Life is Short, Art Long: The Art of Healing in Byzantium, at the Pera Museum (Pera Müzesi) in Istanbul Turkey, offers visitors a glimpse of Byzantine culture and society through the three traditional methods of healing practiced side-by-side: faith, magic, and medicine. Health has always been a chief concern of humanity, and this landmark show examines Byzantine civilization from the perspective of its approach to the body, in sickness and in health.
In this exclusive English language interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, curator of the exhibition, about the ways in which Byzantines understood medicine, health, and healing from ancient Roman times until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE.
JW: Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, it is an immense pleasure to speak to you on behalf of Ancient History Encyclopedia! This interview marks the first time that we have worked with a curator associated with a cultural institution in Turkey. Merhaba!
The topic of health in the Byzantine Empire is a unique prism through which one can analyze Byzantine history, culture, and identity. Why did the Pera Museum choose to explore this subject? Additionally, I am curious to know if medicine in the ancient and medieval world is an interest of your own.
BP: Despite the tremendous progress of scientific research, we are surrounded by a growing number of people affected by emotional and physical pain. There is also growing interest in various forms of body care (spas and massages), natural foods, and therapy. These are two closely related aspects of a universal phenomenon that seems to have parallels in earlier societies. Byzantium is an interesting example because of its place at the intersection between antiquity and the Renaissance, as well as between East and West. The multifaceted behavior of the Byzantines toward illness and wellness lies at the root of our own behavior today.