A history of our own?: Using Classics in disability histories

King, Helen (2021). A history of our own?: Using Classics in disability histories. In: Adams, Ellen ed. Disability Studies and the Classical Body: The Forgotten Other. Routledge Studies in Ancient Disabilities. London: Routledge, pp. 237–263.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429273711-10


This chapter discusses the uses of the classical world in constructing histories of disability and in considering what disability is. It investigates a range of conditions, including asthma, endometriosis, and conditions of hearing and sight. Some histories focus on key authorities from antiquity, such as Hippocrates, Aristotle or Plato, while others look at inspiring individuals such as Quintus Pedius. The emphasis may be on continuity, or on change and progress. Modern literature and art can also use the classical world as a way of representing disability. In the case of Nydia, the blind flower-girl of Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii who leads her companions to safety, nineteenth-century audiences found her so sympathetic that Randolph Rogers produced a sculpture of her, copies of which are still displayed across the world today. The response to her from more recent blind activists is less sympathetic.

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