The course aims to guide students through the study of the close relationship that links the concept of the environment, the natural world and the city – namely complex and articulated structures which, following human action, are endowed with political character – to the conception of the human body, its functions, and the relationships between its parts. Conversely, in the evolution of the concept of nature, of cosmos, and of city, the human model has often represented a source of inspiration. It is a two-way process. During the class, therefore, we will retrace the development of knowledge relating to the human body and the formulation of theories in terms of political organization, namely the polarity between one-man rule (monarchia) and egalitarianism (isonomia), by taking into account socio-political, philosophical and medical texts, as well as by investigating the historical context. In both the body as a microcosm and the environment as a macrocosm, there exists the tendency towards a kind of equilibrium between opposites, between forces that tend to move in contrary directions; and there exists a need for the bodily constituents in the human body, for the natural constituents of the environment, for the social and political constituents of the city-state, to remain in a state of permanent equilibrium. Loss of equilibrium entails potentially critical consequences. One can identify an egalitarian model of distribution of shares to the bodily constituents, which can be depicted as the citizens of a tiny state or of a tiny cosmos, whose antagonistic or collaborative tendencies affect its functioning.
In this regard, a comparative exploration of Western theories with those of China, both ancient and modern, can help to find a way of gaining from the joint study of two cultures understandings about each that would be unattainable if they were studied alone. Students will be asked to investigate the concepts that both Europeans and Chinese invented to describe the domain of the self, the body, the city-state and the natural world, and their interrelations. The notion of the body as microcosm also gave medicine a focal role. A basic feature of systematic thought about society and the external environment as it arose in China is that the body and the state were miniature versions of the cosmos. Various thinkers have invented authoritative forms of these realms, and their interconnections were systematic and tight. Man, symbolized by the central pair of lines in a Chinese hexagram and personified in the ruler, stands intermediate between sky and earth. Both the state and the living body are envisioned as a cosmos combining cognitive ingredients, social ideals, physical data. They are conceived of as composed mainly of ensembles of functions in the center (of the body, the environment or the city) and a set of circulation tracts throughout. The central systems control metabolic and other spontaneous vital processes. Medical doctrine characterized the systems not as anatomical features but as offices in the central bureaucracy of the body.
Students will be invited to look for images illustrating these ideas from both European and Chinese books, and to this aim they will be guided through the collections of Renaissance books of the Venice libraries.
At the end of the course, students will have had a deep insight into conception of the human body, its representation in the course of history, its dominating role amid the environment and the natural world. They will be familiar with the use and comparison of historical, philosophical, and medical-historical sources, and with concepts coming from different fields of knowledge, among them politics, medicine, sociology, philosophy, history. They will have understood the importance of comparative analyses, and the method of investigation of similar topics in different cultures.
Teaching and evaluation method
Taught class. Lectures delivered by the Professor will be paired by active discussion with students. Students will also be asked to write short essays and to present them to their colleagues. Students from China or Far Eastern countries will be asked to describe to their colleagues some features of their cultural system, and vice versa, with open discussion. The course is designed so as to involve students and help develop their independent skills of critical thinking. A visit to Venice libraries (Marciana) and to other cultural establishments in Venice is also envisaged.
Assessment will take into consideration active participation by students in the class (15%), essays and presentations (25%), final written exam (60%).
A. Wayman, The Human Body as Microcosm in India, Greek Cosmology, and Sixteenth-Century Europe, «History of Religions» 22, 2 (1982), pp. 172-190
Selected chapters from the following works:
L. Barkan, Nature's Work of Art: The Human Body as Image of the World, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press 1977
G.E.R. Lloyd, N. Sivin, The Way and the Word. Science and medicine in early China and Greece, Yale University Press 2003
Further material to be discussed in class will be provided by the Professor.