Graeco-Roman Cures by Pretence: A Peculiarly Human Accomplishment - 8 March 2023
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Professor Brian Hurwitz, 'Graeco-Roman Cures by Pretence: A Peculiarly Human Accomplishment'.
The interplay of power, expertise, and patient gullibility at the heart of Graeco-Roman accounts of treatments by trickery is stark and shocking to modern sensibilities. In addition to detailing embodied forms of deceit through sleights of hand, the accounts offer tips on how to cover up such jugglements, in order to avoid discovery. Such bravura performances – sometimes undertaken in front of spectators - point to the confidence, craftiness, and cunning of healing figures of the period, who appear able to recruit and hold the trust and cooperation of patients. The practitioners of such prestidigitations are not confined to itinerant quacks, diviners, soothsayers and charm sellers, pretenders to expertise they do not possess; they also include adherents to Hippocratic medicine, usually committed to rational medical therapies that intervene in the bodily processes believed to cause disease.
An analysis is proposed of how these manoeuvres work at the cognitive and sensory level of patients, which takes account of the illusions they engender through suggestion and misdirection. I examine how such treatments are performed within practitioner patient relationships, and their dependence on public understanding of culturally sanctioned schemas of medical treatment and explanation. In deploying manipulations which make no recourse to supernatural or occult powers, pretend cures, I argue, represent an important Graeco-Roman human accomplishment.
At this event
Emeritus Professor of Medicine and The Arts
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