Conference: Pain in the Ancient World

Pain in the Ancient World: Philosophy, Medicine, and Martyrdom

Exeter University, 4-6 April 2018

Organizers: Prof. Han Baltussen (Adelaide), Dr. Jacqueline Clarke (Adelaide), Dr. Daniel King (Exeter)

Conference Venue: Reed Hall, University of Exeter.

Is pain universal? In modern biological science, pain is often presented as a universally consistent sensory process; a perception dependant on the body’s nociceptors which acts, positively, as a warning against harmful or noxious stimuli. As one commentator put it, ‘all pains are created equal’. However, an increasing amount of work in history, anthropology, cultural studies has pointed to the extreme diversity of pain experience both within specific cultures and across different societies. This dichotomy between biological and cultural approaches raises some fascinating and important questions for the study of pain in antiquity. This conference brings together world-leading experts from various fields to investigate the ways in which pain was understood in different cultural contexts from across the ancient world. We investigate how different areas of ancient society imagined, problematised, communicated, and treated pain perception. What (if any) connections exist between these different ways of approaching and understanding the perception? In setting out some of these aspects of the ancient physical experience of pain, we hope to further investigate the potential connections (and disconnections) between pain experience in the modern and ancient worlds? Are there points of intersection that suggest pain is universal? Are there ways in which the ancient treatment of pain can inform the understanding of, and approach to, pain in a modern context?

Booking Details

Attendance is free, but requires booking to ensure catering. Bookings can be made by contacting Daniel King ( by email.

Booking Deadline: Friday 9 March.

Please indicate in your email whether or not you wish to attend the whole meeting, or just specific days/sessions.

During the conference there will be two evening meals arranged at local restaurants in Exeter. Please indicate if you wish to join us for dinner (and whether or not you have any dietary requirements).


Pain in the Ancient World: Programme

Wednesday, 4 April

12.00-12.30: Arrival and Registration.

12.30-12.45: Opening Remarks.

12.45-4.15: Panel 2 Philosophy and Pain

12.45-1.30: Han Baltussen (Adelaide): Pain and pleasure in early Greek thought: Homer to Hippocrates.

1.30-2.30: Lunch: Reed Hall.

2.30-3.15: Jean-Christophe Courtil (Toulouse): Is pain natural?: A study of Imperial philosophy.

3.15-4.00: Wei Cheng (PKU): Pain in the Peripatetic Tradition.

6.00: Dinner: Local Restaurant in Exeter.

Thursday, 5 April

9.15-9.30: Arrival: tea and biscuits.

9.30 – 12.15 Panel 2: Patients and their Pain

9.30-10.15: Chiara Thumiger (Warwick): Dolor: The patients of Caelius Aurelianus.

10.15-10.45: Coffee.

10.45-11.30: Daniel King (Exeter): “You will just feel a little …”: The patient and painful medical care.

11.30-12.15: Georgia Petridou (Liverpool): Pain communication and patient-physician Resonance in Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi.

12.30-1.30: Lunch: Reed Hall.

1.30-3.00: Panel 3: Medicine and Pain (ii)

1.30-2.15: Ido Israelowich (Tel Aviv): Doing what needs to be done: surgeons, surgical tools, and surgery in the Roman army.

2.15-3.00: Orly Lewis (Tel Aviv): Arkhigenes on pain perception.

3.00-3.30: Coffee Break.

3.30-4.30: Roundtable: The study of pain in the ancient and modern Worlds: new directions?

6.30: Conference Dinner: Exeter (TBC)

Friday, 6 April

9.00-9.30 Arrival: tea and biscuits.

9.30 – 12.15 Panel 4: Christian Narratives of Pain

9.30-10.15: Fiona McMeekin (Reading): Ignatius of Antioch’s Anticipation of Torture: A philosophical approach to suffering?

10.15-10.45: Coffee.

10.45-11.30: Jacque Clarke (Adelaide): Pain and the making of martyrs: Prudentius and Ovid, a comparative analysis.

11.30-12.15: Gillian Clark (Bristol): The Bishop’s case book: Augustine on pain and doctors.

12.15-12.30: Closing Remarks.

12.30-1.30: Lunch (served for those wishing it): Reed Hall.


(Image source: Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons)

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