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Daphne Laurien Zurhake M.A.

Doctoral Fellow: April 2014 - März 2017
Focus Area: Constructions of Norms


Between Pain and Culture: the Perception, Experience and Expression of Pain in the Graeco-Roman World

Everyone experiences pain in his or her lifetime; a necessary hindrance, if you will to survive. However, expressing and communicating that pain is a far more complicated process, because when it comes to pain, one usually is at a loss for words. Yet, even though language cannot exactly mirror what someone feels, the words one does use reflect to a large extent one´s cultural constructed framework, norms and values. In other words, by focusing on the type of words one employs, scholars can learn much about that person´s culture. The foundations for our modern European pain idiom and etymological origins from the English word for ´pain´ lie in Ancient Greece and Rome. However, that need not imply ancient Greeks and Romans perceived and understood pain in similar ways.
Modern scholars and doctors of medicine researching pain in Classical Antiquity often approach pain from a medical perspective, regarding it almost exclusively as a medical and biological phenomenon. However, there are cultural components to pain as well, which shed light on cultural dynamics and processes, such as social relations, traditions, religious and philosophical beliefs and institutions. These have largely been overlooked by medical historians, resulting in an unbalanced interpretation about how pain was perceived and expressed by Greeks and Romans. To balance this, the project ´Between Pain and Culture´, aims to provide a new and complementary interpretation of the meanings Greeks and Romans gave to the phenomenon called pain. In order to do so, special attention shall be paid to the use of metaphors and metonyms whilst describing pain in varying contexts. These contexts provide us with different glimpses of ancient societies, which may enhance our understanding on how these functioned. This project is relevant, because in multicultural societies, like Germany and the Netherlands, varying and conflicting pain idioms come to the fore.