Pure life: The limits of the vegetal analogy in the hippocratics and Galen

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The analogy of human beings to plants is widespread in ancient medical and biological writing, clustering, in particular, in embryological texts. But the stakes of the analogy and what it makes visible are raised, as more attention is paid to vegetal life as an ontological category in Plato and especially in Aristotle: are we simply like plants, or are we, in some critical way, plants ourselves? In this chapter, I closely examine the plant analogy in the Hippocratic embryological writings and in Galen's embryological corpus. I argue that already in the Hippocratic material we can begin to see an interest in vegetal life as defined by the capacity to attract nutriment and, thus, to sustain life. In Galen, this self-nourishing form of life comes to define the human at the earliest stage of its development, even as the nature of plant life remains obscure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Comparable Body
Subtitle of host publicationAnalogy and Metaphor in Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman Medicine
EditorsJohn Z. Wee
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9789004356764
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameStudies in Ancient Medicine
ISSN (Print)0925-1421

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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