Of matter and man. The development of Christian medical anthropology in early Byzantium and its relation to ancient philosophy, medicine and the Church Fathers.
The present project intends to delineate the development of Christian medical anthropology in the crucial period of transmission of the intellectual heritage from antiquity to the Middle Ages through a comparative and contextualized study of a representative corpus of Byzantine texts on the constitution of man from the 7th through the 9th c. A.D. Founded on the Platonic tradition, a basic premise for any account on the nature of humankind in late antiquity and the Byzantine period was the idea that purely formless matter was gradually ordered so as to become formed matter. All different material existents, from lifeless nature through living beings, consist of the 4 elements (earth, water, fire, air), and bodies are defined by combinations of the 4 humors (blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile). The ultimate distinguishing factor between humans and other living beings is the combination of such body with a rational soul. In Christian times, the adaptation of the Platonic theory of matter to the specific case of humankind gave rise to a diversity of accounts characterized by an intriguing mix of philosophical and Patristic doctrines and medical assumptions. Albeit an important gateway to understanding the reception of the underlying theory of matter in the case of the human body and its medical implications, such accounts from the early Byzantine period have largely been neglected in modern scholarship.