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Ippocrate e gli altri

 | 
Daniela Manetti
, 
Lorenzo Perilli
, 
Amneris Roselli

Parte prima. Intorno al Corpus Hippocraticum: il contesto greco

Doctors and dramatists

On diseases of girls and the tragic Electra

Elizabeth Craik

Résumé

It is argued that doctors and dramatists interacted in a lively two-way process. First, general parallels are traced between theatrical and medical activities. In this, the importance of north Greece in the late writing of Euripides (Bacchae) and in Hippocratic records from a similar era (Epidemics) is explored. Cult connections between Asklepios and Dionysos are considered. It is further seen that there are remarkable parallels in the expression and modes of thought, as well as in the structure and content, of medical and tragic texts. In the main part of the paper, a particular case is discussed. It is noted that the author responsible for much gynaecological and physiological material in the “Hippocratic” Corpus was familiar with tragedy of the late fifth century and that he affected conspicuously poetic patterns in composition. A comparison between the “Hippocratic” work On Diseases of Girls and Euripides Electra reveals common elements in presentation of the parthenos figure when gamos is delayed. While direct influence remains uncertain, the play can be regarded as an extended allegory based on received medical ideas: Electra is paradigmatic of any troubled parthenos, the marital solution to whose predicament is predetermined.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

1There are known cult connections between Asklepios and Dionysos: at Athens, there were sacrifices to Asklepios at the proagon of the Dionysia; at Epidauros too the festivals of these deities were interconnected. Medicine and tragedy share the fundamental themes of birth, marital relations and death; they are alike concerned with the abnormal and the aberrant. There are parallel elements in vocabulary, notably the vocabulary of anatomy describing vital parts of the body, coincident with the very same parts that are connected with thought or emotion. Among shared sylistic features may be included the use of gnomic sentiments in tragedy and aphoristic generalisations in medicine. Metrical expression is lifted from tragic to medical texts. It is striking that Erotian frequently has recourse to poetic, especially tragic, citation to explain Hippocratic usage. In Epidemics the course of illness is described in terms evocative of tragedy: case histories are presented in the same way as tragic plots, with medical crisis similar to tragic peripeteia and with death the common outcome. Certain mental and emotional states, such as grief and depression, are regarded as causative of or allied with illness; physiognomy is significant; “signs”, emotional and physical, are relayed. In On Airs, Waters and Places the characteristics attributed to different peoples of east and west are similar to the supposed stereotypes of Greeks, barbarians and slaves in tragedy. Intertextuality in the widest sense is involved in this study. But at the same time, detail – especially linguistic detail – is important.

  • 1 On the content and context of all Hippocratic works, see further Craik 2015.

2There is a stark contrast between, on the one hand, the unknown medical authors, the anonymous medical texts and the undated medical writings of classical Greece and, on the other, the famous Attic dramatists and their well known works with familiar titles and established provenance. The epigraphic didaskaliai records give copious information about tragedians and tragic productions. In addition, ancient biographical data includes much personal information about the lives and, especially, deaths of the dramatists: Aeschylus died in Sicily; Sophocles received Asklepios in his home when the Asklepios cult was introduced to Athens; Euripides died in Macedon. While we cannot put full credence in ancient biographical “evidence”, it surely does contain elements of truth. But for authorship of medical texts, we rely on deductions from scanty external and uncertain internal evidence and nothing is certain. Although in these circumstances it is clearly impossible to dovetail the careers of doctors and dramatists precisely, or to be confident that any particular compositions of the different genres are close in time and in place of origin, it is assuredly possible to identify parallel elements in content and presentation, as is argued in this paper.1

  • 2 The view of Galen, expressed in de methodo medendi, 10, 5-6 K., is corroborated by the evidence of (...)
  • 3 The date of the play is questioned and even the authenticity uncertain. For a succinct account of (...)
  • 4 In Bacchae Pieria 409-11 and Ludias 568-75 are mentioned; Iphigeneia among the Taurians is set in (...)

