Medical Popularization and Moral Therapy in Plutarch's Treatise de Tuenda Sanitate Praecepta (Ygieina Paraggelmata)


  • Alberto Jori Philosophical Seminar Faculty of Philosophy and History Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, D


Greek medicine, Moral therapy , Plutarch of Chaeronea , Popularization , Regimen


In his treatise De tuenda sanitate praecepta (Ygieina paraggelmata: Prescriptions for Health), the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (b. about 45 A.D., d. about 125 A.D.) pursues two aims, which have a deep pedagogical character and are closely connected. To begin with, he would like to provide both his colleagues, “the philosophers” (the equivalent of today’s “intellectuals”) and politicians with some sanitary/medical suggestions, so that they may adopt a healthy ‘life-style’, and consequently avoid disease to the best of their ability. Plutarch thus proposes that ”philosophers” be made aware of the opportunity, or better yet, of the necessity of learning some medical notions: in their general education (paideia), his colleagues should allow medicine its adequate space, at least in regard to the practical side of the field which relates to a ‘life-regimen’. At the same time, Plutarch wishes to impart a moral teaching: in order to remain in good health we must distance ourselves from irrational impulses and social conventions which induce us to practice detrimental behaviours. In this context, the author stresses the need to respect the principles of moderation – both medical and ethical: those of frugality, self-control, and naturalness. His advice is still valid and effective today. Within the background of Plutarch’s treatise there is yet a third, implicit aim: to urge the physicians not to imprison themselves in their professional specialization, but rather to also acquire a philosophical education. Such education would indeed allow them to achieve a whole, “holistic” picture of man, who is at the same time soul and body. Many diseases could in fact be avoided if everyone would practice on himself a sort of “moral therapy”, which would prevent the soul from falling prey to those deceptive desires from which “self-destructive” behaviours frequently derive.