Illustration from a medieval manuscript showing a pig on a table being dissected by Galen with an audience of about 10 men standing around the table and watching.

Image of Galen dissecting in front of an audience. Close up from the title page engraving of Galeni Opera Omnia Vol. 4 (Venice, 1565).

Dissecting History:

Repopulating the World of Roman Medical Research

Claire Bubb


This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

Our understanding of Roman medicine is dominated by one overshadowing figure: the prolific author and doctor Galen. His massive output, incisive intelligence, and aggressive self-promotion served to dominate the historical record very early on, with the result that other ancient voices in the field were not copied and have, accordingly, been mostly silenced. Nevertheless, even Galen is candid about the fact that his peers were not only numerous, but many were also formidable competition. Drawing on new research from Bubb's recent book, Dissection in Classical Antiquity: A Social and Medical History, this talk will tackle the diverse but almost completely obscured world of scientific dissection in the Roman Empire beyond that performed by Galen. While offering insight into ancient Roman knowledge of anatomy and approaches to dissection, it also highlights the exciting challenges that face the modern researcher: the delicate task of piecing together oblique remarks and (sometimes literally) scraps of information in order to repopulate the world of antiquity and breathe life back into all-but-forgotten names of the past.

Claire Bubb is Assistant Professor of Classical Literature and Science at ISAW. She received her A.B. in Classics: Greek and Latin from Brown University and her Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard University. She was subsequently a Visiting Assistant Professor at ISAW and a Faculty Fellow at the NYU Department of Classics before joining the faculty at ISAW.

Her research interests center on medicine and the biological sciences in the Greco-Roman world, with a particular focus on Galen and Aristotle. Her book, Dissection in Classical Antiquity: A Social and Medical History (Cambridge, 2022) traces the practice of dissection from early Greece through Late Antiquity and offers a parallel study of anatomical literature across the same span. She also co-edited, with Michael Peachin, the volume Medicine and the Law under the Roman Empire (Oxford, forthcoming 2023), which argues for unique parallels between the two fields and juxtaposes them within their broader social contexts. In 2020/21, she co-curated ISAW’s first born-digital exhibition, The Empire’s Physician: Prosperity, Plague, and Healing in Ancient Rome, with Clare Fitzgerald and Alexander Jones. Her current book project addresses the topic of digestion in Greek and Roman medical and philosophical thought.

The reception following this lecture will celebrate Claire Bubb's book publication, Dissection in Classical Antiquity: A Social and Medical History (Cambridge, 2022), and other recent publications by ISAW community members.

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