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John Scarborough, PhD, M.A.(Oxon), D.H.L.hon.





Professor Scarborough has several research interests: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine pharmacology, with a primary focus on identification of specific substances used as pharmaceuticals (plants, animal products, minerals) by Dioscorides, Galen, Aetius of Amida, Alexander of Tralles, and other ancient and Byzantine texts of medicine and druglore; the Greek and Coptic texts known as the Papyri Graecae Magicae, wherein specifics suggest an ongoing folk medicine, and he has published some translations within the larger collection of spells and incantations in the Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 2nd ed. (Univ. Chicago Press, 1992); similar tendencies and aspects in ancient texts have yielded studies which consider religious/magical medicine and pharmacy, folk medicine in classical civilization, and Hermeticism, published respectively in Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), in Folklore and Folkmedicines (AIHP, 1987), and in Hermeticism and the Renaissance (Folger Library, 1988); a third area of research is ancient medical entomology, with emphasis on how insects were used in pharmacy and folklore, and how theoretical toxicology influenced Greco-Roman perceptions of aphrodisiacs, poisons, and analgesics, suggested by a paper delivered in October 1995 at the meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, titled "Greco-Roman Medical Entomology and Sexual Lore: Blister Beetles," an aspect of his scholarship that had produced articles on Greco-Roman poison-lore and entomology including "Some Beetles in Pliny's Natural History" (1977), "Nicander's Toxicology, I: Snakes" (1977), "Nicander's Toxicology, I: Spiders, Scorpions, Insects, and Myriapods" (1979), "On the History of Early Entomology" (1979) and (on anesthetics) "The Opium Poppy in Hellenistic and Roman Medicine" in Drugs and Narcotics in History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995); a fourth aspect of his research is on Roman and Byzantine surgery (especially major abdominal) and surgical techniques, suggested by his "Galen and the Gladiators" (1971) and "Roman and Byzantine Surgery for Hernia Repair" due to appear in R. Arnott and L. Dean-Jones, eds., Anatomy in Antiquity; currently Scarborough is translating (with commentaries) recipes and formulas that incorporate birthwort (Aristolochia spp.)from the Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Arabic, as a member of an NIH research team (PI: Arthur Grollman, MD, Pharmacology, School of Medicine, SUNY Stony Brook), investigating the toxic effects from the plant experienced in ancient and modern times, with laboratory analyses based upon these ancient and medieval recipes. He has taught the large freshman-level course on medical terminologies at Wisconsin for the Department of Classics since 1987, and his own book (Medical and Biological Terminologies: Classical Origins, 2nd ed., Univ. Oklahoma Press, 1998) has become a widely-used text in this subject. Reviews of the first edition (1992) were warmly complimentary, appearing in such journals as Classical WorldJournal of the American Medical AssociationBulletin of the History of MedicineJournal of Religious Studies, and several more. Current research continues on Greek, Roman, and Byzantine surgery, toxicology, and anesthetic plants used as pain-killers in ancient times, and his Pharmacy and Drug Lore in Antiquity: Greece, Rome, Byzantium (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2010) collects fourteen of his essays from 1977 through 2002, gaining rather laudatory reviews in Social History of MedicineAestimatioJournal of the History of Chemistry, and other scholarly periodicals.