3In ancient Greece a peripatetic lifestyle was characteristic of many occupational groups engaged in intellectual activity. Doctors, like sophists, as well as tragedians, like other creative writers such as the lyric poet Pindar, were commonly drawn to large urban centres or courts, in quest of patronage and enhanced status. From Aeschylus’ supposed presence in Sicily and Euripides’ in Macedon, medical ambience and influence can readily be postulated. In Sicily, as in Italy, strong medical traditions flourished around the time of Aeschylus’ death in 456.2 There is reason to suppose that Aeschylus was familiar with this activity: his Prometheus Bound, probably a late play, is packed with medical language and metaphor.3 It is entirely plausible that Euripides went to the Macedonian capital invited by Archelaos around 408 BC, a few years before his death; Aristotle’s father served as the court physician there. The Hippocratic Epidemics, recording cases located in Thasos, Thessaly, Thrace and other northern regions encapsulate a potential crossing point between Euripides and the Hippocratics. The very title Epidemics may be significant, indicative of contact between doctors and dramatists: the same title Epidemiai was famously used by the tragic poet Ion of Chios for his (lost) work, probably on the subject of his travels. Also in north Greece Demokritos of Thracian Abdera evinced medical interests similar to those of the Hippocratic writers, and wrote works with similar titles, such as On Flesh. The settings of Euripides’ late plays are strongly suggestive of familiarity with regions of north Greece.4

  • 5 See Grensemann 1982 and Giorgianni 2006 on strata attributable to the so-called author; also Craik (...)

4We turn now to the particular case of the parthenos figure, as seen in Hippocratic gynaecological writings and in tragedy. Strictly speaking, parthenos is a social rather than a biological term – “unmarried” rather than “virgin” – with nuances and implications that are primarily societal and only secondarily sexual. However, in Athenian society where early marriage for girls was the social and sexual norm, the terms for “young unmarried woman” and “virgin” naturally coincided. Our concern is with the Hippocratic author C, and especially with the short piece known as On Diseases of Girls (Virg.), here viewed in relation to tragedy; and especially to the character Electra as seen in the Electra play of Euripides. The Hippocratic author C was responsible for a very large part of the CH, author or editor of more than any other single identifiable figure.5 With particular interests in gynaecology and insightful views on physiology, the same voice can be identified as compiler of On Diseases of Women and of On the Nature of Woman (Mul. and Nat. Mul.), as writer not only of On Diseases of Girls but also of On Generation, On the Nature of the Child, On Diseases 4 and On Glands (Genit., Nat. Pue., Morb. 4 and Gland.); he possibly authored part of On Bones (Oss.) and surely had connections, though probably not collaborative connections, with the doctors of Epidemics (Epid.). But this prolific author – like so many medical writers – remains nameless to us, and so, in place of the clumsy locution “Hippocratic author C”, I whimsically use the name “Costas” as a shorthand soubriquet.

  • 6 See Lonie 1981, p. 273.
  • 7 On Demokritos’ alleged experience in Athens, see DK 68 A1 and B116 = Diog. Laert. 9,34 and 36.
  • 8 For discussion, see Craik 2015, p. 277-279; Dean-Jones 1994, p. 50-52; Flemming – Hanson 1998; Kin (...)

5An attempt to reconstruct the chronology of Costas’ output and to identify his provenance yields few certainties. But his copious oeuvre is open to analysis. We can isolate a clear connection in language and expression, as well as an evident similarity in thought and ideas, with Demokritos. We can identify a general liking for poetic expression and, more notably, an apparent familiarity with a particular passage in a particular play of Sophocles, Oedipus Coloneus, posthumously produced 401 BC: there are parallel descriptions of the growth of the olive on the Athenian Acropolis and the growth of medical plant silphium.6 We may speculate as to whether Costas attended the original production; or saw a later revival; or read the play, circulated after performance. If he went to Athens for the Dionysia, he would in all probability have remained incognito. Demokritos claimed that he went unrecognised on a visit to Athens and this situation would surely be true of many other “foreigners”, such as our author, also.7 The short piece On Diseases of Girls was probably conceived and written as an introduction to a considerably more wide-ranging work. It is possible to trace further parts that may have belonged to such a related, more extensive, study in the extant gynaecological texts of the Hippocratic Corpus, though for the most part direct connections are lost. The vocabulary and style of On Diseases of Girls are elaborate and the work is self-consciously well crafted, with a somewhat pretentious preamble. The content is relatively well known and the piece is arresting, though very brief [9. 466-470 L.].8

