Science and Medicine in the Homeric Poems

Battle Wounds in the Iliad


  • Kenneth Silverman


Homer, Iliad, Ancient Greece, natural philosophy


Homer had a keenness of observation for nature: he described wildlife with attention to the subtle gestures of animal behavior, emotions in terms of physiology, and battle wounds with a level of detail that reveals an interest in human internal anatomy. I have organized this paper into two headings, under which several of Homer’s injury descriptions can be discussed: vascular and neurological. The first section focuses on a possible femoral artery wound, as well as a description of a severed major vessel in the back. The second section includes a brachial plexus injury, a description of the bone and soft tissue of the spinal column, an eye injury, as well as several descriptions of the body’s reaction to pain. Throughout, I consider both the accuracy of these descriptions as well as their sensitivity to detail, with reference to how Homeric commentaries have addressed these passages. I have framed this discussion in the context of how the epic tradition contributed to the history of Greek natural philosophy and medicine.