Background: Professor Scarborough gained a BA degree from Baker University (1961) with double majors in zoology and history and double minors in German and chemistry. After a year at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, he took an MA degree in Byzantine studies at the University of Denver (1963); continuing his graduate work in classical languages at the University of Pennsylvania, and after a teaching stint at West Virginia Wesleyan College (Buckhannon), he obtained the PhD degree at the University of Illinois (1967) in Greek and Roman history combined with the history of medicine. From 1966 to 1985, he was on the faculty of the University of Kentucky, becoming Professor in 1976, and in 1981 he became Professor (joint appointment) of Pharmacy while holding a professorship in ancient history and the history of medicine. Among a number of awards and honors are fellowships from the Carnegie Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fondation Hardt (Geneva, Switzerland), the Taniguchi Foundation (Osaka, Japan), and Wolfson College, Oxford (England). At the University of Kentucky, Scarborough was named a Distinguished Researcher (1970), Great Teacher (1971), Hallam Professor of History (1977), Distinguished Lecturer in the College of Pharmacy (1984), and Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences (1985). In July 1985, he joined the faculty of the School of Pharmacy at Wisconsin and assumed the directorship of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP), based in the U.W.-School of Pharmacy, a position held until 1987. His research centers on medicine and pharmacy in Greco-Roman antiquity, as well as Byzantine, classical Islamic, and early Renaissance medicine, pharmacy, and corollary matters in medical botany, zoology, astrology, and alchemy. In 1982 he received the Edward Kremers Award for distinguished pharmaco-historical writing from the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Elected as member of the International Academy of the History of Medicine (1985) as well as the International Academy of the History of Pharmacy (1991), his alma mater (Baker University) honored him with a D.H.L. (Doctorate of Humane Letters)in 1993; and that same year he was elected a delegate (Classics/History of Medicine) by the People-to-People program and travelled to Russia and the Ukraine and participated in conferences and institutional visits, as he also did in Turkey later in the same year. Frequently invited to lecture in his fields of expertise, he has delivered lectures and held seminars in ancient medical studies at a number of universities and medical schools in the United States and Canada, as well as several countries in Europe, Japan and South Africa. He was appointed Fellow of the Institute for Research in the Humanities (1990). In 1987 he accepted a professorship in the U.W. Department of Classics, while maintaining his primary duties in the School of Pharmacy, and in 2005 was appointed Honorary Research Fellow in Classics/Ancient Studies at the Universiteit van de Vrijstaat, Bloemfontein, South Africa. In 2005, 2007, and 2008, Professor Scarborough was honored by invitations to lecture at sveral universities in South Africa, including the University of Cape Town, Kwa-Zulu University (Durban and Pietermaritzburg), University of South Africa (UNISA Pretoria/Johannesburg), University of the Free State (Bloemfontein) and North-West University in Potschefstroom, and in 2008, was appointed co-director of a PhD student, whose dissertation took up ancient narcotics compared with native South African folk medicines. In 2006, he was appointed a special delegate to the International Symposium on Nephrotoxic substances (esp. birthwort [Aristolochia spp.]), held at the medical school, University of Zagreb, Croatia, and he also was invited to lecture (Dioscorides, the practice of medicine in antiquity, kidney diseases in Roman antiquity) to groups of medical professionals in Zagreb.

Professional Interests: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Medicine and Pharmacology; Roman and Byzantine Surgery; Birthwort in Folklore and Folk Medicine; Natural Anesthetics and the Management of Pain before the Renaissance


  • BA 1961 Zoology/History - Baker University
  • MA 1963 Byzantine Studies - University of Denver
  • PhD 1967 Greek/Roman Hist. - University of Illinois
  • MA 1981 Classics/Hist. Med. - Wolfson College (Oxford)
  • DHL 1993 Hon. Doc. Humanities - Baker University
  • S&A Pharmacy 401 (History of Pharmacy [first one third of the course])
  • S&A Pharmacy/History/Classics/History of Science/Medical History 561 (Greek & Roman Medicine and Pharmacy)
  • S&A Pharmacy/History/History of Science/Medical History/Medieval Studies 561 (Byzantine Medicine and Pharmacy)
  • History/Classics 801 (Seminar in Ancient History: various topics, e.g. Roman Law, Greek and Roman Military Medicine, Galen and the Second Sophistic, Nicander of Colophon and Hellenistic Toxicology, Dioscorides of Anazarbus and his De materia medica)
Highlighted Publications:
  • J. Scarborough, "Roman and Byzantine Surgery for Hernia Repair," Sudhoffs Archiv [forthcoming] 2014
  • J. Scarborough, "Fish Glue (Gr. ΙΧΘΥΟΚΟΛΛΑ) in Hellenististic and Roman Medicine and Pharmacology," Classical Philology, 2015;110(1):54-65
  • J. Scarborough, "Theodora, Aetius of amida, and Procopius: Some Possible Connections," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 53(2013):742-762
  • J. Scarborough, "Thornapple in Graeco-Roman Pharmacology," Classical Philology, 107 (2012), 247-255
  •  J. Scarborough, "Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Court of Cleopatra VII: Traces of Three Physicians," in Anne van Arsdall and Timothy Graham, eds., Herbs and Healers from the Ancient Mediterranean through the Medieval West. Essays in Honor of John M. Riddle (Farnham [England] and Burlington [Vermont]: Ashgate, 2012), pp.7-18
  •  J. Scarborough. "Ancient Medicinal Use of Aristolochia: Birthwort's Tradition and Toxicity," Pharmacy in History, 53 (2011), 3-22
  • J. Scarborough. "Teaching Surgery in Late Byzantine Alexandria," in Manfred Horstmanshoff, ed., Hippocrates and Medical Education: Selected Papers Presented at the XIIth International Hippocrates Colloquium, Universiteit Leiden, 24-26 August 2005 (Leiden and Boston, 2010 [Studies in Ancient Medicine, Vol. 35]), pp. 235-260
  • J. Scarborough. Pharmacy and Drug Lore in Antiquity: Greece, Rome, Byzantium. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2010 [Variorum Collected Studies Series CS904]. xxvii, 354 pp.
