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Mental Insanity in the Hippocratic Texts: A Pragmatic Perspective

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The terminology of insanity in the Hippocratic texts appears often confusing to the reader for its variety and ambiguity. Scholarship has dealt with this problematic group of words in different ways, attributing the phenomenon to accidents in the composition of early medical texts or their status as part of a developing technical language and fundamentally reducing them to synonymous. In this piece I propose to look at them not in a semantic perspective, but from the point of view of pragmatic linguistics. How does the grammar and position in which these words are used influence their effect within the individual narrative? How are nuances of emphasis and intensity expressed? How do aspects of subjectivity and chronology emerge through narrative strategies? Through a close reading of one illustrative passage from the patient cases of the Epidemics I attempt to extract further information about the use and meaning of early medical psychiatric vocabulary.

Affiliations: 1: Humboldt Universität zu


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