Fragmentation as metaphor in the Classical healing sanctuary

Hughes, Jessica (2008). Fragmentation as metaphor in the Classical healing sanctuary. Social History of Medicine, 21(2) pp. 217–236.



This article focuses on the models of body parts that were dedicated in Classical healing sanctuaries in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. My interpretation builds on, but goes beyond, the traditional reading of the votive body parts, which sees the visual form of these objects as serving
(only) to illustrate the part of the body that was ill or malfunctioning. I argue that these objects can also be read as representing the fragmentation or disaggregation of the human body, and I introduce
evidence which indicates that the ancient dedicants themselves recognised and explored this aspect of the votive imagery. In order to reconstruct the significance of these anatomical fragments in the social and religious context of Classical Greece, I call upon a range of contemporary images
and texts from both within and beyond the healing sanctuary. I suggest that the fragmentation of the body in the sanctuary served as a metaphor which gave visual form and social meaning to the otherwise intensely personal experience of illness. Furthermore, I argue that this symbolic dismemberment also played a dynamic functional role in the process of healing, which was itself metaphorically conceived as the reintegration of the dedicant’s broken body.

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