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  3. Catechism

gr: ἐρωταπόκρισις


The term “catechism” (ἐρωταπόκρισις, with a Middle Byzantine term) usually defines a literary or para-literary genre, the format of which, articulated in questions and answers, was particularly useful for teaching and reference purposes and went back to both the very origins of medicine as an orally transmitted knowledge and its essence of enquiring, empirical discipline (cf. Hp. 13, p. 133 Jouanna). Zalateo 1964 gave a very peculiar interpretation by referring them to the official examination of the δημόσιοι ἰατροί (public physicians) of Roman Egypt, but his hypothesis is now outdated.

B. TESTIMONIA - A selection of representative sources

GMP I 6. The Hippocratic author of the De morbis II 15 was aware of  'water on the brain' (ὕδωρ ἐπὶ τῷ ἐγκεφάλῳ = Ch. 15, VII 26-28 Littré). Ps.-Gal. Def. med. 390 and 395.

The second question inquires about the types of hydrocephalus.

A new topic is introduced in line 19, the caries of the skull known as terêdôn.

Ps.-Sor. Quaest. Med.

233. Quid est aporesis. Substantia lapill[osa].

234. Quid est hydrocefalon. aquati humores collectio uel sanguinolentum uel fecilentum semper tamen humidum.

235. Quot differentiae sunt in hycefalis? Quattuor, enim inter cutem et omentum fit, et inter ipsum omentum et testam, aut inter testam et miningam, aut inter miningam et cerebrum.

236. Quid est theredom? corruptela et asperitas ossi facta circa testam uel cetera ossa.



There exists a considerable similarity with the medical genre of the “definitions”, connected with the research and teaching practice of Hellenic medicine: the Latin Pseudo-Soranian Quaestiones medicinales, as preserved in a X-cent. manuscript from Chartres, and Greek Pseudo-Galenian treatise Horoi or Definitiones Medicae (XIX 346-462 Kühn).

Leith 2007 distinguishes two types of question-and-answer medical texts: the proper catechisms, or questionnaires, being introductory manuals for the student of medicine, and wider treatises on remedies. The suggestion comes from the similarities detected between erotapokriseis on papyrus like P.Turner 14 and PSI inv.3783 and the excerpts from the physicians Herodotus and Antyllus to be found in Oribasius’ Collectiones Medicae.

Typically, the layout of catechisms exhibits peculiar features aimed at highlighting the articulation in questions and answers: blank spaces often precede and/or follow the questions, which are usually written in eisthesis (i.e. indented) and further marked by special signs such as paragraphoi, diplai obelismenai, and the like.

22 of such texts on papyrus roll or codex from Graeco-Roman Egypt have been published so far, and one more is known, yet unpublished (P.Oxf.Ashm. inv.28). Only one comes from the Ptolemaic period (P.Oxf.Sackler s.n., II cent. BC), the others date from the II to the IV cent. AD. The topics dealt with include ophthalmology, anatomy, physiology, gynaecology, pharmacology, pathology, and surgery.


1. General studies on catechisms

I. Andorlini (1999), Testi medici per la scuola: raccolte di definizioni e questionari nei papiri, in I testi medici greci. Tradizione e ecdotica. Atti del III Convegno internazionale (Napoli 1997), a c. di A. Garzya e J. Jouanna, Napoli, 7-15.

A.E. Hanson (2003), Text and Context in Papyrus Catechisms on Afflictions of the Head, in Trasmissione e ecdotica dei testi medici greci. Atti del IV Convegno Internazionale (Napoli 2001), a c. di A. Garzya e J. Jouanna, Napoli, 199-217.

A.M. Ieraci Bio (1995), L'ἐρωταπόκρισις nella letteratura medica, in Esegesi, parafrasi e compilazione in età tardoantica, Napoli, 187-207.

D. Leith (2009), Question-Types in Medical Catechisms on Papyrus, in Authorial Voices in Greco-Roman Technical Writing, eds. L.C. Taub and A. Doody, Trier, 107-123.

G. Zalateo (1961), Papiri scolastici, "Aegyptus" 41, 160-235.

G. Zalateo (1964), Papiri di argomento medico redatti in forma di domanda e risposta, "Aegyptus" 44, 52-57.


2. Studies on medical Definitions

K.-D. Fischer (1998), Beiträge zu den pseudosoranischen Quaestiones Medicinales, in Text and Tradition. Studies in Ancient Medicine and its Transmission presented to Jutta Kollesch, eds. K.-D. Fischer, D. Nickel and P. Potter, Leiden-Boston-Köln, 1-41. 

J. Kollesch (1963), Untersuchungen zu den pseudogalenischen Definitiones Medicae, Berlin.


3. Studies on specific texts

I. Andorlini (1992), Papiri e medicina: P.Oxy. II 234 + P.Oxy. LII 3654, in Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Papyrology (Cairo 1989), ed. A.H.S. El-Mosalamy, I, 375-390.

