The Plague of 542: Not the birth of the clinic

The Plague of 542: Not the birth of the clinic

By John Atkinson

Acta Classica: Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa, vol. 45 (2002)

Abstract: Drawing on questions raised by Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic, this paper looks at the accounts of the bubonic plague which struck Constantinople in 542, and reflects on the range of responses to the epidemic. Although there were attempts to find a scientific explanation of the disease, not surprisingly little progress was made, and thus the epidemic did not give a boost to the development of clinical medicine. Nevertheless, the plague forced Justinian to reform the system of health care and to give more attention to community health. The plague also made an impact on the social, economic and religious geography of the empire.

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