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The Symptom and the Subject:
The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece
Brooke Holmes

Paperback | 2014 | $30.95 | £25.95 | ISBN: 9780691163406
384 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2010 | $62.50 | £52.95 | ISBN: 9780691138992
360 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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The Symptom and the Subject takes an in-depth look at how the physical body first emerged in the West as both an object of knowledge and a mysterious part of the self. Beginning with Homer, moving through classical-era medical treatises, and closing with studies of early ethical philosophy and Euripidean tragedy, this book rewrites the traditional story of the rise of body-soul dualism in ancient Greece. Brooke Holmes demonstrates that as the body (sôma) became a subject of physical inquiry, it decisively changed ancient Greek ideas about the meaning of suffering, the soul, and human nature.

By undertaking a new examination of biological and medical evidence from the sixth through fourth centuries BCE, Holmes argues that it was in large part through changing interpretations of symptoms that people began to perceive the physical body with the senses and the mind. Once attributed primarily to social agents like gods and daemons, symptoms began to be explained by physicians in terms of the physical substances hidden inside the person. Imagining a daemonic space inside the person but largely below the threshold of feeling, these physicians helped to radically transform what it meant for human beings to be vulnerable, and ushered in a new ethics centered on the responsibility of taking care of the self.

The Symptom and the Subject highlights with fresh importance how classical Greek discoveries made possible new and deeply influential ways of thinking about the human subject.

Brooke Holmes is assistant professor of classics at Princeton University.


"Brooke Holmes' volume is a wonderful read that would be enjoyed not only by scholars but also by people interested in the history of ideas in the Greek world. I also think that such a work must be a source for any future analysis of the concepts of person, soul, and body in Greek philosophy and literature."--Octavian Gabor, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Historians of ancient medicine and scholars of Greek tragedy will find this carefully documented book of great interest."--M. Lynn Rose, American Historical Review

"This is not the type of book one can read in a single sitting; rather, it is a work one will want to study, reread, and revisit over a period of time. It will no doubt become a point of reference for anyone interested in the body in the ancient world."--Laurence Totelin, Isis

"This is a splendid book, deeply researched and meticulously executed; it is also compact, complex, and defiant of efforts to summarize."--Ann Ellis Hanson, New England Classical Journal

"The book is a remarkable example of scholarship, and ought to be welcomed by ancient philosophers, particularly those who work in moral psychology and embodiment."--Aaron James Landry, Philosophy in Review

"[A]mbitious and compelling. . . . [R]ichly provocative."--Joel Alden Schlosser, Foucault Studies

"Holmes has written a wide-ranging and thorough book on the emergence of the concept of the body as a physical object in Ancient Greece. The primary and secondary sources consulted are extensive . . . making this work most useful for a scholar already knowledgeable in the body soul argument. The language used and the concepts raised make for intense reading at times, but this book provides a systematic analysis of the concept of the body, a frequently ignored part of a significant Greek belief: the body-soul dichotomy."--Miriam Bissett, Prudentia Offprint

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