I. Andorlini (1997), Trattato o catechismo? La tecnica della flebotomia in PSI inv. CNR 85/86, in "Specimina" per il Corpus dei Papiri Greci di Medicina. Atti dell'Incontro di studio (Firenze 1996), a c. di I. Andorlini, Firenze, 153-168.

A. Bäckström (1904), Fragment einer medizinischer Schrift, APF 3, 158-162.

J.W.B. Barns (1949), Literart Texts from the Fayum, CQ 43, 1-8

A.E. Hanson, S.P. Mattern (2001), Medical Catechism, in Greek Medical Papyri I, ed. I. Andorlini, Firenze, 71-83.

D. Leith (2007), A Medical Treatise "On Remedies"? P.Turner 14 Revised, BASP 44, 125-135.

D. Leith (2009), A Note on the Greek Medical Fragment PGolenischeff, in Greek Medical Papyri II, ed. I. Andorlini, Firenze, 211-218.

C. Magdelaine (2004), Un nouveau questionnaire ophtalmologique (PStrasb gr. inv. 849), in Testi medici su papiro. Atti del Seminario di studio (Firenze 2002), a c. di I. Andorlini, Firenze, 63-77.

D. Manetti (1973), P. Alex. inv. 614: testo medico, SCO 22, 46-49.

M. Manfredi (1997), Modello di edizione di un testo letterario adespoto (PSI XV 1510: questionario sui παρίσθμια), in "Specimina" per il Corpus dei Papiri Greci di Medicina. Atti dell'Incontro di studio (Firenze 1996), a c. di I. Andorlini, Firenze, 73-79.

A. Maravela-Solbakk, D. Leith (1997), A Medical Catechism on Tumours from the Collection of the Oslo University Library, in Proceedings of the 24th International Congress of Papyrology (Helsinki 2004), eds. J. Frösén, T. Purola and E. Salmenkivi, Helsinki, II, 637-650.

M.-H. Marganne (1978), Deux questionnaires d'ophtalmologie: P. Aberdeen 11 et P. Ross. Georg. 1.20, CE 53, 313-320.

M.-H. Marganne (1986), La "Cirurgia Eliodori" et le P. Genève inv. 111, "Etudes de Lettres", 65-73.

M.-H. Marganne (1987), Un questionnaire d'anatomie: P. Lund I 7. Réedition, traduction, commentaire, CE 62,

J. Nicole (1903), Un questionnaire de chirurgie, APF 2, 1-3.

E. CPGM reference(s)

GMP I 6 = P.CtYBR inv.109v (II-III AD) [MP3 2340.01; TM 69007; LDAB 10278]

GMP II 14 = PSI III 252 (II-III AD) [MP3 2364; TM 63804; LDAB 5017]

GMP II 15 = P.Golenischeff (III AD) [MP3 2347; TM 64216; LDAB 5435]

MPER XIII 19 = MPER I 32 (II AD) [MP3 2389; TM 63723; LDAB 245]

P.Aberd. 11v (II AD) [MP3 2342; TM 63332; LDAB 4539]

P.Aberd. 125v (III AD) [MP3 2353; TM 64262; LDAB 5482]

P.Gen. inv.111v (II-III AD) [MP3 2373; TM 63819; LDAB 5032]

P.Lund. I 7 (III-IV AD) [MP3 2341; TM 64316; LDAB 5537]

P.Mil.Vogl. I 15 + P.Oxy. LXXX 5235 (IV AD) [MP3 2340; TM 64473; LDAB 5698]

P.Oslo inv.1576v (III AD) [MP3 2340.02; TM 68976; LDAB 10246]

P.Oxf.Ashm. inv.28 (II-IV AD) [MP3 2353.8; TM 63033; LDAB 4226]

P.Oxf.Sackler s.n. (II BC) [MP3 2370; TM 65633; LDAB 6884]

P.Oxy. LII 3654v (II-III AD) [MP3 2360.2; TM 59150; LDAB 245]

P.Oxy. LXXIV 4972v (II-III AD) [MP3 2354.01; TM/LDAB 119317]

P.Oxy. LXXX 5238 (II-III AD) [MP3 add.; TM/LDAB 388544]

P.Oxy. LXXX 5239 (II-III AD) [MP3 add.; TM/LDAB 388545]

P.Oxy. LXXX 5241v (II-III AD) [MP3 add.; TM/LDAB 388547]

P.PisaLit. 6 = P.Alex. inv.614 (II-III AD) [MP3 2373.1; TM 63748; LDAB 4959]

P.Ross.Georg. I 20 (II AD) [MP3 2343; TM 63569; LDAB 4778]

P.Turner 14 (II AD) [MP3 2340.1; TM 63560; LDAB 4769]

PSI inv.3783 (I-II AD) [MP3 2373.01; TM 63244; LDAB 4449]

PSI XV 1510 (III AD) [MP3 2364.01; TM 64024; LDAB 5239] inv.849 (IV AD) [MP3 2343.01; TM 69028; LDAB 10299]


Nicola Reggiani

Accepted term: 20-Ago-2014