Some Mad Scientists is based on an obscure ancient Greek text, a small part of the Hippocratic Corpus, which is a collection of more than sixty works associated with Hippocrates and the practices of ancient humoural medicine. I have adapted Letters 10-17 of this collection, a portion of something called "the Hippocratic novel," a relatively late addition to the Corpus (written between the first century BCE and the first century CE), which describes a fictional encounter between Hippocrates and the early atomist philosopher Democritus.

Why have I done this? I'm a literary critic who works on 19th- and 20th-century American poetry and poetics, affect theory, and science and technology studies. I stumbled upon this text by accident more than ten years ago while I was writing about Emily Dickinson. I didn't know what to do with it at the time, but I kept thinking about what sounded to me like the ur-representation of mad science in the "west." I presented a conference paper on it, which I include here, and eventually, while completing my first audiodrama work, decided to try to adapt this ancient Greek text into a similar audio form.

My primary goal in writing the script was to explore a set of psychic dynamics that I think define mad science, that is, those varieties of science that do not deny the importance of affect and feeling in practices of knowing. I find this ancient Greek material interesting because it uses the figures of Hippocrates and Democritus, important thinkers in the history of the sciences, as foils and spokesmen for a Cynic philosophy. While the historical Democritus was not himself a Cynic, the anonymous writer probably chose his hero because Democritus was the most powerful rival to Socrates in the ancient Greek world. But only fragments of his writings remain: unlike Socrates, Democritus had no student, no Plato, to communicate his teachings in dramatic form.

My script offers a relatively faithful rendition of the long diatribe at the center of the piece as a ranting counterpoint to the better-known Socratic dialogue. And I have added a range of figures to the cast (slaves, artisans, city councillors) to supply social, political, and dramatic dimensions to questions that might otherwise appear overly abstract or exclusive. I believe that these questions, though elusive, are entirely practical and immediate.

Adam Frank
November 23, 2010

  • For a synopsis of the play, please see the AUDIO page
  • For an essay on the ancient Greek text, and the script, please see the TEXT page
      • Written and produced by
      • Music composed by
      • Recorded and engineered by
      • Adam Frank
      • Sam Shalabi
      • Josh Stevenson

      Mastered at Otic Sound in Vancouver, BC (August 23th and 30th, 2010)

      The players

      • Democritus of Abdera, a philosopher
      • Hippocrates of Cos, a physician
      • Malamet, a slave of Hippocrates
      • A woman who calls herself Denocritus
      • A Cobbler of Abdera
      • A Dressmaker of Abdera
      • Philopoimen of Abdera, a Councillor
      • Antaeus of Abdera, a Councillor
      • Demetrius of Abdera, a Councillor
      • Amelasagoras of Abdera, an Ambassador
      • Damagetes of Rhodes, a ship's captain
      • A patient of Hippocrates
      • Alex Ferguson
      • Bill Marchant
      • Matt Fentiman
      • Alexa Devine
      • Andrew Moxham
      • Suzanne Hepburn
      • Mikal Grant
      • Brandon Folkes
      • Erik Beauchesne
      • Ian Raffel
      • Adam Henderson
      • Kieran McGreal

    • Coordinator: Judith Scholes
    • The musicians

      • Oud
      • Double bass
      • Percussion
      • Drums, vibraphone
      • Keyboards
      • Flutes
      • Viola
      • Dudek
      • Clarinet
      • Buzuk
      • Alto sax
      • Oud
      • Baritone sax
      • Classical guitar
      • Voice
      • Violin
      • Omar Al-Dewachi
      • Thierry Amar
      • Pierre-Guy Blanchard
      • Patrick Conan
      • Xarah Dion
      • David Gossage
      • Gen Heistek
      • Hrair Hratchian
      • Elizabeth Lima
      • Radwan Ghazi Moumneh
      • Matana Roberts
      • Sam Shalabi
      • Jason Sharp
      • Gavin John Sheehan
      • Molly Sweeney
      • Josh Zubot

      Music recorded and engineered by Radwan Moumneh at Hotel2Tango in Montreal.
       
      Website designed by Carla Trevisi, with images by Grant Mercs.

      Acknowledgments

      The script is based on the following works and translations:

      • Wesley D. Smith's Hippocrates: Pseudoepigraphic Writings (E.J. Brill, 1990)
      • Arnold H. Lewin's Cornell University thesis “Hippocrates Visits Democritus: Letters 10-17 of the Hippocratic Corpus” (Ithaca, 1968)
      • The Atomists: Leucippus and Democritus, translated with commentary by C.W.W. Taylor (The University of Toronto Press, 1999)

       

      The script was drafted during a one-month artist residency at the Fundacion Valparaíso, in Mojácar, Spain. Big thanks to everyone who made that experience so distinctly memorable and enjoyable: Pilar, Marie-Laure, the staff, Shea Embry, the bulls and bullfighters of Vera.

      Funding for the audio part of this project came from a Hampton Foundation grant at the University of British Columbia. The project could not have taken shape without this generous support - many thanks.

      And thanks to everyone who participated in this project, from beginning to end: Sylvia Berryman, Bob Brain, Fred Collay, Corinna Hagel, Anne-Laure Paulmont, Marguerite Pigeon, and Rob Sparks, who read the script or played parts in its first and only parlor performance. Thanks to all the actors and musicians for their time and talents. Special thanks to Josh for his excellent ears and serious patience, and to Sam for the amazing, terrific music.

      To Marguerite, extra special thanks.
       
      This play is dedicated to my father, the doctor, Hershie Frank.