October 10, 2012 [ANCIENT GREEK MEDICINE: FROM HIPPOCRATES TO GALEN]
8B.C. – 600 A.D.
Classical Period (5-4 B.C.) will be the area of this study.
Well known for its technological advances in medicine. Literature suggested highly advanced
practises, and we well known for their philosophy.
Highly advanced in math (found solutions far ahead of their time/society).
Very societal – many city states, high culture, government, organized sports, and greatest of all,
democracy (founded by Greeks).
Very powerful in ancient times, coming from its ability to trade by sea and its warfare abilities
(often the victor). Sparta was the most notable and victorious city state involved in warfare.
Most well-known ruler: Alexander the Great. Leader of Macedonia (the city state that
conquered the Greek Emperor).
Encouraged his soldiers to marry women from all cultures – very against assimilation,
accommodating all villages and traditions.
All factors combined contribute to its infamous ancient culture.
Classical Greek medicine had much in common with Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
Shift from divine and mystical to scientific and rational thinking, generating the spread of such
ideas across the Mediterranean.
Today we think of illness and disease as interchangeable – unlike Greece.
o Illness: individual suffering.
o Disease: ideas about illness (existed only as a theory to explain that illness).
Medical Knowledge: ability to recognize and respond to disease.
Concepts did not come from the supernatural, but from observing illness of individuals;
empirical study when enough individual cases are studied, a theory can be formed.
In observing the patient, symptoms, history, the doctor himself, and observation were used in
In observing an illness, diseases were given characteristics, names, life expectancies, anticipated
outcomes, and recommended treatments.
No place for the supernatural!
Humans have always tried to understand illness – regardless of society. This is where pathology
– the study of disease – comes from.
Functions of pathology:
o Explain suffering
o Prognosis (predict outcomes)
o Prove explanation (prove reasonableness of suffering).
Shift towards empirical descriptions of disease are an identifying element of Greek (medical)
history. October 10, 2012 [ANCIENT GREEK MEDICINE: FROM HIPPOCRATES TO GALEN]
Leader of medicine – in research AND thought.
Credited with the turn away from the divine to observation.
Synonymous with the Father of Medicine.
460 – 361 B.C.
Believed to have lived a long and exemplary life.
50 – 70 works attributed to him: Hippocratic Corpus. Not likely he was the author. These
essays are the foundation of Western medicine. They cover diagnosis, epidemics, gynecology,
pediatrics, nutrition, and surgery. Contain writings on medical philosophy, (duties of a
physician). Include the new concept of clinical observation and reasoning.
o The Sacred Disease – writing referred to epilepsy, Ancient Greeks were terrified of
epilepsy and thought it to be possession. However, The Sacred Disease saw it as having
a natural cause. Claimed it was the ignorance of men that allowed them to believe it to
be a case of divine possession. Symptoms were described.
o Hippocratic physicians are recognized for their ability to observe. In the case of
epilepsy, it was argued to be an obstruction of phlegm in the brain.
Greek medicine typically revered for its emphasis on the patient instead of the disease – there
was a respect for facts and experience rather than philosophical traditions.
Hippocrates on Ancient Medicine
o Thesis: Nature itself has strong healing forces.
o Purpose of physician = cultivate techniques that will work with nature to restore the
body to a harmonious balance.
Skeptical of claims of philosophy as it is based on projection and opposes empirical observation
as performed by Hippocratic physicians.
Changes in diet, beneficial drugs, and keeping the body in balance were key components. This
connects to the 4 Humors (similar to Ayruvedic Medicine).
o Black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Combined, would form the 4 elements of
the Greek periodic table to create Earth, Fire, Air, and Water.
Not fictitious according to the Hippocratic Corpus.
Elements within the body could be seen and therefore have empirical content (including specific
locations in the body).
Lasts to the mid-1750’s.
Many disease were associated with an imbalance in the humors. If the diseases were associated
with imbalance, balance was associated with health.
All 4 humours are found in blood. The humour blood refers to what makes blood red. Phlegm is
considered the clear plasma of blood, yellow bile as the yellowish tint/residue that had a yellow
tint, and black bile was the brown-ish/grey sediment that allowed the blood to clot.
All humours had specific virtues associated with them. October 10, 2012 [ANCIENT GREEK MEDICINE: FROM HIPPOCRATES TO GALEN]
o Associated with air.
o Could be either hot and wet or warm and moist.
o The essence of vitality, health, nutrition, and growth.
o Blood was healthy if you were digesting and receiving nutrients perfectly.
o Home of blood: arteries and blood vessels.
o Virtue: Attractive (everything relied on it and centered around it).
o Worked in conjuction with water.
o Wet and cold.
o All other clear fluids in the body (mucus, saliva, plasma).
o Believed that these fluids cooled, moistened, lubricated, and generally protected the
o Virtue: Expulsive (flushed out impurities and helped to eliminate waste).
o In conjunction with fire – hot and dry.
o Produced by the liver and stored in the gull bladder.
o Virtue: Digestive (fire and yellow bile disgested, consumed, and metabolized). Thought
to act as a natural laxative.
o In conjuction with Earth, cold and dry.
o Formed the normal sediment of blood.
o Virtue: Retentive (cooled the body, dried the body, coagulated blood – important in
formation of scars, awakened the stomach and the appetite).
The 4 humours also had psychological capabilities as well – pervaded the entire organism, thus,
also affecting the mind.
o Blood provided emotions such as joy, murph, optimism, affection, well-being, etc.
o Phlegm associated with passivity, lethargy, but also devotion and sensitivity.
o Yellow bile was responsible for exciting or emboldening a person. Could provoke anger,
envy, jealousy, boldness, etc.
o Black bile was responsible for pensive moods – melancholy or for those more
Imbalance of humours could lead to mental illness as well.
Humoural Theory could explain any form of disease. This theory of health reflected a consistent
trend in the history of medicine – from pre-history to ancient history, physiology was more
important than anatomy.
o Physiology = the study of the function of living beings. Derived from the Greek, which
traditionally meant “the study of nature.”
o Anatomy = concerned with structure of the body (size, shape, and relationships
between body parts). Had little to do with the concepts of disease. Nor was it essential
to explaining how the body worked. October 10, 2012 [ANCIENT GREEK MEDICINE: FROM HIPPOCRATES TO GALEN]
o Helps to explain little development of surgery in Ancient Greece. There was a belief that
there was no need to study the structure – how the body functions was more
There was an obsession with the form of the external body: Ancient Greek Sculpture.
o Preoccupation with bones and muscles, but limited to an artistic sense.
Treatments for imbalance of humours came from diet and balance of lifestyle. Hippocratics
referred to bloodletting, baths, exercises, rest, and applications of heat and cold for treatments.
In addition, more than 300 medications were cited throughout the Hippocratic Corpus – most
were from plants. Could be administered externally (rubbing on or lathering) or internally
(insertion or consumption).
Treatment tended to be conservative as they believed in the healing powers of nature.
Goal of medicine: help the body heal itself. It was not supposed to hurt.
In relation to that, we have the Hippo