03 - Orator Patiens: Therapeutic Rhetoric in Aelius Aristides's Hieroi Logoi

In recent years, the conception of the transdisciplinarity of ancient sciences (Lloyd) has encouraged historians of science to account for disciplinary boundaries as conceived and practiced by the ancient Greeks themselves. Furthermore, there is a growing emphasis in the history of medicine on the perspective of patients, largely inspired by Canguilhem and Foucault (Porter, Petridou, Thumiger). To explore the implications of these theoretical turns, this paper addresses the therapeutic usage of vocal practices, a notion that demonstrates the fluid boundary between rhetoric and medicine. While these practices have been long studied (Rousselle, Finney, Pietrobelli, Petridou), the sources used are mainly medical texts written from the physician's perspective. However, Aelius Aristides's Hieroi Logoi presents us with a rare literary text written by the patient himself, whose biography is well-known to us. In this literary curiosity, Aristides recounts his experiences of disease, recovery, and how he obtained the highest honors as an orator under the tutelage of Asclepius.

This paper aims to analyze from a medical perspective the rhetorical practices of Aelius Aristides as recorded in the first three discourses in Hieroi Logoi. I argue that his rhetorical exercises should be considered as an example of the actual practice of therapeutic rhetoric, a notion well attested in a long tradition of Ancient Greek medical texts.

The argument of this paper proceeds from three sets of evidence. Firstly, passages from medical treatises (Hippocrates, Celsus, and Oribasius) provide us with the conceptional grid of therapeutic rhetoric - its physiological basis and practical principles. Secondly, I examine Aristides's descriptions of his rhetorical practices in relation to his own physical ailments (Hieroi Logoi, IV 15, 17, 22) and compare them to the data from medical treatises.

In the third part, I consolidate my argument that Aristides's rhetorical practices in Hieroi Logoi reflect a medical underpinning for vocal exercises. To substantiate this claim, I draw on the social network that connects Galen and Aristides. During the two years that Aristides was convalescing in the sanctuary of Asclepius, Galen was also in Pergamon studying medicine under Satyros, one of the physicians who assisted Aristides. Aristides recounted and explicitly dismissed Satyros' treatments since the latter did not follow the instructions of Asclepius (Aristid. Or. 49.8 K). During this time, Galen was perhaps able to meet the orator, and later he gave an analysis of Aristides's case in his commentary (Schröder CMG, Suppl. 1) to a passage from Plato's Timaeus. Like his tutor Satyros, Galen clearly argued against Asclepius's prescription of rhetorical practices, establishing causal relations between Aristides's passionate engagement in rhetoric and his physical consumption.

By bringing together evidences from the physician's and the patient's perspective in their social interactions, this study sheds light on the experience of disease and highlights the patient's agency in Ancient Greece. The attestation of actual practices of therapeutic rhetoric beyond medical texts helps us understand the function of an elite literary culture and the trans-disciplinary character of ancient knowledge.


Hana Liu, Stanford University