Wednesday, 12 January 2011




"Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease"

"Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm."

                                                                        (Hippocrates 460-337 BC)
By Contrast:

The Syracusans were struck dumb with fear, thinking that nothing would avail against such violence and power. But Archimedes began to work his engines and hurled against the land forces all sorts of missiles and huge masses of stones, which came down with incredible noise and speed; nothing at all could ward off their weight, but they knocked down in heaps those who stood in the way and threw the ranks into disorder. Furthermore, beams were suddenly thrown over the ships from the walls, and some of the ships were sent to the bottom by means of weights fixed to the beams and  plunging down from above; others were drawn up by iron claws, or crane-like beaks, attached to the prow and were plunged down on their sterns, or were twisted round and turned about by means of ropes within the city, and dashed against the cliffs. … Often there was the fearful sight of a ship lifted out of the sea into mid-air and whirled about as it hung there, until the men had been thrown out and shot in all directions, when it would fall empty upon the walls or slip from the grip that had held it.’  Later Archimedes set fire to the Roman ships by focusing the power of the sun by an arrangement of mirrors.
                                                            (Plutarch on Archimedes 287 – 212 BC)
Furthermore,  consider the Symphonies of Beethoven and by contrast the Blitz on London in 1940



What am I getting at here?
Namely, that the human mind has within itself a strange duality, a dichotomy in fact. On the one hand it can devise methods of HEALING or things that will UPBUILD such as music, literature or painting. On the other hand, as the quotes above indicate the Human Mind can devise weapons that wreak devastating destruction on Humankind.
The main question is WHY does the Human Mind ‘flip over’ in this fashion? In fact one may go even further and ask, Why does A NATION exhibit this same dichotomy, on the one hand producing beautiful expressions of CULTURE and on the other hand, ACTS OF BARBARISM?
I am going to look at this question – I am sure I will not get an answer – but maybe someone will comment on the blog. Therefore I am going to NARROW things down to a single nation, THE CLASSICAL GREEKS and look at two halves of the same coin.
But why the Greeks?
The aswer is simple. Classical Greek Culture had an immense influence on the Roman Empire. As a result as the Roman empire expanded it carried with it the influences from Classical greek Culture. Hence it penetrated Europe, Britain and wherever the legions were victorious. As a result CLASSICAL GREEK CULTURE PROVIDED THE FOUNDATION for western civilization.
So, if the answer to why the Human Mind can exhibit such contrast, such a paradox, perhaps we can glean something from Classical Greece.
I intend in this blog to look at GREEK MEDICINE as exemplified by HIPPOCRATES (460-377 BC) and GALEN (129-210 AD)  to reveal the sensitive and sympathetic side of the Human Mind. In a succeeding  blog I shall concentrate mainly on ARCHIMEDES, to explore the combative, pugnacious side of human nature.

So, off we go.


Hippocrates was born  on the Greek island of Cos around 460 BC and died in 370 BC. He is considered to be one of the most outstanding figures in the whole history of medicine. In fact Historians of science often refer to Hippocrates as ‘The father of Western medicine.’
Why was this?
Hippocrates established medicine as a profession. Previously it had been considered a branch of Philosophy  or some sort of mystical system. You can see from the Images below how it was closely linked with supernatural agencies.


Such offerings were taken to a sacred place, such as a temple, and offered to the God’s. They were offered either after a cure had been affected or beforehand in the hope that a recovery would be granted.


Once Medicine had been uncoupled from such beliefs it was possible to REVOLUTIONISE the treatment of the sick. Quite simply because the Hippocratic Doctor could get on with his Medical practices, rather than have the patient do nothing and hope for the best.
But how did he and his ‘disciples’ go about it? We can gain much information from what is known as THE HIPPOCRATIC CORPUS.
The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of about 70 Medical works from Ancient Greece. It has been associated with the Medical Procedures of Hippocrates. Just who wrote this Corpus is not known. In fact some scholars believe  that several writers had a hand in it. For our purposes, that does not matter. I am merely trying to sample the healing techniques of ancient Greece, no matter who they are attributable to.
So, what did Hippocrates actually do?
1. Proposed the study of the SYSTEMATIC STUDY of Clinical Medicine
2. Summed up the known knowledge of medicine at the time
3. Set out the practices for physicians including the Hippocratic Oath
So how precisely did he achieve these objectives? What did he do?
He first started with the assumption, contrary to the views of the time, that disease was NOT caused by somehow offending the gods or Spirits. Rather that disease could be attributed to NATURAL CAUSES. That is NOT to say that Hippocrates was an atheist.
Although the one cannot prove that CORPUS  had been written by Hippocrates, nevertheless it gives an insight into the man, his methods, and his approach. For instance, each subject in the CORPUS has a particular slant. Some texts  are directed toward the physician, some are directed to  the pharmacist, and some are directed to the non expert layman. The texts that are directed to the layman were not designed to advise on self-treatment, or to avoid seeing a doctor. They were intended to teach the layman how to evaluate a physician – whether he would be any good or not. This was extremely valuable, because many sick persons were reduced to poverty by  pursuing expensive quack cures.
What then, were the features of Hippocratic Medicine that the Corpus brings out?





