green – a historian of medicine who first dropped in to meet me on a trip from the USA to Cambridge in the mid-1980s – and with Lesley Dean-Jones, who was working on the Hippocratics and Aristotle when I was writing my 1985 PhD on Hippocratic gynaecology. I had a wonderful road trip with Monica some years ago when we travelled from her home in Arizona to a conference in California via Vegas and the Grand Canyon: I had a great stay with Lesley in Texas for a few weeks teaching her graduate class in ancient medicine and learning the rules of baseball.

Academic friends are very special. One of my best friends outside the Anglo-American bubble has been Véronique Dasen. We are sisters separated by birth. The funding of the Swiss system in which she works is much more complicated than anything I’ve seen elsewhere, and relies a lot more on funded short-term projects, as a result of which funding – courtesy of Véronique – I’ve had half a dozen or so trips to Switzerland to give keynote lectures, hang out with graduate students, or take part in seminars. There was a particularly memorable one in Fribourg when the Swiss did rather better than expected in a football championship and I was kept awake all night in the hotel as the cowbells rang in the streets… and another when I had the best fondue ever, ever, ever, followed by superb meringues and cream. There’s something special about Swiss milk and cheese.

In the foreword to La Médecine dans l’Antiquité grecque et romaine, we talk about our ‘amitié’, and that was certainly the basis of the project. It was on one of my visits that Véronique suggested she could translate my English Greek and Roman Medicine and add in more illustrations with commentary on them. I knew this would work because we know each other’s research very well, and her English is superb. As she worked through the translation, we had a few discussions about what I really meant, and these were wonderful in making me realise even more how the process of translation is not that simple! The only area of disagreement concerned Chapter 8. When I wrote the English book, I was very proud of not having a ‘Women chapter’. I wanted to incorporate women as patients and as healers into the main body of the text, and that was a political move. Women are not just an ‘add-on’ to history. But Véronique was adamant that we had to have a ‘Women chapter’ for a French audience. We agreed, then, to have a new chapter and we comment on that decision in the foreword. Overall, I love this version of the book: having illustrations (some in colour!) and key texts adds enormously to its value. 

I’m still sad that we couldn’t include the questions with which the English version ended, as I know these have been life-saving for people who aren’t Greek and Roman specialists who’ve used the book in their teaching. But you can’t have everything. So, here are the originals – which may prove useful to anyone now who needs to teach the subject. You’re welcome.

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