6The following short summary is confined to essentials. An account is given of a gynaecological problem liable to arise if parthenoi “girls” reaching the age of puberty fail to marry at this appropriate, early, time, “the season for marriage”. It is evidently supposed, though neither explicitly stated nor fully argued, that lack of coitus leads to amenorrhea: without intercourse, the newly arriving menstrual flow builds up and can find no outlet. It is envisaged that, when blood accumulating at menarche is not properly released through the opening of the requisite bodily passageways, it travels around the body and gathers in the wrong place. (This is analogous to the supposed, and commonly articulated, gynaecological problem that the womb is liable to leave its proper place and to travel elsewhere in the body.) If blood accumulates at, and saturates, the kardia “heart” and the diaphraxis or phrenes “diaphragm” (these being vital parts), it precipitates paraphrosune “derangement” and mania “madness”; the girl seeks to kill and tries to kill herself; she suffers terror, choking, fever, shivering and delirium before she recovers her senses and returns to phronein “reasoning”. The condition is relieved only when the discharge of blood is unimpeded. Childbirth, advocated at the end, is a related but subsequent and secondary consideration. Childbearing is beneficial in that the passages for menstrual flow are widened and menstrual blood therefore released. There is an implicit assumption that in the natural course of events, menarche will be shortly followed by pregnancy and childbirth. Indeed, at the end of the piece as we have it, the girl is enjoined to marry and to become pregnant. The theories presented in On Diseases of Girls are expounded at greater length and with considerably more clarity in other gynaecological works (where there is also clear stylistic imprint indicating input of “Costas”), notably at the start of On Diseases of Women in a discursive account of menstruation and childbearing with cross reference to our passage, “as I said in On Diseases of Girls” (Mul. 1, 1-2 [8. 10-22 L.]; see also Mul. 1, 41 [8. 98-100 L.]; Mul. 2, 127 [8. 272 L.], 177 [8. 360 L.]; Nat. Mul., 3 [7. 314 L.]; Superf., 34 [8. 504-6 L.]). These passages share common elements in describing mental disturbance precipitated by delay in initiating sexual activity when a girl is “ripe for marriage”; one regular element is a death wish. It is said that widows and “old maids” may be similarly affected; the term parthenos palaia “old maid” seems to be standard (Nat. Mul., 3 [7. 314 L.] and Mul. 2, 127 [8. 272 L.]).

  • 9 Ael., VH 4, 26; see Jebb 1904, introduction, p. xix-xx, esp. n. 1.

7In Greek myth, many women behave in ways that contravene the social norms of the fifth century and, as is well known, tragic plots present variations and adaptations of the raw material of myth. Before exploring the tragic presentation of Electra, a brief account of the mythical background is a prerequisite. The Trojan War was precipitated by the abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaos, by Paris of Troy; a Greek army led by Agamemnon, brother of the wronged Menelaos, set out to recover Helen; after a siege of ten years duration, Troy fell. On returning from the Trojan War, the victorious Greek general Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Klytaimnestra (who, incidentally, was sister of Helen). The motivation is variously presented, but is most usually regarded as revenge for the death by sacrifice before the war of their daughter Iphigeneia (a sacrifice divinely demanded by Artemis but involving some human choice on Agamemnon’s part); also fury at Agamemnon’s infidelities, culminating in the arrival with him of Kassandra, a captive young princess from Troy. Klytaimnestra herself had already begun a partnership with Agamemnon’s cousin Aigisthos. In the next generation – that which concerns us here – the vengeance and bloodshed continue: Klytaimnestra, with Aigisthos, is killed by her children, the son Orestes aided and abetted, to a varying extent in different versions, by the daughter Electra. Electra is arguably the most prominent in myth of the several daughters born to Agamemnon and Klytaimnestra, Orestes being the only son. (In Homer, Il., 9, 142-5, the daughters are named Chrysothemis, Laodike and Iphianassa. It is plausibly supposed that Iphianassa and Iphigeneia are simply variant names and that Electra was an alternative descriptive name given to Laodike, as she remained long unmarried). Electra shares certain characteristics also with her sister Iphigeneia (subject of the Euripidean plays, Iphigeneia at Aulis and Iphigeneia among the Taurians.) The character Electra is quintessentially parthenos: according to the etymology put forward by the early grammarian-poet Xanthos the derivation is from the prefix a-, alpha privative, and the substantive lektron “bed”, giving the Doric form “Alektra”, lit. “with no bed” and so “unwed”; this derivation was followed apparently first by Stesichoros and then by the tragedians.9

  • 10 Among modern English editions, these are important: Garvie 1986 (Aeschylus); Finglass 2007 (Sophoc (...)
  • 11 Denniston 1939 comments ad loc. “stress on doctors’ bills is curious”; but there may be some relev (...)

