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Offers insight into the relationship between knowledge and power in ancient times--and science and politics in our own


Power and Knowledge charts a history of three ancient scientiae in the Roman Empire--astrology, medical prognosis, and physiognomy (the art of discerning character or destiny from a person's physique). Drawing on contemporary approaches in social theory and the philosophy of science, Tamsyn Barton argues that the ancient sciences are best understood in terms of rhetoric, as their practitioners are involved in sociopolitical struggles and their disciplines are rooted in Greco-Roman cultural norms and practices.

"By systematically tracing the by now familiar methods of establishing expertise and maintaining 'one-upsmanship' in the writings of Galen, B[arton] indeed succeeds in putting to rest the distinction between ancient 'science' and 'pseudo-science' and, at the same time, in giving a lively and many-faceted picture of intellectual power-struggles in the High Empire."
—Veronika Grimm, Journal of Roman Studies

- Veronika Grimm

"Until recently, little attention has been paid to the fortunes of the art of physiognomy between the Hellenistic and Renaissance periods. Barton's impressive, and in many ways provocative, study remedies that neglect."
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

- Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

". . . uses its case-studies to establish a new benchmark in studies of ancient knowledge—and very effectively, too. I have never read a better historiographical introduction, and Barton uses the idea of knowledge as rhetoric—borrowing judiciously from the philosophy and sociology of science, along with Foucaldian genealogy—to illuminate not only how power-relations produced knowledge-as-truth, but also the reverse. With elegance and economy, this approach works equally well with both the ancient era, her primary subject-matter, and the current intellectual context of such a study."
—Patrick Curry, Times Literary Supplement

- Patrick Curry