Physician, Philosopher (c460 BC – c356 BC)
The most renowned of the Greek physicians, descendent of the Asclepiads, Hippocrates of Kos’ influence in medicine was strongest than any other physician’s before him. He was the quintessence of the philosopher-doctor, who combined rational thinking with medical practice for the combat and most importantly the prevention of disease.
Hippocrates learnt medicine from his father by studying in the Asclepieions of Kos and Cnidus. Herodicus, Gorgias and Democritus were also his teachers. He travelled in the depths of Asia and Africa, Macedonia and Thrace before eventually settling in Larissa, where he would flourish during the Golden Age of Pericles like many other Great Greeks at that time. Hippocrates quickly rose to fame for offering his services in numerous cities around Greece. In Athens he was made an honorary citizen and was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries. When he was asked to offer his services to the Persian King, Hippocrates refused, saying that he would never help the enemies of his country.
Hippocrates’ contributions in medicine befall in all of today’s medical specialties. In Anatomy, he described the bones, the bone marrow, the joints, several muscles, numerous internal and reproductive organs as well as the heart and its valves. He knew that veins contained blood but believed that arteries carried air to the heart. He was unable to decipher the brain’s actual function but had acknowledged the fact that it was the center of cognition, movement and sensation. He also knew that vision and smell were functions connected to the brain.
As a pioneer in surgery, Hippocrates performed surgeries that even today are considered very difficult. He describes in his texts the opening of a skull with a drill, amputations, pleurectomies, paracentesis, haemorrhoid operations, phlebotomies. Moreover, he used catheters, knives, needles, chainsaws, and many other tools which he had built for operations. He founded preventive medicine and established all of the ethical codes and deontology in medicine. The roots of Homeopathy as a science were also established by Hippocrates (“similia similibus curentur”).
Hippocrates’ philosophy on the human body was that it was composed of 4 major elements: wind, earth, fire and water. In each of these elements corresponds a trait: cold, dry, warm and liquid. The heart was thought to be the center of the warm trait. The major humors of the human body were blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Provided that there is a balanced mixture of the four, the person would be healthy. If, however, one of the humors predominated in the mixture, then disease would develop. A disease is not confined to one organ; rather the entire organism is diseased. Numerous diseases are named and described in his texts, namely influenza, tuberculosis, typhus, malaria, herpes, leprosy and some nervous diseases such as mania and depression. Treatment lies in what we eat. An interesting concept in Hippocrates’ philosophy on the human body is that inside of it lies an inner force which he terms “nature” and it is the force responsible for the conservation and development of the body as well as its healing.
Hippocrates was a prolific writer; Soranus of Ephesos reports that he had written 64 books on medicine, of which 57 survive today. The first category of his books includes The Hippocratic Oath, “The Law”, “On Ancient Medicine”, “On Art”, “Aphorisms” etc. These books were concerned with medicine as a science and its relationship with philosophy. They were mostly intended for students studying at the Asclepieions. The second category contains 9 books written on Anatomy and Physiology, namely “On Anatomy”, “On the Heart”, “On the Articulations”, “The Nature of Man” etc. He wrote books on diet (“On Food”, “On Diet”), on pathology and disease (“On Airs, Waters, Places”, “On Ulcers”, “On Regimen of Acute Diseases”), on prognostics, of which The Book of Prognostics is the most valuable one, therapeutic ones, on surgery (“On the Surgery”, “On Fistulae”, “On Fractures”, “On Haemorrhoids”), on ophthalmology, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, orthopedics, hygiene and dentistry. A very large number of his works was saved and translated into Latin and Arabic. This was not coincidence, as people found Hippocrates’ writings more understandable than the writings of philosophers as well as more useful since they would benefit their own health.
All of his books comprise the Corpus Hippocraticum, which is used to this day as an invaluable tool by doctors and students alike in medical universities. It is called voices of God by Suda, the oldest Greek encyclopaedia, and that his teachings come not from a human spirit but were direct words of God. He also calls Hippocrates star and light of medicine. Galen, the second most renowned physician of antiquity after Hippocrates, considers him as the greatest physician of all ages, the most important writer of all time and one of the greatest philosophers. Erotianos compares him to Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides calling him divine, God-like and founder of logical medicine. He stands among Asclepius and Apollo, one as the founder of medicine, one as the physician of the Gods and he respectively as Father of Medicine.
- “Hippocrates of Kos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
- Manias, Theophanes. The Holy Geometry of the Greeks and the Mathematical Structure of the Hellenic Language. Athens: Pyrinos Kosmos, 2006. Print.
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- Tziropoulou Eustathiou, Anna. Archigenethlos Helliniki Glossa. Athens: Georgiades, 2011. Print.
- Tziropoulou Eustathiou, Anna. O en tei Lexei Logos. Athens: Georgiades, 2011. Print.