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November 1, 2018

As Benjamin Isaac concisely stated in a 2016 piece in Eidolon,[i] the “pseudo-scientific roots” of American racism can be traced back to Ancient Greek theories of human difference. A crucial text quoted at length by Isaac is Airs, Waters, Places . Preserved as a medical document in the Hippocratic Corpus , this treatise argues that climate has a strong influence on human biology and human society: some climates are conducive to bodily health and social flourishing, while others are conducive to disease and lack of ‘civilized’ society. Isaac cites this text as foundational for the later development of theories of race:

The form of environmental determinism that was first found in Airs, Waters, Places became the generally accepted model in Greece and, afterwards — with variations — in Rome. According to this view, collective characteristics are permanently determined by climate and geography, implying that the essential features of body and mind come from the outside and are not the result of genetic evolution, social environment, or conscious choice.

It is not just “collective characteristics” that are highlighted in AWP, however: the treatise presents itself initially as a rubric for travelling physicians to predict the effects of local climates on the production of the physique and psychology of the humans who live there. Understood as a “guide” for how to assess and anticipate the character, customs, and health of a population based on the climate in which they reside, AWP also functions as a way of correlating types of climate with population health and disease susceptibility, as well as with physical and cultural characteristics.

In the colonial period, the principles of climate and health presented in AWP were not only used to support the idea of “environmental determinism” (as Isaac defines it, “a direct causal connection between geography/climate and physical/mental characteristics,” op. cit.); this text was also assumed to confirm the strengths and superiority of particular environmental conditions over others, and therefore particular humans over others. Perhaps the most famous example of this idea’s inheritance is Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws (1748), which argues for a strict environmental determinism (where traits are not genetic but environmental). The same view is explored in Johnson’s The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions (1813), and the influential taxonomist Linnaeus adopted categories and definitions reminiscent of those in AWP when he split the human species into four different types in his Systema Naturae (1767).[ii]

But the goal of this essay is not to prove that Airs, Waters, Places was an influential text on later thinkers. Rather, I have two far narrower goals in mind. First, I want to clarify the metric by which the text differentiates climates with regard to human diversity; it does not treat temperature as the defining feature of the superior climate, the way that Aristotle later does in his Politics (7.6.1 (1327b), another passage cited by Isaac). Instead, the text begins and ends by categorizing climates as either “homogeneous” or “heterogeneous”—places where the weather stays the same vs. places where the weather changes. Second, I want to show how specific translation choices with this text continue to support a “white” racialization of the “temperate climate”  ( a climate later identified with England, Western Europe, and the continental US)[iii] and consequently a “white” racialization of the supposed benefits of temperate climates for human health and culture.[iv]

Hippocratic Climates and Human Difference

In the final section of Airs, Waters, Places, the author sums up a general principle for evaluating the types of people engendered by different types of climate:

ὅκου γὰρ αἱ μεταβολαί εἰσι πυκνόταται τῶν ὡρέων καὶ πλεῖστον διάφοροι αὐταὶ ἑωυτῇσιν, ἐκεῖ καὶ τὰ εἴδεα καὶ τὰ ἤθεα καὶ τὰς φύσιας εὑρήσεις πλεῖστον διαφερούσας.

For wherever the changes of the seasons are most frequent and differ very much from each other, there you will find the most diversity in looks, characters, and natures. (AWP 24.36-40)

Preceding this summation of the argument, the author presents other observations about different types of climates and peoples that support the above idea, consistently contrasting places that have a “uniformity” of climate (AWP 23.25-26: τῷ αἰεὶ παραπλησίῳ) over the course of a year with those that have seasonal “changes” (23.27: τῷ μεταβαλλομένῳ). The author’s general principle throughout is that homogeneous climates (i.e., ones that don’t change during the year) engender “homogeneous” humans, and climates that fluctuate engender “heterogeneous” humans (cf. also AWP 16, where the “heterogeneous” climate is specifically identified as that of the “Europeans,” and 13.18-24, where the author specifies the diversity of inhabitants’ appearances in “heterogeneous” places).

