Kallos Gallery

4th September 2014


From heracles to hysteria via ancient Greek art

Foreign Bodies: Science, Medicine and Society in Ancient Greece and Today Kallos Gallery, 3rd September, 2014

The discussion ranged from the anatomy of the mythical Amazons through Chinese medicine and the Hippocratic Oath to Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent appearance in the Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul in 1926, caused by an amnesiac episode of ‘dissociative fugue’. It could only be an evening at Kallos Gallery.

Professor Helen King, an expert in ancient Greek medicine and author of Hippocrates’ Woman(Routledge, 1998) and Health in Antiquity (Routledge, 2005), was in conversation with Dr. Bradley Hillier MRCPsych, a forensic psychiatrist and the Treasurer of the International Association of Forensic Psychotherapy. The speakers explored the surprising and complex ways in which their two different fields intersect, covering ancient theories of sexual reproduction, societal constructs based on biological differences between the sexes, what counts as a ‘treatable’ condition, and the Greek definition of ‘hysteria’ and the use – and abuse – of the term today. Chaired by Dr Liz Sawyer, Kallos Gallery’s Director of Events, their conversation was punctuated with breaks for questions from the audience.

The catalyst for the conversation was a sixth century BC amphora that depicts the Greek hero Heracles, the subject of two Hollywood films released just this year, about to kill the Amazon queen Hippolyte. Heracles was driven mad by the goddess Hera and suffered a period of mental illness himself, during which he killed his own wife and children – a horrific act which was purged from both of the recent Hollywood renditions of the hero’s story. The portrayal of such a morally ambiguous but admired figure, about to kill the foreign queen of a mythical race of women warriors, on an piece of art originally intended for a domestic setting such as the Kallos Gallery amphora raises broad-ranging questions about societal attitudes towards the body and the treatment of both mental and physical illness in both ancient Greek times and today.

‘Such a good evening last night, very imaginative topic and format.’ – Nicholas Barber CBE

‘Enjoyed enormously the discussion this evening. It was stimulating, interesting, and inclusive, and a brilliant way of presenting the material from two perspectives.’ – A guest

‘A truly stimulating and enjoyable talk’ – Anastasia Apostolou