Lecture: Philippe Mudry

Research Centre «Forms of Knowledge in the Ancient World»

in collaboration with

Scuola Superiore di Studi in Filosofia
Dottorato di Ricerca in Antichità classiche e loro Fortuna. Archeologia, Filologia, Storia
Dottorato di Ricerca in Filosofia


Prof. Philippe Mudry

University of Lausanne
Swiss Institute in Rome


Greek Science and Roman Utilitarism: a Glance Behind Prejudice


Wednesday, November 19, 2014, h. 15
University of Rome Tor Vergata
Macroarea di Lettere e Filosofia (1 Columbia st., Rome)
Building B, 3rd floor, conference room «Roberto Pretagostini»

Download the PDF poster (717 Kb)

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Philippe Mudry, Latin scholar and historian of science, is Honorary Professor at the University of Lausanne and member of the Executive Committee of the Swiss Institute in Rome, where he chairs the Board of Regents. Co-editor of the journal «Museum Helveticum», he investigated numerous aspects of ancient medicine especially in the Roman world, dealing – among other things – with Celsus, Caelius Aurelianus, Scribonius Largus. He is widely known for his edition of the del proem of Celsus’ De medicina (La Préface du De medicina de Celse, Rome 1982); several studies are now collected in the volume Medicina soror philosophiae. Regards sur la littérature et les textes médicaux antiques (1975-2005), réunis et édités par Brigitte Maire, Lausanne 2006.

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According to the communis opinio, Romans have always been indifferent, if not hostile, to speculative sciences (mathematics, astronomy, geometry, etc.), called studia Graecorum. It is generally believed that their practical and utilitarian spirit was only interested in the techniques (which today we call “applied arts”). These techniques require indeed some knowledge of the speculative disciplines, but this kind of knowledge is intentionally limited to what is necessary for the exercise of either of them.

Speaking about the level of scientific knowledge of the Roman technicians, Vitruvius uses the term m”, which has often been misinterpreted. The Roman technician or engineer is not the Greek wise man devoted to scientific research in itself, beyond its applications; however, Romans did not lack of interest in speculative sciences as such: but they requested that they had a moral utility. In this sense, in their reception at Rome the studia Graecorum got a perspective that gives them a specific originality, thus allowing us to talk about a “Roman science”.

Science cannot find its aim in itself. It cannot be “free”, and its only legitimacy resides in helping us to live. This same concept inspires the famous saying of Rabelais “science without conscience is the ruin of soul”.