This is already quite different from Aristotle’s understanding of environmental determinism in his Politics: for the Hippocratic author, the distinction is not between climates that are cold, hot, or temperate, but between climates that change over the course of the year and those that do not. In other words, it is not the temperature of their environment that sets human populations apart, but the climate’s similarity (or lack thereof) from one season to the next.

Environmental Determinism or Biased Translation?

One part of section 23 (23.19-30) theorizes the causality between different climates and character formation: “homogeneous” places create “homogeneous” people and an ease that comes with lack of struggle, whereas “heterogeneous” climates create not only diverse people but also challenges to sustainability and livelihood.

What I hope to show in this section is that the W.H.S. Jones translation (the current LOEB translation), which has been influential in relaying Airs, Waters, Places to an Anglophone audience,[v] creates its own skewed image both of the characters created by climate and of the way environmental determinism works in this text.

Here is Jones’ translation of AWP 23.19-30, where his terms clearly argue that the “heterogeneous” climates create a particular character that is superior to and opposes that which is created by “homogeneous” climates:

In such a [heterogeneous] climate arise wildness, unsociability, and spirit. For the frequent shocks to the mind impart wildness, destroying tameness and gentleness. For this reason, I think, Europeans are also more courageous than Asiatics. For uniformity engenders slackness, while variation fosters endurance in both body and soul; rest and slackness are food for cowardice, endurance and exertion for bravery.

Here is the Greek text and an alternate translation, with the same words in bold:

τό τε ἄγριον καὶ τὸ ἄμεικτον καὶ τὸ θυμοειδὲς ἐν τῇ τοιαύτῃ φύσει ἐγγίνεται. αἱ γὰρ ἐκπλήξιες πυκναὶ γινόμεναι τῆς γνώμης τὴν ἀγριότητα ἐντιθέασι, τὸ δὲ ἥμερόν τε καὶ ἤπιον ἀμαυροῦσι. διὸ καὶ εὐψυχοτέρους νομίζω τοὺς τὴν Εὐρώπην οἰκέοντας εἶναι ἢ τοὺς τὴν Ἀσίην. ἐν μὲν γὰρ τῷ αἰεὶ παραπλησίῳ αἱ ῥᾳθυμίαι ἔνεισιν, ἐν δὲ τῷ μεταβαλλομένῳ αἱ ταλαιπωρίαι τῷ σώματι καὶ τῇ ψυχῇ. καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν ἡσυχίης καὶ ῥᾳθυμίης ἡ δειλίη αὔξεται, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς ταλαιπωρίης καὶ τῶν πόνων αἱ ἀνδρεῖαι.

Wildness, sociopathy, and hot-temperedness come about in that nature. For the frequent upsets of the mind impart savagery but diminish that which is civilized and gentle. For this reason, I believe those living in Europe to be more courageous than those living in Asia. For in a uniform climate ease is present, but in a changing climate distress is present for the body and soul. And from rest and ease cowardice will increase, but from distress and hard labor bravery will increase.

While a full critique of the historical translation of this passage is outside the scope of this essay, it is worth noting in Jones’ translation the consistent choice of English words that cast the “heterogeneous” character in a positive light (e.g., “spirit” and “endurance” instead of “hot-temperedness” and “suffering”) and the “homogeneous” character in a negative light (e.g., “slackness” instead of “ease”).

The Chadwick & Mann translation, featured in the Penguin edition of Hippocratic Writings,[vi] is slightly more even-handed in terms of how it expresses the effects of heterogeneous climates on the body and mind. However, it similarly fabricates intellectual consequences for dwellers of homogeneous climates, translating τὸ δὲ ἥμερόν τε καὶ ἤπιον ἀμαυροῦσι as “…quietness and calm dull the wits.” Recently, Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s translation[vii] provides a neutral rendering of the people in heterogeneous climates (allowing for “savagery, anti-social attitudes, and boldness” [p. 41] in them) but also reads their αἱ ταλαιπωρίαι as a morally positive “endurance” and the αἱ ῥᾳθυμίαι of the homogeneous climate-dwellers as a morally negative “laziness.”

