Christoph Appel

Project title: Wound Edges. Greek-Roman Figurations of Injury between Medical and Literary-Aesthetic Discourse

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Jochen Althoff, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Claudia Lauer

Dissertation project:

The vulnerability of the body forms a fundamental part of anthropological experience. This applies in particular to the Greco-Roman antiquity, an epoch in which the phenomenon of the wound, for example as a result of warlike violence, not only represented a part of everyday reality, but also received a broad textual and pictorial reception. In the field of literature, there are many different genres involved in the ancient discourse of injury such as medical scientific literature with its quest for a systematization and methodology of the knowledge about wounds on the one hand, and, on the other hand, epic and drama by means of, albeit not exclusive, literary-aesthetic problematization of physical wounds. Based on this multi-perspectivity of Greco-Latin texts on the phenomenon of the wound, the dissertation project asks for concepts of the injured body in ancient literature, including both medical and literary-aesthetic readings of the wound.
By investigating the phenomenon of the wound, as a pars pro toto for the injured body, a deeper understanding of diachronic notions of defectiveness, healing and normality of the human body will be gained, as well as the lexical and semantic dimensions of ‘wound’ in Greek and Latin (i.e. dominant concepts of infirmity and their spheres of influence: physical/psychic, divine/human/animal/inanimate). In addition, the transitions between medical, religious, philosophical and literary-aesthetic meanings of infirmity and vulnerability in the cultural practice of antiquity will be highlighted. Thus, the work will not only focus on the projection of medical knowledge into the field of fictional texts, but also enquires into specific literary articulation modes of defectivity and the aesthetic limits of their representability.
The liminal character of the wound as a medico-aesthetic phenomenon will be reflected in a corpus that encompasses both medical writings (Corpus Hippocraticum, Galen, Celsus, Rufus) and paradigmatic epic and dramatic texts. In the latter, the focus will be directed to the cosmogonic and generative moment of the wound (e.g. Hesiod, Theogony; Lucretius, De rerum natura; Virgil, Georgics; Ovid, Metamorphoses), surgical scenes of (warlike) wounding and wound healing (e.g. Homer, Ilias; Virgil, Aeneid), the tension between injury and heroism, as it is demonstrated by figures like Philoctetes, Telephus or Marsyas, as well as the possibilities of reading the trauma as a mental wound in Attic tragedy or Lucan’s Bellum civile.