8To compare the Electra plays written by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – Aeschylus’ Choephoroi (the second play in the Oresteia trilogy of 458 BC, comprising Agamemnon, Choephoroi, Eumenides), Sophocles’ Electra (to be dated perhaps around 420-415) and Euripides’ Electra (of probably similar date to that of Sophocles) – has been a hackneyed essay assignment for generations of undergraduate students.10 In Choephoroi Aeschylus’ focus is very much on Orestes (who will be pursued by the Furies in Eumenides, the concluding play of the trilogy); Electra makes an appearance to lament her situation but is sent “indoors” and never reappears, partly through the dramatic exigency that the actor playing this part will be required to play the part of Klytaimnestra. In Sophocles’ play, Electra is more prominent and the theme of marriage is recurrent. The vocabulary of lost marriage is repeated (492, 962) and the wish to die is expressed (817, 822). (Loss of marriage and the motif of living death are pervasive themes also in Antigone, as at 814, 917; though betrothed to Haimon, Antigone’s lament is not personalised. Sophocles presented contrasting pairs of sisters, conformist and non-conformist “types”: Antigone and Ismene in Antigone are best known, but Electra and the compliant Chrysothemis in Electra are similar.) Euripides takes the active participation of Electra much further. In Euripides’ Electra there is much startling innovation. In the realism there is at times an almost comic tone suggestive of new comedy, anticipated as often by Euripides. In one passage, lamenting the misfortunes of poverty, there is an allusion to the inability of the poor to entertain guests well, and, if they are sick, to recover health by expenditure (420-31, especially 428-9).11

9The play is set not at the royal palace but in the Argive countryside, at the squalid abode of a simple peasant. In the prologue spoken by the peasant (and it is already a break with dramatic convention to give the key introductory speech to an invented minor character), this background is explained. Most relevant here is the explanation that when Electra reached puberty, “the ripe time of youth” – an expression reminiscent of usage in medical texts – noble suitors came to court her (20-21) but were turned away in case a putative future child would take revenge on Aigisthos and Klytaimnestra for the murder of Agamemnon; instead Electra was given in marriage to a safe cipher. At the time of the play Electra will still be a very young woman, and her mother Klytaimnestra will still be short of middle age. The speaker’s narrative continues with the unexpected information that through delicacy and respect for her situation the peasant has refrained from sleeping with his royal bride (43-44, 50-53). The nature of their unconsummated relationship, a “wretched marriage” in his words (49) and a “deadly marriage” in hers (247), is prominent in the early part of the play. The plot continues to surprise. After the (predictable) arrival of Orestes and the (protracted) reunion of brother and sister, a novel development is introduced. Klytaimnestra is lured to the scene by a ruse – initiated by Electra herself – based on the falsehood that her daughter has given birth and needs help to perform the appropriate sacrifices. Aigisthos, already in the area, is first killed (by Orestes). Klytaimnestra is then murdered (by Electra and Orestes) and Electra proudly claims responsibility for the matricide. Finally it is divinely decreed that Electra is to marry Orestes’ companion Pylades. This edict is announced by the heavenly twins, known as the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux, but it seems that only Castor speaks), who appear ex machina. Castor and Pollux, divine or semi-divine twins, represent another strand in the myth; in the complex genealogy of this tortured royal house, they are brothers or half-brothers of Helen and Klytaimnestra. Marriage to Pylades is seen as an element in the tradition elsewhere (E., IT, 695-6, 915).