The idea that Asians are “lazy” and Europeans “brave” is certainly not particular to the Hippocratic corpus (see n. iii); perhaps such a translation creates a better fit of this text (whose date of composition is still debated) with others about race, culture, and geography in the Classical Greek context. But in choosing to translate this text such that it accords with other authors, contemporary scholars not only ignore other signs in the text that complicate such a translation,[viii] but also (and more importantly, perhaps) foreclose the possibility that the text might be critiquing and/or reframing the discourse about culture and environment. With a less morally weighted choice of translation, the text is allowed to present a less normative distinction between the characters of those dwelling in “homogeneous” and “heterogeneous” places.

Racializing Hippocratic Climate

In section 24 of AWP, the author provides physical and psychological “profiles” of humans living in different climates, beginning with variants of those climates understood as “homogeneous” (e.g., always cold and wet, always hot and wet, etc.) and ending with the “heterogeneous” climate. While the author does allege the bodily tendencies of each group of people, including skin and hair pigment for some, we find that the tendency of the “heterogeneous” climate (remember, this is supposedly the climate that engenders the “best” humans) to create “white” skin is not necessarily present in the text itself, but has been constructed by translations of the passage.

We’ll begin with one type of “homogeneous”-climate-dweller, where the author specifically discusses their melanin status: those who live in “valleys” characterized by hotter, stifling air and warm water. The effects of this climate, according to the author, produce people who are:

μεγάλοι μὲν οὺκ ἂν εἴησαν οὐδὲ κανονίαι, ἐς εὖρος δὲ πεφυκότες καὶ σαρκώδεες καὶ μελανότριχες, καὶ αὐτοὶ μέλανες μᾶλλον ἢ λευκότεροι, φλεγματίαι δὲ ἧσσον ἢ χολώδεες. τὸ δὲ ἀνδρεῖον καὶ τὸ ταλαίπωρον ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ φύσει μὲν οὐκ ἂν ὁμοίως ἐνείη….

…neither tall nor well-made, but inclined to be broad, fleshy, and dark-haired; they themselves are dark rather than fair, less subject to phlegm than to bile. Similar bravery and endurance [to that of the “heterogeneous”-climate-dwellers] are not by nature part of their character…. (24.16-21; trans. Jones)

In other words, the people in this climate have a tendency to look similar to each other, to be characterized by dark hair and black skin, and to lack the “bravery” and “endurance” of those living in heterogeneous climates (though, remember, what Jones translates as “endurance” can just as easily mean “suffering,” “distress,” or “hardships;” similarly, “neither tall nor well-made” could just as easily be translated as “neither giant nor stick-shaped”).

The heterogeneous climate, on the other hand, is characterized — as we would expect — by “the changes of the seasons exhibit[ing] sharp contrasts.” But, according to translators, the author then seems to disobey their own logic of what kinds of bodies are engendered by such a climate:

ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ χώρῃ τὰ εἴδεα εἰκὸς σκληρά τε εἶναι καὶ ἔντονα καὶ ξανθότερα ἢ μελάντερα καὶ τὰ ἤθεα καὶ τὰς ὀργὰς αὐθάδεάς τε καὶ ἰδιογνώμονας. ὅκου γὰρ αἱ μεταβολαί εἰσι πυκνόταται τῶν ὡρέων καὶ πλεῖστον διάφοροι αὐταὶ ἑωυτῇσιν, ἐκεῖ…εὑρήσεις πλεῖστον διαφερούσας.

“…it is likely that in such country the people will be hard in physique and well-braced, fair rather than dark, stubborn and independent in character and in temper. For where the changes of the season are most frequent and most sharply contrasted, there you will find the greatest diversity….” (24.33-40; trans. Jones. The last sentence is cited in its entirety above.)

