Ocular Diseases in Ancient Greek Art

Document Type: Original Article


History of Medicine Department, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens


Although ancient Greek physicians studied a great number of ocular diseases in their medical texts such as glaucoma, cataract, trachoma, chalazion, trichiasis, entropion, ectropion and pterygion, in ancient Greek art there were only few examples which represent ophthalmic diseases. These examples are found especially in portraits, and the ophthalmological disease is an important feature of the portrait of a depicted person. A majority of these portraits date back to Hellenistic times except for few examples dated in prehistoric years. Although votive limbs in the form of eyes were a common dedication in the shrines of ancient healing gods as the shrines of Asklepios and Amphiaraos, one could expect the presentations of ocular diseases; all these had no pathological sings. Nevertheless, these representations of ocular diseases should be distinguished from the monstrous figures of ancient Greek mythology which remind of ophthalmological pathologies such as the Cyclops who had one eye and Argos Panoptis with more than two, because these are fantastic figures of mythology far from reality.