Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 33.

Elizabeth M. Craik, Two Hippocratic Treatises On Sight and On Anatomy. Studies in Ancient Medicine, 33. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006. Pp.vii + 184, incl. 3 diagrams and an appendix. ISBN 90-04-15396-9. Euro89.00, US$120.00.

Kathleen Whiteley
University of South Africa

Professor Elizabeth Craik’s translation and commentary on the two Hippocratic Treatises On Sight and On Anatomy is an addition to the ‘Studies in Ancient Medicine’ Series. It is a slim volume packed full of scholarship.

I begin with the treatise On Sight. The introduction (pp. 3-27) has five sections: 'Title', 'Transmission and Reception', 'Content and Expression', 'Place in the Hippocratic Corpus: Provenance and Date', and 'Place in the History of Ophthalmology'. In introducing the first of these, Craik comments that the titles given to works in the Hippocratic Corpus are often based ‘on later commentators’ superficial impressions of their content’ (p. 3) and the treatise PERI\ O)/YIJ is a case in point. Is the treatise about sight, vision or, even, a dream? O)/YIJ carries all these meanings. Her argument is that the translation 'organ of sight' (p. 3) reflects the full range of meaning but she settles for the title On Sight. In ‘Transmission and Reception’ (pp. 4-7) Craik notes that the brief text is ‘seriously corrupt’ and all the available manuscripts carry the same corruptions. The texts consulted are listed in the conspectus siglorum (p. 37). ‘Content and Expression’ (pp. 8-15) addresses the problem of placing shorter works in the wider context of the Hippocratic Corpus and other medical writings. On Sight is a ‘manual of surgery’, identifying and treating various eye ailments. The reader is made aware of how many culinary items are used by the surgeon (for example, olive oil, garlic, and honey). The explanation of syntactical structure (p. 13) is especially helpful for the Classical student. In ‘Place in the Hippocratic Corpus: Provenance and Date’ (pp. 15- 19), the problems concerning the chronological placement of On Sight within the Hippocratic Corpus are raised. Despite comparing procedures such as purging and cautery and the language style with other Hippocratic writings, provenance is still difficult to establish. ‘Place in the History of Ophthalmology’ (pp. 19-27) traces the progress made in this branch of medical science. Conditions of the eye addressed by the Hippocratic Corpus, such as ‘cataract, glaucoma, trachoma, recurrent conjunctivitis, and night blindness’ (p. 22), are conditions which occur today. A page of helpful references and abbreviations is placed at the end of the introduction (p. 29) and an extensive bibliography (pp. 31-35) is followed by the conspectus siglorum mentioned earlier.

The text and translation commence on pages 38 and 39 respectively. There is a critical apparatus for the Greek text to which Craik has added her interpretations (pp. 42 and 44). The translation is amplified where necessary to make sense. The text comprises nine short chapters.

The commentary (pp. 49-112) is extremely detailed, starting with a discussion on the colours of the eye that are mentioned (for example, ‘lapis-like’, sea-like’ and an ‘intermediate colour’, p. 49) with the comment that GLAUKO/J ‘grey’ is not mentioned (p. 50). A comparison on the use of eye colour to determine the problem is drawn between the author of On Sight, the author of Prorrhetic 2 and Celsus (pp. 51f.). The systematic commentary starts on p. 53, expanding on the use of the words in the text. A gremlin has crept in on p. 55 where OU)K E)/STIN I)/HSIJ TOIAU/TH is rendered as ‘there is so such treatment . . . ’ instead of ‘ . . . no such treatment’. The same gremlin made its first appearance on page 11, omitting the word ‘be’ in the sentence commencing ‘In both wet and dry procedures, sponges might (be) inserted between the surgeon’s instruments . . .’.

In the commentary of Chapter 2 of the text (p. 58) Craik has highlighted the difficulty in translating the text to make sense, unless an emendation is made. Her attention to this type of detail will delight both student and scholar alike. The glossary of ophthalmological terms (pp. 113f.) is a very useful inclusion, as are the three diagrams (pp. 115f) of the anterior view of the eye, the lateral view of the head (which view is on the cover of the book), and the diagram of the section of the eyeball.