It is odd, given the general principle that diverse climates create diverse humans, that the humans living in the heterogeneous climate should be “fair rather than dark” (to say nothing of the controversy over the exact meaning of “xanthos,” on which see Tim Whitmarsh’s recent essay).[ix] But Jones is not the only translator who has made this assumption. Here I juxtapose how various authors have translated the two statements about color at AWP 24.18 and 24.35:

  • Greek: μέλανες μᾶλλον ἢ λευκότεροι; ξανθότερα ἢ μελάντερα
  • Cornarius (1558, Latin): toti nigri magis quam albi; flavas magis quam nigras [all black more than white; blond more than black]
  • Littré (1840, French): “leur teint est plutôt brun que blanc;” “la coloration plutôt blonde que brune” [their hue is more brown than white; the coloration more blonde than brown]
  • C.D. Adams (1868): “rather of a dark than of a light complexion;” “rather of a blond than a dark complexion”
  • Jones (1923, LOEB): “dark rather than fair;” “fair rather than dark”
  • Chadwick & Mann (1950, in Lloyd, ed. (1983): p. 168): “dark rather than fair;” “fair rather than dark”
  • Futo Kennedy (2013: p. 41-42): “swarthy rather than fair-skinned;” “with yellowish skin rather than dark”

All the above translators assume that the second passage is like a mirror image of the first, and that both constructions are comparative in nature. I will not discuss at length the fact that the Greek does not actually mirror itself between the first and second passages (this might itself justify a non-parallel reading of the two). But I will propose an alternate reading of 24.35, one which will be familiar even to a beginning Greek student: what if the “” in question, between “ξανθότερα” and “μελάντερα,” is not a comparative but a disjunctive conjunction?[x]

The passage would thus read:

the people will be hard in physique and well-braced, either rather fair or rather dark, stubborn and independent in character and in temper.

If true, this adjustment to our understanding of the second passage helps make sense of the author’s choice of color-identifiers in a passage talking about humans in heterogeneous climates: we already expect heterogeneous climates to create heterogeneous humans. Given the logic of the treatise as a whole, as well as the placement of the heterogeneous example immediately prior to the author’s summing-up of how environmental determinism works, it makes far more sense that the second passage is presenting a diverse set of human appearances rather than a homogeneous skin tone.

Why is this an important alteration (or at least alternative) in the translation? The traditional translation of this passage constructs an association between whiteness and the humans who dwell in heterogeneous climates — the very environments that supposedly produce the independence of thought and strength of body that, for the Hippocratic author, result in the increased “courage” and “warlikeness” of those in Europe as compared to those outside Europe.

The inheritors of this idea had cause to believe that “temperate” climates are somehow more beneficial to human health and/or human culture. But this text would also then support a causal relationship, an inseparable interdependence of particular climates with particular skin colors and particular cultural traits. When later Europeans rejected the idea of race as strictly environmentally determined and adopted the idea that different skin colors were ‘suited’ to particular climates, the misreading of this text gave them grounds to associate climate with “biological race” and culture: a set of cyclical arguments—“temperate is white is good” and “hot is black is bad.”

Thus temperate climates and the societies therein become tied to the whiteness of the people who live there.[xi] But because AWP and its offspring connect climate to culture, white people then were able to embody automatically the kind of mentality, health, and culture that this text — at least, as it has been translated — seems to consider superior to others. Then one could support the argument that white people themselves, as ‘suited’ to temperate climates, were inherently superior to non-whites.

One flip-side of this image, as it has been traditionally (and, I think, wrongly) translated, is that non-white people, as necessarily “native” to some type of homogeneous climate, could be seen as correspondingly “unsuited” to the “temperate zone” (indeed, this claim was believed by early white scientists and was contested by Black scholars as early as the 19th century[xii]). This unsuitability to temperate climates effectively excluded non-white people from a “natural” inclination toward what has historically been considered the telos of human civilization: a free-thinking, capitalist democratic society. The ease of their warm climate, our author alleges, meant that the people there had no need to pursue the labor and innovation that later western societies, rightly or wrongly, have since considered both a cause of and justification for imperial success, economic growth, and the “superiority” of their values and lifeways over any other socio-cultural organization of humans.[xiii]

Another conclusion was that “white” people were therefore “unsuited” to hot climates, a notion that occupied much worry among early colonialist nations. Bashford and Tracy[xiv] summarize decades of work by earlier scholars on this topic: “[a]s many medical historians have shown, it was widely presumed that white men, and sometimes women, were physiologically out of place in tropical environments, that the climate would eventually produce unwelcome bodily and mental effects.”

