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  • L’Expressivité du lexique médical en Grèce et à Rome: Hommages à Françoise Skoda ed. by Isabelle Boehm and Nathalie Rousseau
  • Laurence Totelin
Isabelle Boehm and Nathalie Rousseau, eds. L’Expressivité du lexique médical en Grèce et à Rome: Hommages à Françoise Skoda. Paris: Presses de l’université Paris-Sorbonne, 2014. 513 pp. €37.00 (978-2-84050-929-5).

Recently, the American Philological Association changed its name to the Society for Classical Studies. On the positive side, this change shows how classical studies have evolved since the nineteenth century, from a rather elitist field to one that welcomes interdisciplinarity and new approaches. On the negative side, this change indicates how unfashionable philology, the close study of ancient languages, has become in the Anglophone world. By contrast, Continental Europe still celebrates philology, and the current volume is a prime example of what philological studies can achieve in fine-tuning our understanding of Greek and Roman medicine. This work is offered to Françoise Skoda, emerita professor of Greek linguistics at the University of Paris–Sorbonne. Skoda has devoted her career to analyze the Greek language, with a particular emphasis on medical language and its reliance on metaphors. Following an homage to Skoda and her list of her publications, the volume presents thirty-one chapters that exemplify the richness and expressivity of the ancient medical and botanical vocabulary, primarily in classical Greek and Latin, but with some references to Mycenaean Greek (chapter by Charles de Lamberterie, pp. 47–56) and Arabic (chapter by Ivan Garofalo, pp. 415–27). The volume also contains an excellent index of Greek and Latin terms, as well as a particularly useful bibliography. All Greek and Latin texts presented in the volume are translated into French, thus enabling students of ancient medicine who do not read the ancient languages to benefit from the painstaking work carried out by all contributors.

It is impossible to do justice to all contributions in this volume. However, it is fair to say that all authors have taken as their starting point a very thorough analysis of ancient languages in order to draw larger conclusions about ancient medicine and society. For instance, Frédérique Biville (pp. 87–100) studies the prevalence of diminutive forms (e.g., ampulla, the small vessel, to designate a pharmacological container) in the vocabulary relating to medical instruments. She shows that these diminutive forms evoke—quite naturally—the smaller size of medical instruments compared to their “everyday” counterparts (a surgical knife is smaller than a butcher’s knife), but also to the delicate movements that are required in the medical profession. Armelle Debru (pp. 171–78), for her part, examines the use of the Greek word gnōrisma in Galen. This word, which can be translated as “sign, symptom,” is absent from the Hippocratic Corpus. Debru concludes that medical semiology before Galen concentrated on the pathologic, whereas Galen, with his gnōrisma, extended semiology to the healthy body. [End Page 141]

Two things particularly struck me when reading these contributions. First, I noted how positively the contributors described their colleague, master, and friend. Françoise Skoda appears as a generous scholar with her time, expertise, and advice. For instance, Alessia Guardasole praises Skoda, “whose work and humanity have been an enlightening and enlightened guide throughout my career” (p. 193); and Gabrielle Lherminier notes, “Mrs Françoise Skoda has always followed and supported me with generosity in my studies, and I found it difficult, with this simple contribution, to find a way to thank her” (p. 285, my translation from the French). Second, I was particularly impressed by the high number of female participants in the volume. Skoda may not present herself as a gender or feminist classicist, but she promoted the career of women in two fields—philology and medical history—that were until recently focused on the male standard. Several studies in this book are “gender” studies in the most basic of senses: they study the linguistic foundations of all social gender constructions. For instance, Véronique Boudon-Millot (pp. 269–83), in her study of the ages of life in Galen’s writings, clarifies the meaning of the Greek term brephos...


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