Part 2 of the book is On Anatomy (pp. 119-53). The introduction (pp. 119f) is itself introduced by a quote from Hipp. Loc. Hom. 2 ‘Anatomy is the basis of medical discourse.’ On Anatomy ‘is the shortest treatise preserved in the Hippocratic Corpus’ (p. 119). It consists of a mere thirty-two lines. The treatise describes the human anatomy as perceived by the Hippocratic doctors, a perception reached probably by observing sacrificial animals, wounded or dead soldiers and, possibly, ‘[an] aborted foetus or exposed child’ (p. 120). The syntax of the work is described as ‘bald, telegraphic, and asyndetic, the vocabulary is recondite, and poetic. There is erratic omission of the article and recurrent use of compendious comparisons’ (p. 120). Craik traces the similarities of the treatise to other works in the Hippocratic Corpus, particularly the Epidemics. The introduction ends: ‘The conclusions have important implications for our understanding of the formation of the Hippocratic Corpus, both as originally composed and as subsequently constituted’ (p. 120). A section on 'References and Abbreviations' (pp. 121f.) is followed by the text and translation (pp. 124-27) in which the translator has interjected with a number of square brackets to make sense of the sentence.

A comprehensive commentary (pp. 129-53) points out ambiguities and inconsistencies in the naming of bodily parts. These are a feature of the Hippocratic Corpus. On page 133 the awkwardness of the phrase TW=N PERIHGE/WN A(PTOME/NWN KAT’ E)PI/PEDON A)LLH/LWN (p. 124, 1.1) is highlighted and discussed. On page 138 an extensive footnote (n. 14) ponders the description of the heart and the vessels leading to it and the names given to the vessels by ancient authors. Craik, in discussing the word PU/LAJ being translated as ‘gates’ instead of ‘lobes’ with reference to the liver, states (p. 141): ‘It is possible that the odd terminology is the result of drastic summarisation: the excrescences having been given the name gates, instead of lobes, while some description of gates is lost.’ An explanation of the sentence describing the kidneys follows on page 143, referring to the different interpretations by other, earlier, authors, of whether MH/LOISIN should be translated as ‘sheep’ or ‘apples’.

A discussion (pp. 155-68) deals with the background to the treatise (pp. 155-57) which highlights the difficulty of assessing ‘the extent and nature of influence . . . ’ partly due to the brevity of the work. ‘The problem of inter-textuality within the Hippocratic Corpus is acute; and even more so when later authors, such as Celsus and Rufus, are considered’ (p. 155).

Chapter 2, Anatomy and the Hippocratic Corpus: Content (pp. 157-62), compares Anat. and its possible author(s) to other works in the Hippocratic Corpus and found ‘affinities of content particularly with Oss. (p. 158). The comparison of animal parts to human parts supposes ‘that Anat. belongs to a period when dissection was not practised on human cadavers . . . ’ (p. 159).

In Chapter 3, 'Anatomy and the Hippocratic Corpus: Expression' (pp. 162f.), in addition to comparisons of texts Oss, Mochl., Artic. and others, Craik points out the poetic texture of the work by use of simile. Features of early prose style are also highlighted. In summing up this chapter, Craik writes: ‘As in the case of content, nothing in language is incompatible with an early date, and the stylistic register is that of early prose’ (p. 163).

In Chapter 4, 'The Demokritean Dimension', the similarities and divergences of the writings of Demokritos and Hippocrates (p. 165) are explored. The fecundity of writings on scientific matters and the similarity of the titles to those of Hippocratic treatises by Demokritos led Celsus to describe Hippocrates as a ‘pupil’ of Demokritos (Proem. 8 (p. 164). Craik states that authenticity is problematic ‘ . . . many citations are not of Demokritos but of Demokrates . . .’ (p. 164). The reader is directed towards Wesley Smith’s Hippocrates: Pseudepigraphic Writings for a discussion of the Hippocratic letters describing the supposed relations between Hippocrates and Demokritos (p. 165).[[2]] In Chapter 5, Conclusion (p. 168) the importance of this brief treatise in providing a link between ‘the lost Demokritean corpus with certain Hippocratic texts’ is examined.

The appendix (pp. 169f.) acknowledges the work done by M-P Duminil[[3]] in a similar vein, pointing out the main differences between Duminil’s translation and Craik’s.

This book is an essential addition to any collection on ancient medicine.


[[1]] E. Craik, ‘The Hippocratic Treatise On Anatomy’, Classical Quarterly 48 (1988) 135-67.

[[2]] W. D. Smith Hippocrates: Pseudepigraphic Writings (Leiden 1990).

[[3]] M.-P. Duminil, Hippocrate: tome 8, Ulc., Oss., Cor, Anat. (Paris 1998).