The goal of this project is to systematically review the fundamental epistemological principles of a theory of diagnostics and inferences in antiquity – principles which are of equal importance for both philosophy and the history of medicine.


Thanks to 20th and 21st century imaging techniques, the localization of inner bodily parts and diagnosis of their proper or defective functioning in real time are now possible and widely practiced. No such access was available in earlier times. In order to clarify and understand which inner bodily states and processes were causing visible symptoms (or – in non-pathological circumstances – manifesting the corresponding natural faculties), medical practitioners and students of human physiology and pathology had to rely on a wide range of experiences and on methods of diagnosis based on epistemological principles and theories of inference from signs. Although Aristotle provides a few pointers on the related methodological issues, it is not until the Hellenistic period that philosophical reflections on this type of inference emerge, and then not without reference to developments in medical theory.


Groundwork on crucial texts provides a vital basis for understanding and evaluating the ancient debates on these issues. Notably the first critical edition with translation and commentary of the methodologically oriented first two books of Galen’s De locis affectis (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum V 6,1,1 ed. Florian Gärtner, Berlin 2015) constitutes a milestone for studies on this subject. Papyrological evidence has been gathered both in Hellenistic times (Roland Wittwer and Alexander Bown on Philodemus, in progress) and in Late Antiquity (Francesca Corazza: (D-1-2-1) Medical papyri from Antinoopolis: a case study in late antique medicine, Dissertation, HU-Berlin 2016). Philological investigations have led to a better understanding of a key text from Imperial times (Roland Wittwer on Sextus Empiricus 2016). Galen’s treatise De temperamentis, a major source of information about his methods of diagnosing internal physiological states, has been the subject of several studies (van der Eijk 2013, 2014, 2015) and appeared in a new translation with commentary and interpretive essays in the Cambridge Galen Translations:

Philip van der Eijk and Peter N. Singer (Eds.), Galen: Works on Human Nature. Mixtures (De Temperamentis), Cambridge University Press, 2019

Ancient philosophical and medical approaches to these questions and subjects have been studied and analyzed in depth with the aid of external experts during a number of international workshops in Berlin and abroad: “Hippocrates’ Prognosticon and its Tradition” (October 2013), “Galen’s De Placitis Hippocratis et Platonis VII” (November 2013), “Mental Diseases in Ancient Medicine” (October 2014 in cooperation with the Alexander von Humboldt-chair; acts published 2015) and “Philodemus on sign inference” (July, 2015).

Public lectures helped both to broaden the scope and integrate a more general public. Some of them remain available as podcasts: CMG-Lecture on Ancient Medicine

Christopher Gill (Exeter University) and Heinrich von Staden (Institute for Advanced Study Princeton) participated as Topoi Fellows (2014) in the activities of this research group.

Research activities also covered methodological issues in this field (“Editing Scientific Texts on Papyri”) and questions of digital standardization and open-access electronic presentations (“Tradition digital: Digitale Standards für die Erstellung historisch-kritischer Editionen in den Altertumswissenschaften” (December 2015; co-sponsored by the Einstein-Foundation).