First off, the role of EXPERIMENTATION, which was non violent. In short "let us try this and see if it works without injuring the sick person." EXPERIENCE is stressed both on the part of the physician dealing with a specific disease and on the student learning to be a doctor. HERBS as an aid to recovery are described in detail.
The Corpus also describes BASIC DISSECTION PROCEDURES. The dissections were made on animals which in their structure and function were compared to humans. It is extremely unlikely that dissection was practiced on humans in the time of Hippocrates. Therefore, the human internal organs are described as far as they can be seen or felt externally, aided by the comparison with a dissected animal.
DIET, PHYSICAL EXERCISE and prescribed MEDICINE all had their place. He even gave directions on physical manipulation, such as moving a dislocated hip or shoulder back into position.


What must be clearly appreciated is that the Corpus does not attempt to explain the cause of disease as due to any ASTROLOGICAL  ideas, which many medieval doctors believed well over a thousand years later. In essence then, Hippocrates, attributed disease to visible, natural causes. The food one has eaten or even the weather conditions can initiate disease.
I want to stress Hippocrates well illustrates the capacity of the Human Mind to seek to be sympathetic to others. In fact his stress on NON INJURY to the patient reveals this. In addition Hippocrates accepted the view, prevalent in his time, that there were just four elements, earth, air, fire, and water with their corresponding qualities, coldness, dryness, heat, and wetness.  In order to ward off disease these elements must exist in the correct proportions in the human body. If they were out of balance, disease was the result.

A word or two regarding the HIPPOCRATIC OATH seems relevant here.
I have left portions which seem to me pertinent to my focus and cut portions which may side-track the discussion.

First off the healer was to swear by a number of Healing Gods that the healer would keep the following Oath. I have enumerated the principal elements:

a) To prescribe a course of medical treatment, way of life, or diet for the promotion or restoration of health.
b) Never to do any harm to anyone.
c) Never to give a lethal drug to anyone even if asked to do so. Nor would the physician advise on such a plan.
d) Will never do anything to cause abortion
e) Will leave certain operations to Specialists.
f) Will avoid seducing his patients .
g) Will respect the confidentiality of the patient.

So, it is obvious that the focus here is on the good of the patient. I think it illustrates neatly the compaasionate and Sensitive aspect of the Human Mind.
Fair enough, but HOW SUCCESSFUL  was Hippocrates?
Hippocrates is reported as  healing  the king of Macedonia from the deadly, tuberculosis.
There are one or two stories as to his ability. We cannot know at this distance in time whether these stories are factual, or are legends constructed by his admirers. It does not really matter. Quite simply, if factual they reveal the benevolence of the man. If legendary they reveal the view of Hippocrate’s benevolence on the part of his followers.


The first and perhaps best known story is set in 430 BC during the Peloponnesian War. This was a war between Athens and Sparta, which Sparta eventually won. It lasted for nearly thirty years (431-404 BC). In 430 the Spartans managed to virtually demolish Athens. As a result, plague broke out in the city. Hippocrates and his followers were soon on hand  to help. Hippocrates noted  that the only people unaffected by the plaque were the iron smiths. Hippocrates theorised that their resistance must somehow be related to the dry, hot atmosphere in which they worked. Immediately he prescribed that the citizens of Athens were to light fires in every home to dry the atmosphere. They were  to burn corpses, and to boil all water before drinking it.  As a result the plague withdrew and Athens was saved.
We must not forget that Hippocrates was risking his own life in this situation. That is benevolence for you.

Another story took place when Greece was at war with Persia. I must confess the dates seem a bit tricky here, so I will leave the reader to check out the chronology.  Because the reputation of Hippocrates was so great at this time, during the conflict, the enemy king, Artaxerxes, petitioned Hippocrates travel to Persia to save its citizens from a plague. Hippocrates declined to do so despite being offered immense riches. Hippocrates was not insensitive to the needs of the Persians but declined on the grounds that it was against his scruples to assist the enemy of his country.
Ironically, after threatening to destroy the island of Kos, due to the refusal of Hippocrates, the Persian King died of a stroke shortly after uttering the threat. It was never carried out. 
We must leave Hippocrates at this point. Ironically, it was not long before an opposite polarity was ushered into the world of Greek Medicine. In the fourth century new religious cults penetrated Greece and brought with them Medical Practice that relied on Dream Interpretation, the Use of Charms, and various forms of superstition. In a sense it seemed that the mists were returning.
(Theme To Be Continued in the next blog)
I leave you once more with the question Why should the Human Mind or a Cultured Nation flip over from moral excellence to violence and depravity?
I Hope You Enjoyed The Blog.
Any Comments From The Learned?
Picture Credits
Wikimedia Commons


  1. Interesting that Greek medicine slipped backwards post-Hippocrates.

    I read somewhere that Europe employed, and had nothing better than, the Roman aqueducts until the 18 century.

    Matters seem to progress unevenly and may unprogress for long periods.

    It makes one grateful for the flush toilet.

  2. Let us not lose time in"why" but let us take the right remedy.
    1Corinthians 13:1
    And now I will show you the most exellent way.
    If I speak in the tongues of men(left hemisphere)and of angels(right brain) but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
    2. If I have gift of prophecy(right brain) and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains(left brain), but have not love, I am nothing.
    Love is...