The rules of the game: constructing power in rhizotomic practice

Gordon, Richard
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Kötet címe (évfolyam száma)
University of Debrecen.
The growth of contemporary interest in ethnobiology and -botany legitimates an attempt to historicise the activities and claims of ancient rhizotomists, ‘root-cutters’, i.e. individuals who made themselves specially knowledgeable about the medicinal and other values of plants (mainly wild) and animal-parts. These men and women hardly formed a coherent group in fact, but may be treated as such for heuristic purposes. One model for historicising them is to locate them between family or household medicine on the one hand, and the increasingly complex market in health-care that developed in the Greek world from the fifth century BCE, and continued to grow in complexity throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. We can suggest two ways in which rhizotomists responded to this market pressure: experimentation and the construction of the marvellous through complex rules of collection. These rules covered gathering, body movements, offerings to the herb or the earth, addresses to the herb, and close temporal specifications – these latter lent themselves in turn to exploitation by literate rhizotomists in terms of occult schemes. We may use Searle’s distinction between regulative and constitutive rules to interpret these moves.
Ancient iatromagic, ancient ethnobotany, rhizotomists, markets in healing, rationality of magical practice, rules for plant-collection