In late antique theological texts, metaphors of the brain were useful tools for talking about forms of governance: cosmic, political, and domestic; failed and successful; interior discipline and social control. These metaphors were grounded in a common philosophical analogy between the body and the city, and were also supported by the ancient medical concept of the brain as the source of the sensory and motor nerves. Often the brain was imagined as a monarch or civic official, governing the body from the head as from an acropolis or royal house. This article examines two unconventional metaphors of the brain in the work of the fifth-century Greco-Syrian bishop Theodoret of Cyrrhus—the brain as a treasure within the acropolis, and the brain as a node in an urban aqueduct—both of which adapt the structural metaphor of governance to reflect the changing political and economic circumstances of imperial Christianity. Drawing upon medical theories of the brain, Theodoret expands upon the conventional governance metaphor of brain function to encompass the economic and the spiritual responsibilities of the bishop-administrator. Just as architectural structures (acropolis, aqueduct) contain and distribute valuable resources (treasure, water) within the city, so the brain accumulates and redistributes nourishing substances (marrow, blood, pneuma) within the body; and just as the brain functions as a site for the transformation of material resources (body) into spiritual goods (mind), so the bishop stands as a point of mediation between earthly wealth and the treasures of heaven.
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Research Article| December 01 2018
The Brain as Treasury and as Aqueduct: Metaphors of the Brain in Theodoret of Cyrrhus
The University of Texas at San Antonio
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Studies in Late Antiquity (2018) 2 (4): 542–566.
Jessica Wright; The Brain as Treasury and as Aqueduct: Metaphors of the Brain in Theodoret of Cyrrhus. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 December 2018; 2 (4): 542–566. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2018.2.4.542
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