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Causal explanation of disease in the iamata of Epidauros

Hedvig von Ehrenheim
p. 101-118


This paper analyses the cause of disease as perceived in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, and in particular in the iamata of Epidauros, cure inscriptions collected and set up in the sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros in 350 BC, some of which date back to c. 450 BC. It is concluded that the iamata reflect a plurality of explanations of disease that co-existed in ancient Greece and complemented each other.

L’article analyse la cause des maladies telle qu’elle était perçue dans la Grèce classique et hellénistique, et en particulier dans les iamata d’Épidaure, des récits de guérison rassemblés et présentés dans le sanctuaire local d’Asclépios vers 350 avant notre ère (certains récits pouvant remonter au milieu du siècle précédent). Ces iamata reflètent une pluralité d’explications qui coexistaient en Grèce ancienne et se complétaient mutuellement.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en octobre 2021.


Co-existing aetiologies of disease
The iamata of Epidauros and aetiology of disease
The texts of the iamata
Simulation of real medical cures in the iamata
Concluding remarks

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In ancient Greece, illnesses might be explained as the result of a number of different causes — pollution, natural causes, morally bad behaviour, and divine vengeance being among them. A current scholarly hypothesis is that illnesses in ancient Greece were at first believed to be caused by the anger of the gods, in time evolving into a more rational approach to disease, seeing its aetiology as natural. This change would be due to the rise and expanding popularity of the Greek art of medicine.

Hand in hand with the hypothesis of rationalization we find the hypothesis of internalization. This model that a fatalistic view on the cause of disease, as sent by the gods, became internalized, so that it came to be believed that your own choices and actions, not the will of the gods, caused disease. This notion was connected to a general internalization of emotions, as discussed by E.R. Dodds. He argued that Greece in the Archaic period moved from being a shame culture to becoming...

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Hedvig von Ehrenheim, « Causal explanation of disease in the iamata of Epidauros »Kernos, 32 | 2019, 101-118.

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Hedvig von Ehrenheim, « Causal explanation of disease in the iamata of Epidauros »Kernos [En ligne], 32 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2021, consulté le 30 mars 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Hedvig von Ehrenheim

Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

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