As the medical historian Vivian Nutton writes in his study on Greek
and Roman health systems ‘History is an art of forgetting as well as of
remembrance’.1 Indeed, what is basic to the study of ancient civilizations
is the reconstruction of the written word and, consequently, some consideration
of whether the available information has been deliberately
handed down or is due to random circumstances. When looking back
at the Ancient Babylonians we are faced with an arbitrary as well as an
erratic transmission of cuneiform documents: not every issue or aspect is
equally covered over the centuries. As a result, serious gaps in the transmission
can lead to a biased interpretation of the available evidence. In
addition, we should bear in mind that the Mesopotamian civilization was
basically an oral culture in which literacy was for considerable periods of
Ancient Mesopotamian history restricted to a small elite, with the result
that the corpus of the written documentation is only a small fraction of
the framework of Babylonian ideas and beliefs.
Many aspects of medicine, in particular, the technical skills such as
setting bones or recognizing healing plants, were not subject to written
tradition but passed on from mouth to mouth over many generations.
Still, the corpus of Ancient Babylonian medicine that has survived until
today is impressive: more than one thousand texts written in cuneiform
and impressed on durable clay tablets are kept in the museum collections
worldwide. As we shall see, substantial parts of the written texts are only
fragmentarily preserved, which more often than not hampers a complete
Ext JS in Action
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