  • A. P. Grollman, J. Scarborough, and B. Jelakovic. "Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy: An Environmental and Iatrogenic Disease," Advances in Molecular Toxicology, 3 (2009), 213-229
  • S. S. Renner, J. Scarborough, H. Schafer, H. S. Paris, and J. Janick. "Dioscorides's bruonia is Bryonia alba, not Tamus communis, and an Illustration Labeled bruonia melaina in the Illumination Labeled brounia melaina in the Codex Vindobonensis is Humulus lupulus not Bryonia dioica," in M. Pitrat, ed., Cucurbitaceae 2008. Proceedings of the IXth EUCARPIA Meeting on Genetics and Breeding of Cucurbitaceae, Avignon 21-24 May 2008 (Avignon: INRA/Centre de Recherche d'Avignon, 2008), pp. 273-280
  • J. Scarborough. "Attalus III of Pergamon: Research Toxicologist," in L. Cilliers, ed., Asklepios: Studies on Ancient Medicine (Bloemfontein/Pretoria: Classical Association of South Africa, 2008 [Acta Classica Supplementum II]), pp. 138-156
  • J. Scarborough. "Roman Medicine and the Legions," in R. L. Anderson, ed., Sources in the History of Medicine: The Impact of Disease and Trauma (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007), pp. 98-101 [rptd. sans notes and references, from Medical History, 12 (1968), 254-261]
  • J. Scarborough. "Dioscorides of Anazarbus for Moderns," Pharmacy in History, 49 (2007), 76-80
  • J. Scarborough. "Drugs and Drug Lore in the Time of Theophrastus: Folklore, Magic, Botany, Philosophy and the Rootcutters," Acta Classica, 49 (2006), 1-29
  • J. Scarborough. "The Matrix and Contexts of Roman Military Medicine," Journal of Roman Archaeology, 19 (2006), 610-614
  • J. Scarborough, "More on Dioscorides' Etruscan Herbs," Etruscan News, 6 (Summer, 2006), 1 and 9
  • J. Scarborough. "Introduction," to Lily Y. Beck, trans., Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarbus: De materia medica (Hildesheim/Zürich/New York: Olms -Weidmann, 2005 [Altertumswissenschaftliche Texte und Studien, Band 38]), pp. xiii-xxi; 2nd augmented ed., 2011
  • J. Scarborough, "Feminist Scholarship in the History of Medicine: Response to Monica Green," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 78 (2004), 876 and 879
  • J. Scarborough, "Drugs for an Emperor," Amphora [American Philological Association], 3, no. 1 (Spring, 2004), 4-5 and 17
  • J. Scarborough, "Hippocrates and the Hippocratic Ideal in Modern Medicine," International Journal of the Classical Tradition," 9 (2002), 287-297
  • J. Scarborough, "Herbs of the Field and Herbs of the Garden in Byzantine Medicinal Pharmacy," in A. Littlewood, H. Maguire, and J. Wolschke-Buhlmann, eds., Byzantine Garden Culture (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 2002), pp. 177-187; rptd. as ch. XIV in J. ScarboroughPharmacy and Drug Lore in Antiquity: Greece, Rome, Byzantium (Farnham and Burlington, 2010)
  • J. Scarborough, "Botany," in S. Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 119-126 [rev. and rptd. from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1996), pp. 255-256]
  • J. Scarborough, "The Life and Times of Alexander of Tralles," Expedition [Univ. Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology], 39, no. 2 (1997), 51-60
  • J. Scarborough, "Drugs and Medicines in the Roman World," Expedition, 38, no. 2 (1996), 38-52
  • J. Scarborough, "New Texts in Byzantine and Arabic Toxicology and Pharmacology," Pharmacy in History, 38 (1996), 96-99
  • J. Scarborough, "The Opium Poppy in Hellenistic and Roman Medicine," in Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich, eds., Drugs and Narcotics in History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 4-23; rptd. as ch. VII in J. ScarboroughPharmacy and Drug Lore in Antiquity. Greece, Rome, Byzantium (Farnham and Burlington, 2010)
  • J. Scarborough, "Roman Medicine to Galen," in W. Haase and H. Temporini, eds., Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Pt. II: Principat, Vol. 37, pt. 1 (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993), pp. 3-48