Body Politics in Ancient Greece

I usually post about books I have read or I am currently reading. So here’s a first: a book that I’d definitely like to and need to read.  New in paperback, from Princeton University Press, The Symptom and The Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece, by Brook Holmes.  If you are a Foucaultian, Platonist, or Thucydidean, this is probably going to be an enlightening argument.  A quote from the introduction:

I explore and defend the claim that the physi­ cal body plays a pivotal but unacknowledged role in ideas about the human in the fifth and early fourth centuries, as well as in the formation of a new kind of ethical subjectivity centered on practices of caring for the self. I explain the strength of its influence in terms of its dual identity. On the one hand, the phys­ical body is a model of intelligibility: although its workings are hidden, a physi­cian trained in the medical tekhnē, “science” or “art,” may reconstruct them through reasoning. Doing so allows him both to intervene in disease and to manage health. On the other hand, that body is an untrustworthy and unfamil­ iar thing: it is prone to disorder, largely estranged from consciousness, and ani­ mated not by intentions but by impersonal, asocial powers. Its very strangeness, I argue, encourages ancient thinkers to take an increasing interest in the psukhē as the locus of the person.

As with all PUP book, the intro is freely available. Scroll down to pages 24-5 and you’ll see some thoughts on the role that the body plays in Thucydides’ account of the politics of the plague and presentation of the Funeral Oration of Pericles.  Biopolitics in Ancient Greece is worth attention, hence the project on “Periclean Biopolitics” that I’ve been saying is “the next project” for a couple of years now. Anyways, based on the introduction, Holmes looks to have written a very interesting and important book.


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