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Dr Peter N Singer

MA Classics, PhD Ancient Philosophy (University of Cambridge)
Research Fellow in Classics (Medical Humanities)

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room G12
27 Russell Square



  • P. N. Singer joined Birkbeck in 2016 as a Wellcome Fellow in Medical Humanities, having previously held posts at Newcastle and at the Humboldt University, Berlin. He works on the interface of Greek philosophy and medicine, with particular interests in psychology, the emotions, ethics, health and madness, and a focus on the enormously influential doctor-philosopher Galen of Pergamon (many of whose works he has translated into English for the first time). He has further interests in ancient drama and performance practice. Alongside his university research and teaching, he has also for several years been involved in projects aimed at bringing Classics and Latin to state schools, including in conjunction with the charity Classics for All. In a separate project, he has edited and translated Asylum, a recently discovered survivor's account by the Viennese writer Moriz Scheyer.

Research and teaching

  • Introduction
  • My research centres on: ancient understandings of psychology, the emotions, ethics, health and madness; the interface of philosophy and medicine in the Graeco-Roman world; the second-century-CE medical author Galen of Pergamon. My current Wellcome-funded research project, ‘Galen on the Pulse’, investigates these areas on the basis of a body of texts of huge historical importance, several of which will be published in English for the first time. Themes explored include: medical and philosophical approaches to the emotions; the relationship of mental and physical illness; the nature of ancient clinical experience and the doctor-patient encounter. The research project feeds into my broader interest in the mind-body relationship in ancient medical and philosophical writing, a topic on which I am preparing a book for the Routledge series ‘Issues in Ancient Philosophy’. It also continues to provide major contributions to Cambridge Galen Translations: this series, of which I am a founder editor, aims to provide access to the works of the most influential medical author of antiquity.
  • My teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level is informed and led not only by these main projects, but also by the following active research interests: texts and techniques of ‘practical ethics’ (Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, Seneca); Plato and the Neoplatonist tradition; fifth-century Athenian drama and performance practice; ancient pharmacology; Sanskrit and ancient Indian thought.
  • Research interests
  • The mind-body relationship in Graeco-Roman thought
  • The emotions at the interface of medicine and philosophy
  • Medical writing from Hippocratics and Presocratics to Galen
  • History of psychiatry and mental illness
  • Intellectual conflict and authority in the Second Sophistic
  • Ancient commentary and exegesis
  • Texts and techniques of 'practical ethics' (Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, Seneca)
  • Plato and the Platonic tradition
  • Graeco-Roman pharmacology
  • 5th-century Greek drama and performance practice
  • Teaching
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate courses currently or recently taught include:
  • BA modules:
  • 'Greek Set Book' (texts including Plato, Euripides, Aristophanes and Homer)
  • BA modules in Birkbeck Philosophy Department:
  • 'Introduction to History of Philosophy'
  • 'History of Philosophy'
  • 'Topics in Ancient Philosophy'
  • MA modules
  • Contributions to core course, Introduction to Classical Culture
  • 'Mind, Medicine and Madness in the Graeco-Roman World'


  • Selected Publications
  • Books
  • a. forthcoming:
  • Galen: Mixtures (De temperamentis), translation, introduction and notes (with P.      van der Eijk), Cambridge Galen Translations, vol. 2. Cambridge University Press
  • b. published:
  • Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine: From Celsus to Paul of Aegina, co-edited with C. Thumiger). Brill: 2018
  • Galen: Psychological Writings. Cambridge University Press: 2013
  • Galen: Selected Works (translation, introduction and notes). Oxford University         Press: 1997
  • Book chapters, journal articles and conference presentations
  • a. forthcoming/current
  • ‘What is a pathos? Where medicine meets philosophy’ (paper presented at conference on Medical Emotions, Patras, 2017)
  • ‘Is Graeco-Roman medicine holistic? Galen and ancient medical-philosophical debates’ (paper presented at conference on Ancient Holism, Institute of Classical Studies, London, 2017)
  • ‘Recasting Greek Tragedy: character doubling and its ramifications, from Aeschylus to Euripides’ (paper presented at conference, 'Greek Drama V', University of British Columbia, 2017)
  • ‘The relationship between sense-perception, experience and logos: a clinical perspective’ (paper presented at conference on Galen's Epistemology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, 2017)
  • ‘A change in the substance: theoretical considerations in Galen's drug theory and its later reception’ (paper presented at conference on Galen's Simples, British School at Rome, 2017)
  • ‘Classification, explanation and experience: mental disorder in Graeco-Roman antiquity’, in U. Steinert (ed.) Cultural Systems of Classification, in series Medicine and the Body in Antiquity. Routledge
  • ‘The mockery of madness: laughter at and with madness in Attic Tragedy and Old Comedy’, in G. Kazantzidis and N. Tsoumpra (eds) Morbid Laughter: Exploring the Comic Dimensions of Disease in Classical Antiquity. University of Illinois Press
  • ‘A new distress: Galen’s ethics in Peri Alupias and beyond’, in C. Petit (ed.) A Tale of Resilience: Studies in Galen’s Peri Alupias (De indolentia). Brill
  • ‘New light and old texts: Galen on his own books’, in ibid.
  • ‘Galen on pneuma: between metaphysical speculation and anatomical theory’, in S. Couglin, D. Leith and O. Lewis (eds) Pneuma after Aristotle. Edition Topoi, Berlin
  • b. published:
  • ‘Galen’s pathological soul: diagnosis and therapy in ethical and medical texts and contexts’, in C. Thumiger and P. N. Singer (ed.) Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine: from Celsus to Paul of Aegina, 381-420. Brill: 2018
  • ‘The essence of rage: Galen on emotional disturbances and their physical correlates, in R. Seaford, J. Wilkins and M. Wright (eds) Selfhood and the Soul: Essays on Ancient Thought and Literature in Honour of Christopher Gill, 161-96. Oxford University Press: 2017
  • ‘Galen’, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 2016
  • ‘The fight for health: tradition, competition, subdivision and philosophy in Galen’s hygienic writings’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22:5 (2014), 974-95
  • ‘Galen and the philosophers: philosophical engagement, shadowy contemporaries, Aristotelian transformations’, in P. Adamson, R. Hansberger and J. Wilberding (eds) Philosophical Themes in Galen, 7-38. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 114: 2014
  • ‘Levels of explanation in Galen’, Classical Quarterly 47:2 (1997), 525-42
  • ‘Notes on Galen’s Hippocrates’, in M. Vegetti and S. Gastaldi (eds), Studi di storia della medicina antica e medievale, pp. 66-76. La Nuova Italia: 1996
  • ‘Some Hippocratic mind-body problems’, in J. A. López Férez (ed.) Actas del VIIe Colloque International Hippocratique, pp. 131-43. Madrid, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia: 1992


Honours and awards

  • Visiting Fellow at Humboldt University, Berlin, 2014-15


  • My edition and translation of the recently-discovered survivor's account by the Austrian author Moriz Scheyer (my step-grandfather) was published by Profile Books in January 2016 and is published by Little, Brown in the US lin September 2016, as well as in French, German, Italian and Spanish translations.