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Walking CorpsesLeprosy in Byzantium and the Medieval West$
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Timothy S. Miller and John W. Nesbitt

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780801451355

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451355.001.0001

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The Ancient World

The Ancient World

(p.10) Chapter 1 The Ancient World
Walking Corpses

Timothy S. Miller

John W. Nesbitt

Cornell University Press

This chapter traces the chronology of leprosy in the ancient world, as well as the attempts of the physicians of the time to identify and treat the disease. From the time of Rufus of Ephesus to the writing of Aretaios's On Acute and Chronic Diseases, professional physicians came to agree on “elephantiasis” and “Elephant Disease” as the scientific terms for leprosy. And from the works of Galen and Aretaios, Elephant Disease remained the standard scientific name for this disfiguring illness until the end of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453. The term “leprosy” however finds its true etymological origins in the Greek word lepra, which referred to more benign skin diseases but were, nevertheless, used to identify a contagious skin disease known in Hebrew as “tsa'arath” by translators of the Bible. From there the chapter traces further references and attitudes to the disease by the early Christian writers.

Keywords:   Galen of Pergamon, Rufus of Ephesus, Aretaios of Cappadocia, elephantiasis, Elephant Disease, etymology, early Christian writers, skin diseases

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