Plato’s stepchildren
: Disability in ptolemaic egypt and the Hellenistic world (332-30 BCE)

  • Alexandra F. Morris

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In this thesis, I examine through the identification of art objects and other artefacts, evidence relating primarily to physical disability in Ptolemaic Egypt and the Hellenistic world (332-30 BCE). I ask what do the artefacts themselves and their very existence tell us about the lived experiences and societal treatment of ancient disabled people during this period? It also examines how much more can be learned about disability in the ancient past if we do not automatically view disability as a negative, source of suffering, or from a medicalised perspective. This evidence primarily comes from the collections of the British Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, although the collections of the Ashmolean, the Manchester Museum, and the Louvre were also examined in the course of this research. I draw upon the methodologies contained in disability studies, historical, and reception studies. This thesis consists of sections on: a geographic section focused on named individuals connected to ancient Macedonia, representations of people and mythological figures with dwarfism, blindness and vision impairments, cerebral palsy, mobility impairments as related to clubfoot and other similar conditions, spinal disability, and medicine, healing, and prosthetics. I argue that ancient people had no concept of disability as being a societal limitation and therefore no concept of lowering expectations of those with disabilities. It was part of life to be dealt with and lived with. Additionally, I examine how instances of ableist and disablist bias have shaped our understanding of the ancient past. Furthermore, I argue that artistic representations of disability from this period in history are primarily
non-stigmatising, and examine the societal implications of an elite class of disabled people, the implications heretofore unrecognized. I also demonstrate how an understanding of the physical embodiment of impairment has aided in its identification in ancient art, and showed why a disabled perspective is needed in the examination of the ancient world. Finally, I conclude that society during this period, while not being ableist, does appear to have been disablist, particularly in the ancient Greek world.
Date of Award1 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorRachel Carroll (Supervisor) & Kenneth Moore (Supervisor)

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