The stuff of causation: etiological metaphor and pathogenic channeling in Babylonian medicine

Justin Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Models of causation play a central role in defining specific types of scientific thought, and this was also certainly the case with Babylonian medicine (Akk. asûtu), yet traditional expressions of causation, rooted in juridical practice, are never found in the medical corpus. This chapter argues that Babylonian physicians represented disease causation or aetiology in a new way, largely through conceptual metaphors embedded in incantations. These metaphors drew, for the most part, on landscape and atmospheric conditions—rather than supernatural causal agents—to represent unseen processes within the human body. The linear transformation of one type of disease into another, for example, was modelled on the normative movement of food and drink through the gastrointestinal system, and this reflected the dominant role of a fluvial metaphor, in which the human alimentary canal was conceptualised as a river or
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe comparable body
Subtitle of host publicationanalogy and metaphor in ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman medicine
EditorsJohn Wee
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages50
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-35677-1
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-35676-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameStudies in Ancient Medicine
ISSN (Print)0925-1421


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