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Level 7

7AACM322 Power and Knowledge: Science in the Graeco-Roman Empire

Credit value: 20 credits
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Michiel Meeusen (2018/19)
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay of 5,000 words (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Places on this module will be capped at 16 and
will be allocated in the first instance to those students from any College who are following the MA Classics degree programme. Any remaining places up the maximum size of the class will then be distributed proportionally between Colleges.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The aim of this module is to provide an advanced introduction to the nature, scope, methods, and socio-cultural context of ancient scientific literature in the time of the Graeco-Roman Empire, of the kind produced by (among others) Frontinus, Galen, Manilius, Pliny, Plutarch, Ptolemy, Seneca, Strabo, Vergil and Vitruvius.

We will study how, in the writings of such authors, rhetoric is often as significant an element as their scientific subject-matter, and how knowledge and power are closely intertwined.

Starting from the fundamental perception that ancient scientific disciplines were rooted in Graeco-Roman cultural norms and practices and their practitioners were often involved in the socio-political struggles of their time, we will explore how these ideas apply to selected scientific writings from the Imperial Era, across a broad range of specific disciplines, and a wide variety of authors, both Greek and Roman.

Topics to be considered will include: ‘encyclopaedism and the frontiers of knowledge’, ‘science and morality’, ‘imperial healing’, ‘building for the emperor’, and ‘mapping the empire’. Source texts will be read in English translation.

Suggested Reading

The literature listed here is not mandatory nor exhaustive but provides further reading on topics treated during the lectures:

  • M. Asper, Griechische Wissenschaftstexte: Formen, Funktionen, Differenzierungsgeschichten, Stuttgart, 2007.
  • T. Barton, Power and knowledge: astrology, physiognomics, and medicine under the Roman Empire, Michigan, 1994.
  • A. Doody, S. Föllinger and L. Taub, “Structures and strategies in ancient Greek and Roman technical writing: An Introduction”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 43, 2 (2012), pp. 233-236.
  • R. Flemming, “Galen’s imperial order of knowledge”, in J. König and T. Whitmarsh (eds.), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman World, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 177-205.
  • –––, “Demiurge and Emperor in Galen’s World of Knowledge”, in C. Gill, T. Whitmarsh and J. Wilkins (eds.), Galen and the World of Knowledge, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 59-84.
  • T. Habinek, “Probing the entrails of the universe: astrology as bodily knowledge in Manilius’ Astronomica”, in J. König and T. Whitmarsh (eds.), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman World, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 229-240.
  • S.J. Green, Disclosure and Discretion in Roman Astrology: Manilius and his Augustan Contemporaries, Oxford, 2014.
  • F. Klotz and K. Oikonomopoulou (eds.), The Philosopher’s Banquet. Plutarch’s Table Talk in the Intellectual Culture of the Roman Empire, Oxford, 2011.
  • A. König, “Knowledge and power in Frontinus’ On Aqueducts”, in J. König and T. Whitmarsh (eds), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman World, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 177-205.
  • –––, “From architect to imperator: Vitruvius and his addressee in the De architectura”, in L. Taub and A. Doody (eds.), Authorial Voices in Greco-Roman Technical Writing, Trier, 2009, pp. 31-52.
  • G.E.R. Lloyd, Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle, London, 1970.
  • –––, Greek Science after Aristotle, New York, 1973.
  • S. Mattern, The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire, Oxford, 2013.
  • T. Murphy, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. The Empire in the Encyclopedia, Oxford, 2004.
  • L. Taub, Aetna and the Moon: Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome, Oregon, 2008.
  • T.E. Rihll, Greek Science, Oxford, 1999.
  • W.H. Stahl, Roman Science, Madison, 1962.
  • P. Thibodeau, Playing the Farmer. Representations of Rural Life in Vergil’s Georgics. Berkeley, 2011.
  • G.D. Williams, The cosmic viewpoint: a study of Seneca’s Natural questions, Oxford, 2012.
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