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Wellbeing: A Cultural History of Healthy Living

Wellbeing: A Cultural History of Healthy Living

Klaus Bergdolt

ISBN: 978-0-745-62914-8 May 2008 Polity 416 Pages


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This authoritative new book offers a panoramic overview on health and healthy living from classical Antiquity through to the mid-nineteenth century, when scientific medicine began to gain ascendancy.

Klaus Bergdolt offers the reader a lively and well exemplified account of the numerous historical manifestations of dietetics showing that despite the diversity of notions of healthy and ill', directions on healthy living remain surprisingly constant throughout the centuries.

Notwithstanding his admiration for the achievements of modern medicine, Bergdolt regrets that the simplest dietetic principles such as moderation, as well as the notion of individual responsibility for ones own health, are increasingly neglected, and that the old health precepts are frequently divorced from modern medicine. However, some circumstances, including economic constraints, speak in favour of a better balance between scientific medicine and traditional teachings on healthy living.

Introduction 1

Prologue: The Ancient Advanced Civilizations – Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia 7

1 Greece 14

The ideal of health in ancient Greece 14

The Presocratics 19

The Hippocratic corpus 24

Diocles of Carystus, a fourth-century health pedagogue 30

‘Knidic’ dietetics 33

Health in Plato and Aristotle 37

Dietetics in Alexandria 44

Cures and miracles, Aesculapius and Hygieia 46

Public health care and sport 53

Early Stoics and Cynics 56

2 Rome 62

People and literati: dietetics in ancient Rome 62

New doctors, new theories 73

Sport and baths 77

The sacred tales of Publius Aelius Aristides 79

The Roman Stoics: Plutarch, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus 82

Galen 87

3 Jewish and Early Christian Traditions 94

Jewish doctrines of health 94

Christus medicus 98

Early Christian doctrines of health 103

4 Medieval Traditions in the East and West 109

Jealing and health in early monasticism 109

The first German pharmacopoeia 113

Dietetics in Islam 116

Medieval doctrines of health in the West 124

Asceticism and mysticism – feasts and beauty care 131

Western and Eastern clerical scholars: Maimonides, Petrus, Hispanus, Roger Bacon 137

Hildegard of Bingen 146

Saints and miracle workers 149

The power of the stars 154

5 Doctrines of Health in the Renaissance 158

Petrarch’s conception of health 158

Alberti and other intellectuals around 1500 161

House books and manuals – health and literature 168

Further humanists – Platina, More, Luther 173

Philosophy of health and prophylaxis in Venice – Mercuriale, Rangone, Cornaro 179

Gabriele Zerbi and the Gerontocomia 185

Paracelsus’ teachings on health 187

Herbal books 191

Dietetics in daily life 194

6 Dietetics in the Seventeenth Century 199

Cartesianism and conservative tendencies 199

Van Helmont, Sylvius and other ‘iatrochemists’ 208

Doctrines of health in England – the dietetics of the state 210

Health through planning – the utopias 216

The dietetics of the Enlightenment – philosophers, pedagogues, charlatans 220

7 Doctrines of Health in the Eighteenth Century 226

Medical theories of health 226

The French Enlightenment and Rousseau 233

Tissot, Triller, Mai: health education at grassroots 239

Public health care 247

8 Around 1800 251

The notion of ‘Lebenskraft’ (vital force) – Hufeland and Kant 251

The recurrent topic of a dietetic regime for intellectuals 255

Alternative paths to health 258

Goethe 263

Romantic medicine – Schelling, Carus, Novalis 266

9 The Nineteenth Century 274

Trends in the nineteenth century 274

Rudolf Virchow and the dietetics of reason 276

Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and the philosophical critique of positivism 280

The revolution in nutrition and alternative paths to health 283

Afterword 287

Notes 289

References 327

Index 348

"A fascinating and nearly exhaustive overview of the traditional concepts of hygiene and dietetics from ancient times through to the nineteenth century."
Social History of Medicine

"The thematic and chronological scope of Wellbeing is ambitious; yet it is surprisingly readable, a testament to both its author and translator. The arrangement of chapters, clear index and thoughtful introduction draw in the reader and the comprehensive referencing provides a wealth of additional material without interrupting the flow of the text."

"In this scholarly, authoritative, and well-referenced monograph, Bergdolt presents the chronological development of many aspects related to well-being, including diet, cleanliness, exercise/sport, spirituality, and psychology, as well as healing (by useful and dubious means) ... Highly recommended for lower-level undergraduates and above and general readers."

"Klaus Bergoldt's masterly contribution to the bibliography of health has been a long time coming, but is no less welcome for that ... Bergdolt has achieved a heroic internal synthesis of the health genre."
Medical History

"This book is ... absolutely central to what traditionally constituted the mainstream of medicine, and Bergdolt handles his subject matter with clarity, skill and erudition."
Roy Porter

  • This authoritative new book offers a panoramic overview on health and healthy living from classical Antiquity through to the mid-nineteenth century.

  • Klaus Bergdolt offers the reader a thoroughly researched and a well exemplified examination of the numerous historical manifestations of 'dietetics'.

  • A fascinating discussion of the theories of health espoused by physicians through history, including how religious, philosophical and social factors produced notions of 'healthy' and 'ill', and directions on healthy living.

  • Will be of interest to general readers and to students and scholars of the history of medicine and health.