Lady Philosophy’s Therapeutic Method:
The “Gentler” and “Stronger” Remedies in Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae
Philip Edward Phillips
Lady Philosophy and the Application of Ancient Medical Theory
According to Michael Frede, there was a strong connection throughout Antiquity between philosophy and medicine, a relationship supported by early Hippocratic writings advising that philosophy be carried into medicine and medicine into philosophy. Not only did ancient medical authors, from the time of the Hippocratic writers onwards, rely upon philosophers “for their views on physiology, but also for their conception of their art and their moral precepts for the doctor.”1) Frede points out that ancient philosophers showed considerable interest in medical questions, most notably after medicine came to be considered an intellectually respectable discipline in the fifth century B.C. This concern was practical, he argues, because in small communities one often had to care for oneself and, in the absence of regulation, doctors tended to be itinerant and unaccountable for their practices. Consequently, much of the responsibility for treatment was carried out by the patient, with the assistance of a doctor, whose role was to offer explanations, advice, and help. Frede emphasizes that “the choice of treatment, hence the primary responsibility, was the patient’s,”2) especially if the patient was an educated man who would have regarded medicine as one of the liberal arts and therefore worthy of his attention and study.
Since traditional medicine and the doctors who practiced it tended to view illness as “a matter of the intrusion of a foreign entity, spiritual or grossly bodily, into the body” and to rely upon “the tradition of an accumulated experience with wounds, fractures, dislocations, and some vaguely diagnosed internal diseases,” while philosophers, the originators of medical theory, tended to concern themselves more with humans and human behavior, “one could have imagined some division of labor, e.g., one according to which the philosopher deals with the soul and the doctor takes care of the body.”3) Frede points out, however, that doctors as well as philosophers wrote treatises on the soul. As the writings of Asclepiades of Bithnynia, Soranus, Sextus Empiricus, and Caelius Aurelianus demonstrate, doctors tended to concern themselves not only with the bodily symptoms and the physical cause, but also with the sympathetic accord of body and soul in reference to such disturbances as insanity, effeminacy, lethargy, morbid hunger, melancholy, or hydrophobia. “Doctors tended not just to the bodily effects of mental disturbances, but also to the mental effects of what they regarded as bodily disturbances,” and, according to Frede, “given that most philosophers and doctors did not accept a simple, sharp dualism between body and soul, a division of labor along these lines was not possible, even if it had been desired.”4)