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CFP: Narratio in Medicine and the Law

May 30

Narratio in Medicine and the Law: Interpretative and Scientific Knowledge in Medical and Medico-Legal Case Histories from Antiquity to the Renaissance

This VivaMente conference explores the intersections of narrative, rhetorical persuasion, and factual evidence in medical and medico-legal case histories from Antiquity to the Renaissance focusing on the longue durée development of medical and medico-legal consilia.  The event emerges out of the organisers’ research projects on diagnosis (King) and legal medicine (Papakonstantinou). It will allow participants to analyse both the historical development of medical and medico-legal consilia and the complex relationships between medicine, rhetoric, and law at key historical moments.

Conference Description

Medical case-histories, or consilia, along with related forms, such as medico-legal consilia, played a central role in medical culture, especially in relation to the empirical observation of patient symptoms; they not only provided accounts of disease but also shaped the process of diagnosis and recognition, providing persuasive accounts of medical truths and facts.

Ancient case-histories range from the pared-back accounts of illness in the Hippocratic Epidemics through to more developed narratives of symptoms and treatment in Roman doctors such as Rufus of Ephesus and Galen (e.g. On Affected Parts or On Prognosis). The medieval and Renaissance tradition of medical consilia – which appeared in Bologna at the end of the 13th century – was broadly modelled on the genre of legal consilia, and encompassed the sub-genre of medico-legal consilia. As a form of medical writing, these texts were explicitly inscribed in earlier traditions of ancient and Islamic medical literature: Vallériole’s Observationum medicinales, for example, looks directly to the Epidemics; the case-histories contained in Galen and the works of Islamic doctors (e.g. al Rāzī) also circulated widely throughout Renaissance Europe.

This event will turn a critical eye to these forms of medical and medico-legal narrative, their history, and their impact; it will raise new questions about:

      • the narrative structure of medical knowledge;
      • the relationship between theory and observation-based practice;
      • the role of rhetoric (not only as a discipline, but also as a heuristic tool that facilitated knowledge production and ‘professional’ socialisation) in the construction of medical and medico-legal consilia;
      • the historical antecedents of Renaissance medical and medico-legal consilia;
      • the narrative-oriented physician-patient interactions;
      • the idea of medical narratives as a source for evidence in court practice.


This VivaMente Conference brings together Classicists, Medieval, Islamic, and Renaissance scholars to investigate both the historical evolution of this form of medical writing and to reassess their literary and rhetorical functions at key moments in the history of medicine.

Participants working on any areas relevant to the conference are encouraged to reach out to the organisers with a title and abstract of their contribution. If selected, they will be invited to finalise their application process. Abstracts of no more than 500 words must contain a small biography or citations of the relevant literature on the topic. Individual papers will be allotted a 30/35 minute slot followed by a 10/15-minute Q&A session.

Bursaries for students (BA, MA and PhD) willing to partake in the event are available under the competitive Comèl Grant scheme.

The conference proceedings will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication in the series Palgrave Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine (PSMEMM).