Comparative Guts

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Marble tombstone of an Athenian physician

Athens, 2nd century CE
© The Trustees of the British Museum

This second century CE Athenian marble tombstone characterises the profession of the deceased, the physician Jason, by depicting a typical ‘doctor’s visit’. The doctor examines a young patient by palpating his protruding belly. Both touching and probing, and the abdomen as the ‘soft’ centre of life in the body accessible to the hand, are central in the practice of Graeco-roman medicine (and not only there). The belly, often deemed as irrational and ‘inferior’ to brain and heart in philosophical-biological discussions, is the first location in the body to which the healing hand must reach.