10The salient points of Euripides’ presentation may be summarised in this way: Electra is “married” to a peasant (20); though nominal damar “wife” (34, cf. 98) and faked lecho “new mother” (652), she remains parthenos “a girl”. She is first described as parthenos in the words of the peasant (44, 51) and the term is then stressed by repetition at intervals throughout, by Orestes (99), and with reference to her ambivalent status, as neither girl nor mature woman, by Electra herself at 311 and 946. The term parthenos with reference to Electra is much echoed in other plays. The nuance of the word is slanted, ranging from pity to contempt. (See especially E. Or. 26-7, 71-2, 92, 108, 208, 282, 957). Electra is ready to die and threatens suicide (663); she is eager to kill (279, 647); she claims responsibility for the matricide (1183). Electra ultimately recovers her phronema “reason” (1201-2) though, in the words of the chorus, she was previously “without sense and committed terrible acts” (1203-4). Finally, it is decreed that she will marry (1249, 1284, 1340-41).

  • 12 See for instance Grube 1973, p. 299; Luschnig 1995, p. 103; see also the nuanced treatment of Kubo (...)

11The situation of the Euripidean Electra correlates with the problem delineated in On Diseases of Girls in that “normal” early marriage is not realised; the mental state of the Euripidean Electra fits the narrative presented in On Diseases of Girls in that she expresses a death wish and evinces readiness to kill; the outcome of the play follows the sequence of events outlined in On Diseases of Girls in that, after Electra recovers her reason, marriage is ordained (by the divinity, as by the doctor). Questions of marriage pervade the play. The past marriage of Klytaimnestra and Agamemnon underlies the dramatic situation; the present marriage of Klytaimnestra and Aigisthos preoccupies Electra’s thoughts. Literary critics have commonly described Electra in terms such as “obsessed”, “unbalanced” and “embittered”.12 Electra’s psychology need not be explored here. It is relevant to the argument pursued in this paper simply that there is constantly repeated reference to marriage – past, present and future; both potential and prospective – in relation to Electra. It would not escape the notice of an Athenian audience that Castor, who dictates that Electra marry Pylades, is the appropriate relative to do so, an uncle responsible as kurios when the fatherless Electra returns to her natal family. There is an additional piquancy in that Electra herself mentions Castor as her one-time suitor – marriage of uncle and niece was within acceptable degree of consanguinity in Athens – in the days before he was translated to heaven, and she alludes to him favourably elsewhere (312,1064). The younger Electra evidently had opportunities not confined to the scenario of suitors outlined by the peasant. In addition, Electra personally imagines marriage, speculating on the type of man she would prefer (948-9), and after the matricide she questions forlornly what gamos “marriage” she can now make, what posis “husband” would now “receive [her] in a marriage bed” (1199-1200). The edicts of the Dioscuri in the betrothal of Electra to Pylades are very specific in their stress on the formal state of marriage: Electra is to become alochos “wife” (1249); she is to be damar “legal wife”, though kore “girl” in paradoxical conjunction with this (1284); finally Pylades is instructed to be wedded to Electra’s demas the “body” of Electra, a very physical term (1341). The enactment of this marriage is stressed before the fate of Orestes (exile to Athens, pursued by the Furies) is decreed, and before the Dioscuri depart (1342). Electra’s ordained marriage to Pylades does not simply tie up a loose end (as is frequently the rather mechanical function of a deus ex machina), but is emphasised as the culmination of the play’s action.

12The chorus are young local women, who through resemblance to the main character frame and enhance certain aspects of the presentation. Their own marital status is left unspecified: on arrival they try to involve Electra, addressed formally as “daughter of Agamemnon” (167), in their coming celebration of rites to Hera: all the parthenikai “young women” are about to attend (173-4). The choice of the adjective parthenikos “girl-like” rather than parthenos, with its more definite connotation, suggests that Euripides intends to stress the isolation of Electra as parthenos. That the coming festival is to honour Hera is entirely appropriate, as she is the main goddess of Argos; but it is also highly suggestive, as she is the goddess pre-eminently associated with marriage. It is the women of the chorus who applaud Electra’s return to reason (1201-5), in direct response to her remarks about a possible future husband. In the address as phila “dear” (1205) fellow feeling and compassion soften criticism of her actions. The arrival of Aigisthos in the neighbourhood is explained by his intent to sacrifice to Nymphs (625, 665, 1134-5). This is to some extent a dramatic device to account for his presence in the countryside far from the palace, and to provide an emotive situation for his death (described in a messenger speech 774-858). However, in this sacrifice to the Nymphs there may be a reminder of the powerful primal forces epitomised in the god Pan, with whom the nymphs are regularly associated; also of Artemis, their regular companion. If, as has been suggested, the sacrifice takes place in celebration of the birth of a child to Klytaimnestra and Aigisthos, this would add an ironic poignancy to the situation.

