The Issue of New Diseases. Medical and Societal Inquiry in the Ancient World

Philippe Mudry


In one of his dialogues, Plutarch explores the issue of new diseases. He sees their cause in the luxury and the softness of his contemporaries morals. The same opinion is expressed by Seneca and Celsus in the introduction to his treatise On Medicine . Pliny provides a whole chapter on new diseases, of which he lists a few examples. He especially focuses on mentagra , a dermatological condition that affects the face. Pliny, as well as Galen and Marcellus, quotes examples of treatments for this condition and their consequences (scars). For ancient doctors, new diseases represent two types of epistemological problems: which criteria define the novelty of a disease and which approach brings about the discovery of a therapy. Parallels with the emergence of AIDS are provided.


Key words: New Diseases - Plutarch - Celsus - Pliny -  Mentagra

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