Empathy and the Limits of Disgust in the Hippocratic Corpus

George Kazantzidis

in The Ancient Emotion of Disgust

Published in print November 2016 | ISBN: 9780190604110
Published online January 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780190604134 | DOI:

Series: Emotions of the Past

Empathy and the Limits of Disgust in the Hippocratic Corpus

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While the Hippocratic Corpus thrives with repulsive details (sick bodies, excreta, oozing substances coming out of the skin, etc.), doctors systematically avoid expressing their disgust at the unpleasant diseases or things they are obliged to see, touch, or taste. This chapter illustrates how Hippocratic medicine essentially redefines what Bakhtin labels the “lower strata” of the human body and how the latter emerges, through medical discourse, as an object that is free from any association of “dirt”—as something, in other words, that is open to close and intimate inspection even when it has been affected and has been horribly disfigured by illness. Doctors’ professionalism not only requires suspension of disgust, but their “disgust free” discourse may be compared to Greek tragedy’s empathetic tone when it comes to its own close encounters with hideous diseases and conditions (Sophocles’ Philoctetes), where similarly feelings of repulsion become suspended due to the presence of stronger emotional scripts, such as pity and compassion.

Keywords: disease; disgust; suspension of disgust; empathy; Hippocratic Corpus; tragedy

Chapter.  12367 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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