But a racialization of “good” and “bad” climates already presents a significant misreading of this text. Yes, some of the people in the homogeneous heat (like those in the “Asia” of the author — roughly the area of the southern and western Persian empire)[xv] are explicitly labeled as “black more than rather white,” and these people supposedly come to lack the cultural and intellectual traits valued both by the ancient Greeks and the inheritors of their values and thought.

The text also discusses, however, climates which are homogeneously cold (like the land of the Scythians). Here, the author does not supply us any information about their skin or hair coloring, although, as we would expect, the people are said to be similar to each other (18.1-4). AWP does discuss the cultural effects of homogeneous cold, and we find that they differ quite a bit from those of the homogeneously warm climates. Homogeneous cold—depending on whether it is a “dry” or “wet” cold—leads the respective peoples either to become too independent and savage to get along, or to develop cowardice and non-normative gender identities, which then threaten the reproductive sustainability[xvi] of the population. Thus, both heat and cold are maligned in the texts, and, if my suggested translation of 24.35 is correct, only the Phasians[xvii] (hot and wet, AWP 15) and the dwellers of the hot valleys (24.16-21) are explicitly given traits we would recognize as phenotypically “mono-racial.”

Alternate Histories, Same Results? Or, Other Problems with Greco-Roman Ideas of “Health”

If alternate translations of Airs, Waters, Places had been proposed by early translators—who were apparently already imbued with the idea of their own cultural and racial superiority—the strong associations between whiteness and superiority, blackness and inferiority might have been significantly weakened from the start. First, it might have been accepted that the “temperate zone” would be suitable for lighter-skinned and darker-skinned humans. If early translators insisted on asserting the cultural superiority of the temperate climate, then dark-skinned people could have been understood as “native” participants and agents in this superior culture. With regard to cultural norms, dark skin therefore would not have been an innate indicator of “laziness,” “weakness,” or cultural inferiority; perhaps all people from “homogeneous” climates may have been understood thus. Alternately, if the translation of this text had allowed for a more morally neutral rendering of the “ease” of life in warmer climates versus the “suffering” and “savagery” in temperate ones, perhaps the (also racist) assumptions that people from hot climates were “primitive” and that people from temperate climates were further along on some teleological path of “cultural evolution” also would have been fundamentally disrupted.

What would have remained consistent, however, is the idea of environmental determinism itself, the assumption that places shape the people who live there. But must environmental determinism, as a concept, forever be bound up with racialization? As it finds a new role in understanding health disparities based on environmental conditions, environmental racism, and even maternal epigenetics,[xviii] I would argue that there is danger for a slippage between environmental determinism and a new biological essentialism — where the environment-affected (and still usually non-white) body is now understood as destiny. (Recently, I think of the ableist rhetoric used to generate concern about lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan and Zika-virus-affected infants in Central and South America, both of which echo the media panic over the supposed epidemic of “crack babies” born in the 1980’s.[xix]) It is worth remembering that even in Airs, Waters, Places the human body was assumed to grow and change in the face of changing environments; neither the genetic self nor the environmental self must be taken as destiny.

One final observation is that, even if we could go back in time and “fix” the translation of this text for colonialist audiences, its ideas still participate in and reinforce a correlation between bodily health, mental health, and cultural health. While Airs, Waters, Places purports to be a treatise about human health and disease, it ends up being a treatise about labor and society: whose bodies are most fit for work, whose minds are most fit for innovation, whose cultures are most fit to dominate and rule over others.

When we think and talk about environmental health today, we need to be aware of the “normative” human that is (re)produced— in far too many cases, it is an able human rather than one with a physical or mental disability, a cisgender human rather than trans/nonbinary, and an autonomous human, employable in a capitalist society rather than a human dependent on others for some majority of their lifetime. How we define “health” today (outside the disability rights movement, anyway) often still assumes the ableist, normative, and hegemonic idea of the self-sufficient and productive adult as a stand-in for health itself.[xx] As in the case of Airs, Waters, Places, where humans either tend toward “cowardice” or “bravery” based on their environment, with little room in between, we are perhaps building another environmental bifurcation of humans, where “health” — synonymous with “competence” — is the ideal human condition and the “natural” consequence of being raised without exposure to heavy metals, disease, toxic stress, poverty, or malnutrition. The baggage of “illness,” in a society where one disability implies many, perhaps still creates a separate class of humans, more homogeneous among themselves and less environmentally “fit” to take part in a society built by and for the “healthy” among us.[xxi]

