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Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity

Andrew Crislip, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Fellow 2004–2005, Fall

My research for the fall term of 2004–2005 brings to light the healing traditions of Late Antiquity and the nascent monastic movement’s role in shaping health care in Egypt and throughout the greater Byzantine world. The intent of the project was to use the resources at Dumbarton Oaks to expand the work begun in my 2002 Yale dissertation, “Christian Monasticism and the Development of the Hospital in Late Antiquity.” While my previous work has focused on monastic health care in its social context in Late Antiquity, my current work focuses on both the intellectual transmission of healing traditions in early Byzantine monasticism and on placing the healing traditions of monasticism within the context of those in cognate institutions, such as saints’ shrines.

First, I should note that during the fellowship I was able to bring to an end the editing of my book based on my dissertation research, From Monastery to Hospital, forthcoming in 2005. More significantly for my use of the resources at Dumbarton Oaks, I began a second monograph that expands areas of my research into monastic medicine. One part of this undertaking has been an edition and translation of the corpus of Coptic medical literature—a little known Byzantine tradition that draws on both Greek and Egyptian medical traditions. Another is research in the various institutions through which healing was provided in late antiquity, including not only the monasteries, but also the burgeoning saints’ shrines, physicians in private practice, and of course the hospital, the great medical innovation of the early Byzantine period. The resources of Dumbarton Oaks have been central to my project, bringing together holdings in such disparate fields as papyrology, hagiography, and Byzantine medicine. During my tenure at Dumbarton Oaks, I have finished an annotated translation of Coptic medical literature from Byzantine Egypt and have written and submitted for publication several articles on the healing traditions of early Byzantine monasticism. These include an edition of an Egyptian monastic letter requesting pharmacological ingredients for a sick monastic; an edition of a Byzantine Greek papyrus preserving recipes for medicinal wines; and a study reevaluating monastic approaches to one of the most famous and trenchant psychological disorders of early Byzantine monasticism, acedia, commonly equated with depression.

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