ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 46 (2009) 271-273
Marguerite Hirt Raj, Medecins et malades de l',gypte romaine. Etude
socio-lgale de la profession medicale et de ses praticiens du ler au IVe
siecle ap. J.-C. Studies in Ancient Medicine, Vol. 32. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006. xx + 386 pages + 1 foldout. ISBN 90-04-14846-9.
In this ambitious study Hirt Raj (H.R.) attempts to fill a gap left by K.
Sudhoff, Arztliches aus griechischen Papyrus-Urkunden. Bausteine zu einer medizinischen Kulturgeschichte des Hellenismus (Leipzig 1909). Hers is the first
full-length study of the history of the medical profession in Egypt, even if it
covers only the Roman period including the fourth century (no doubt H.R.
included the fourth century so as not to lose out on the public doctors' reports
that date to this century; otherwise the evidence is mostly earlier). Unlike Sudhoff, whose interests were "catholic" and who regarded his work as preliminary
to writing a cultural history (bien avant la lettre) of Greek medicine in the Hellenistic and Roman period, H.R. focuses on the social (and legal) position of
doctors in Graeco-Roman Egypt as it appears in Greek documents. H.R. does
not make much of the numerous literary papyri of the Roman period with
medical texts in Greek, nor does she take Roman-period papyri in Egyptian
into account. Even so there are some odd omissions. On pp. 47-48, e.g., H.R.
notes the absence of oculistes in Greek documents from Roman Egypt, but this
ignores POxy. 42.3078 (listed on p. 344), an oracle about consulting a particular
eye doctor in Hermopolis. (The text is additionally interesting for the fame of
certain doctors beyond the borders of their own nome.)
Greek documents are more useful as a source of information on the social (and legal) position of doctors in the first four centuries of Roman rule
than on anything having to do with medical science per se (but there is lots
of relevance to a cultural history in Sudhoff's sense). In the first chapter H.R.
grapples with the eternal issue: is Egypt perhaps a special case that can be
ignored, or is it worthwhile studying the Egyptian evidence even when one
is really more interested in the rest of the Graeco-Roman world? (Studying
Egyptian evidence for its own sake is not an option, after all.) H.R. cuts this
Gordian knot by filling in the missing details in the picture as it emerges from
the Egyptian evidence by drawing on... what we know from elsewhere in the
Graeco-Roman world. This explains why we get long sections in the book that
draw almost exclusively on such evidence (mostly literary) from elsewhere. In
that way the relevance of H.R's study is assured by a kind of petitio principii.
Still, there is a lot of interesting material presented in the book.
Thus, in the second chapter H.R. first discusses the status of the medical
profession in the Greek world. More papyrological and more interesting is the