13Finally, we return to the question of interaction between doctors and dramatists. Ineluctable general questions arise in any attempt to assess apparent citations, reminiscence and echoes: what is the relative chronology of the works concerned; do they emanate from the same locality; who influences whom; how deep and how direct is the influence? Questions of dating become important. We simply do not know at what date the gynaecological texts circulated in a form that we might now recognise. The question of their composition and early circulation is not unlike the familiar Homeric question. It is probable that oral elements were incorporated into inchoate written drafts, and that works existed in discrete parts long before they received the formation and formulation that we now perforce regard as definitive. It is evident that many writers were involved; but it is impossible to know, or even to begin to guess, whether the groups in contact and interaction were small or large; and at what date writers such as Costas put an identifiable imprint on the mass of inherited material that they utilised, edited and extended. Perhaps this happened earlier than traditionally believed.

14The extensive oeuvre of Costas cannot be dated. While it is possible that he composed On Diseases of Girls at an early point as the prologue to an intended fuller treatise, the order of composition may have been quite different: it is common for authors to write their introductions not first but last. We can be confident at least that On Diseases of Girls is a well-organised piece, the product of literary planning with the impress of an authoritative mind. If we regard Euripides’ Electra as datable to around 420 BC, the production of the play coincides with the floruit of Hippocrates, born around 460, also of Demokritos, and arguably also of our more shadowy Costas. Assuredly, much of the material shaped into the gynaecological texts that we now know as parts of the Hippocratic Corpus was in circulation by this date, and in all likelihood some of it was already organised into thematic compositions, perhaps including a work on the state of the parthenos, perhaps indeed “our” On Diseases of Girls.

15It may be argued that Euripides’ plays demonstrate a general concern with women’s experience in marriage and a general familiarity with medical ideas, and that doctors such as Costas were familiar with the myths that shaped their society: doctors and dramatists lived in similar communities with shared social mores. Ultimately, some interaction between doctors and dramatists is certain; direct interaction between Euripides and Costas is uncertain, though at least possible and perhaps even probable. Certainly, it is likely that Euripides took a lively interest in the gynaecological writing of his day. At the very least, we may consider Euripides’ Electra as an extended allegory, with different levels of meaning, taking its inspiration from received medical ideas and prevailing social norms: Electra is not only Electra, but paradigmatic of any troubled parthenos, the marital solution to whose predicament is predetermined.

Bibliographie


Primary Sources

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Notes

1 On the content and context of all Hippocratic works, see further Craik 2015.

2 The view of Galen, expressed in de methodo medendi, 10, 5-6 K., is corroborated by the evidence of Presocratic material.

3 The date of the play is questioned and even the authenticity uncertain. For a succinct account of the problems, see Collard 2008, Introduction p. xlix-liii.

4 In Bacchae Pieria 409-11 and Ludias 568-75 are mentioned; Iphigeneia among the Taurians is set in remote Crimea.

5 See Grensemann 1982 and Giorgianni 2006 on strata attributable to the so-called author; also Craik 2009, 2015 and 2016 for a wider study of authorship.

6 See Lonie 1981, p. 273.

7 On Demokritos’ alleged experience in Athens, see DK 68 A1 and B116 = Diog. Laert. 9,34 and 36.

8 For discussion, see Craik 2015, p. 277-279; Dean-Jones 1994, p. 50-52; Flemming – Hanson 1998; King 1998, p. 76-80.

9 Ael., VH 4, 26; see Jebb 1904, introduction, p. xix-xx, esp. n. 1.

10 Among modern English editions, these are important: Garvie 1986 (Aeschylus); Finglass 2007 (Sophocles); Denniston 1939 and Cropp 1988 (Euripides).

11 Denniston 1939 comments ad loc. “stress on doctors’ bills is curious”; but there may be some relevance to the tenor of the play, with an oblique allusion to Euripides’ concern with medicine and medical texts.

12 See for instance Grube 1973, p. 299; Luschnig 1995, p. 103; see also the nuanced treatment of Kubo 1967, p. 28.

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