[i] Isaac, B. (Sept 19, 2016). “A Race to the ‘Rational’” [Web essay]. Eidolon. Retrieved at:

[ii] For a cogent picture of environmental determinism, race, and medicine from colonial encounters to the early twentieth century, a good starting point is Bashford, A. and Tracy, S.W. (2012) “Introduction: Modern Airs, Waters, and Places.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 86.4: p. 495-514; Alison Bashford and Sarah W. Tracy’s introduction to this special issue provides a range of essential bibliographical references as well as a concise history of the last two centuries or so of environmental medical thought. Also worth reading are Miller, G. (1962) “’Airs, Waters, and Places’ in History.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 17.1: p. 129-140; Arnold, D., ed. (1996) Warm Climates and Western Medicine: The Emergence of Tropical Medicine, 1500–1900. Clio Medica 35. Rodopi.; Nash, L. (2006) Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge. UC Press.; and, recently, Seth, S. (2018) Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire. CUP. For the Hippocratic tradition in Spanish colonial thought, see López Beltrán, C. (2007) “Hippocratic bodies. Temperament and Castas in Spanish America (1570-1820).” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 8.2, p. 253-289.

[iii] Zilberstein, A. (2016). A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America. OUP: p. 130-151; Wear, A. (2008) “Place, Health, and Disease: The Airs, Waters, Places Tradition in Early Modern England and North America.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 38 (3): p. 443-465; and works cited in n. ii above.

[iv] While an exhaustive bibliography is well outside the scope of this essay, for further investigation as to how the ideas presented in Airs, Waters, Places might fit within various theories about race, ethnicity, human health, and geography in the ancient Greek world, see McCoskey, D. (2012) Race: Antiquity and its Legacy. I.B. Tauris & Co, Ltd.: p. 35-58; Calame, C. (2005) “Uttering Human Nature by Constructing the Inhabited World: The Well-Tempered Racism of Hippocrates” in Masks of Authority: Fiction and Pragmatics in Ancient Greek Poetics (trans. P.M. Burk). Cornell UP: p. 135-156; and, recently, Futo Kennedy, R. (2016). “Airs, Waters, Metals, Earth: people and land in Archaic and classical Greek thought.” In Futo Kennedy and Jones-Lewis, eds. The Routledge Handbook to Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds. Routledge: p. 9-28.

[v] Jones, W.H.S. (1923). Hippocrates, Volume I. HUP. Without going into the extent of Jones’ influence on Anglophone interactions with AWP as a whole, it may be of particular note that Jones’ specific translation of AWP 24 is cited in N.I. Painter’s The History of White People (W.W. Norton and Co., 2010).; B.J. Malina’s Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996); and H.E. Sigerist’s A History of Medicine (1951, 1961: one of the foundational texts in the field by one of the founders of the discipline).

[vi] Another widely cited translation: while a full bibliometric analysis is outside this author’s wheelhouse, a Google scholar search shows (as of October 10, 2018) 652 citations of Hippocratic Writings, 75 of which specifically mention the treatise Airs, Waters, Places. The overwhelming majority of those 75 citations occur in scientific/medical academic journals.

[vii] Futo Kennedy, R. (2013) “Hippocratic Corpus: On Airs, Waters, Places 12-24 (5th century BCE).” In Futo Kennedy, Roy, and Goldman (eds). Race and Ethnology in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Hackett: p. 35-42.

[viii] One might also consult AWP 10 and 23.15-19, where, respectively, the author details the various diseases that are brought on and/or made worse by violent changes between seasons and identifies the source of human diversity in “heterogeneous” climates as “more damages of the seed” (αἱ γὰρ φθοραὶ πλείονες τοῦ γόνου). In other words, it is difficult to argue that the text as a whole supports a reading of the “heterogeneous” climate as healthy for humans.

[ix] Whitmarsh, T. (May 9, 2018). “Black Achilles” [Web essay]. Aeon. Retrieved from:….

[x] In Smyth’s Greek Grammar, this form is discussed at §2856.

