Malina Buturovic, *23

Department of Classics

The Transmission of Fault: Heredity Between Medicine and Theology


This dissertation argues that medicine and theology converge in Imperial Greek thought to offer a joint account of the 'transmission of fault'  the physical mechanisms by which offspring carry consequences for their ancestors' actions on their bodies. Reading the works of the doctor Galen and the philosopher Plutarch side by side, I lay out the shared set of medical and theological concerns that motivate both authors' discussions of the transmission of fault. Both are structured around a fundamental ambivalence over whether individual heredity-which produces family resemblance and subspecies variation-is providential (that is, designed by God or a deified Nature as the best possible outcome). The philosophical works of Plutarch offer a window into how this ambivalence shapes ethical questions around individual responsibility, divine reward, and divine punishment. Galen's embryology offers a window into how this same problem shapes the biological imagination of processes of generation and heredity. In Imperial Greek thought, the problem of the transmission of fault ultimately complicates both philosophical models of personal identity and medical models of personal responsibility, drawing attention to the ways in which embodiment implicates human beings in forms of vulnerability, obligation,and ethical responsibility to others.

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