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Craig A. Williams


Celsus; Medicine; Roman Medicine; Roman Tragedy; Seneca; Tragedy


This dissertation analyzes the language and imagery of illness in selected tragedies and, to a lesser extent, the philosophical prose of the first-century CE Roman tragic poet and philosopher Seneca, reading these works with and against De Medicina, a nearly contemporary encyclopedic Latin prose text on medical theory and practice by the Roman encyclopediast Celsus. Inspired by previous studies of classical Greek tragedy together with the largely contemporary body of Greek prose writings on medicine known as the Hippocratic Corpus, my dissertation moves the discussion to Latin literature and is the first extended study to do so. I aim not only to provide insight into Seneca's and Celsus' writings, with particular attention to the question of vocabulary usage, but also to show how a shared language of human illness can inform a range of textual genres in Greco-Roman antiquity, from the prose literature of knowledge to philosophy to mythological poetry. I demonstrate that reading Senecan tragedy in tandem with Celsus' prose encyclopedia on medicine can shed light upon how illness functions as a prominent although previously overlooked theme in Seneca's plays. At the same time, my comparisons provide insight into vocabulary usage and rhetorical strategies in Celsus' De Medicina. My project examines both "physical" and "mental" forms of illness, calling into question the linguistic and conceptual boundaries between such categories as they are explored in the works of Seneca and Celsus, and as they relate to Roman medicine more generally. My readings are sensitive to cultural and historical differences, encouraging re-examination of modern ideas and assumptions about illness, health, and other aspects of medicine; my project thus makes a key contribution to the developing field of medical humanities.