[xi] See n. ii above.

[xii] See, for example, Mia Bay (2000) The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925. OUP., and Zilberstein (2016), cited above.

[xiii] For an earlier version of this thesis, one might read Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws; more recently, there is Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest (Penguin, 2011).

[xiv] op. cit., p. 499. See also Livingstone, D. (1994) “Human Acclimatization: Perspectives on a Contested Field of Inquiry in Science, Medicine and Geography.” History of Science 25: p. 359–394; and Livingstone, D. (2012) “Changing Climate, Human Evolution, and the Revival of Environmental Determinism.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 86.4: p. 564-595.

[xv] For a concise explanation of the regional geography at work in AWP, see Calame (op. cit.): p. 150-152. An anonymous reviewer also brings to my attention Lo Presti (2012) “Shaping the difference: The medical inquiry into the nature of places and the early birth of anthropology in the Hippocratic treatise Airs Waters Places” in Baker, P.A., Nijdam, H. & Land, K. van ’t (eds.), Medicine and Space: Body, surroundings and borders in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Brill: p. 169-195.

[xvi] Flemming, R. (2013). “The Invention of Infertility in the Classical Greek World: Medicine, Divinity, and Gender.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87.4: p. 565-590.

[xvii] The dwellers around the Phasis river are, however, described as pallid or yellow, “as if they were held by jaundice,” (AWP 15.22-24), and their climate is clearly also homogeneously hot (but wet; excess moisture, since it is associated with women in ancient medical texts, is almost always an unhealthy influence on human bodies) (AWP 15). For the association between women and wetness, and between wetness and health, see Jouanna, J. (2012) “Water, Health and Disease in the Hippocratic Treatise Airs, Waters, Places” in van der Eijk, ed. (trans. N. Allies) Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers. Brill: p. 155-172; King, H. (1998) Hippocrates’ Woman. Routledge: p. 27-39; Dean-Jones, L. (1994) Women’s Bodies in Classical Greek Science. Oxford: p. 120-147.

[xviii] For environmental racism and environmental health more generally, a good starting point now is the editors’ Introduction to The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice (ed. Holifield, Chakraborty, and Walker), Routledge, 2018. For epigenetics, I recommend Sarah S. Richardson’s “Maternal Bodies in the Postgenomic Order: Gender and the Explanatory Landscape of Epigenetics” in Postgenomics (ed. Richardson and Stevens), Duke UP, 2015.

[xix] Martin, M.; Bell, C.; Barr, M.; Beceriklisoy, N. (May 10, 2010). “Crack Babies: Twenty Years Later” [transcript of radio interview; audio version available]. Retrieved from:

[xx] A good starting point for delving into disability studies is Davis, L. (1997) “Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century.” In Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader. Routledge: p. 9-28. For more recent perspectives on the pressures of ableism in health discourses, I recommend the following: Metzel and Kirkland (eds). (2010). Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality. NYU Press; Neumann, A. (Feb 14, 2016). [web article] “I was sure that legalizing aid in dying was the right thing to do. Then I met Bad Cripple.” Retrieved from:…; and Dolmage, J.T. (2017) Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education. UMich Press. Many thanks to the anonymous reviewer who has also alerted me to Goodley, D. (2013) “Dis/entangling critical disability studies.” Disability and Society 28.5: p. 631-44.

[xxi] I want to thank Sarah E. Bond for giving me the motivation to develop this idea, first as a lecture for the University of Iowa and then as a publishable piece; Marquis Berrey, for his initial feedback and comments on my proposed alternate reading; Wells Hansen for tirelessly guiding this piece towards a thwarted Amphora publication; and the anonymous Amphora reviewers, whose comments greatly helped my thinking. All inadequacies are of course my own.

Header Image: A modern bust of Hippocratic in London in a niche at University College London. Image via Flickr by Matt Brown (CC-BY 2.0).


Lisl Walsh is an Associate Professor of Classics at Beloit College in Wisconsin. She is currently working on a book which considers Senecan tragedies in the topographical context of Rome's stone theatres, but she has broad interests in Roman literature, ancient medicine, art history, contemporary film, gender studies, and disability studies.