Ancient Greek Hippocrates made such an impression on a medical history that his name is still very much associated with medicine today.
All newly qualified doctors take what is called the Hippocratic Oath and some see Hippocrates as the father of modern medicine even though he did most of his work some 430 years before the birth of Christ.
He is considered to frame the oldest and most widely known ethical codes in medical history which originated around 400 BC. In classical times one took an oath to practice medicine best to one’s ability and judgment and defer it to a surgeon when necessary while keeping the privacy of the patient.
Even today a medical practitioner has to take a Hippocratic oath in modified form which asserts that the purpose of medical care is he benefit of the ill and to consider patients needs above anything else.
Greek doctors had started to look at the issue of poor health and disease by using a process of reasoning and observation. The most famous of these was Ancient Greece Hippocrates. He is thought to have been born in Cos in 460 BC. In fact, we know very little about Hippocrates as a person but his fame was such that Plato and Aristotle wrote about him. While Hippocrates has found fame in medical history, there were other Ancient Greek doctors who were not so lucky.
He was one of the first to study diseases as a naturally occurring instead of associating it with superstitions or gods, and believed in separating medicine from religion.
Ancient Greek medical knowledge is demonstrated in what is known as the Hippocratic Collection. This is a collection of sixty medical books of which Hippocrates wrote just some. We do not know who wrote most of them but they cover a time span of 150 years so they could not have all been written by Ancient Greece Hippocrates.
It was assembled in Alexandria, Egypt during the 3rd century BC and became a document of reference for future physicians of the western world and his teachings were even taught up to the 19th century.
Hippocrates and other Greek doctors believed that the work done by a doctor should be kept separate from the work done by a priest. They believed that observation of a patient was a vital aspect of medical care. Ancient Greek doctors did examine their patients but Hippocrates wanted a more systematic period of observation and the recording of what was observed.
Today, we would call this clinical observation. Such ideas have to lead to Hippocrates being called the Father of Medicine. The Hippocratic Collection gave Greek doctors detailed advice on what to do with their patients:
“First of all the doctor should look at the patients face. If he looks his usual self this is a good sign. If not, however, the following are bad signs sharp nose, hollow eyes, cold ears, dry skin on the forehead, strange face color such as green, black, red or lead color. If the face is like this at the beginning of the illness, the doctor must ask the patient if he has lost sleep, or had diarrhea, or not eaten.”
He is credited with the description of many diseases like the clubbing of fingers, an important symptom of lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease and so is sometimes even referred to as Hippocrates fingers. The Hippocrates school of medicine had even described ailments of the rectum and also is treatments. His writings and teachings are still used for teaching students about pulmonary ailments and surgery.
Hippocrates was the first to categorize diseases as cute, chronic, endemic and epidemic. In the book “On Epidemics”, doctors were told to note specific symptoms and what was observed on a day to day basis. By doing this they could make a natural history of an illness. Hippocrates and other doctors believed that by doing this they could forecast the development of the illness in future:
“I believe that it is an excellent thing for a physician to practice forecasting. He will carry out the treatment best if he knows beforehand from the present symptoms what will take place later.”
The ideas of Ancient Greek Hippocrates and others spread in the eastern Mediterranean and others took to writing down what they saw with regards to illnesses. These writings have survived and have given historians a vast resource to study.
What did Hippocrates believe caused illness?
Hippocrates believed that diseases was caused naturally by rationally methods and not by God’s curse or supernatural reasons. It was quite a progressive idea in that time as most doctors were priests and religion and medicine was quite interwoven.
Discovery of Hippocrates
Hippocrates had developed the theory of the four humor or fluid. The four fluids were yellow bole, black bile, blood and phlegm.
- Yellow bile which is related to choleric disposition and qualities of hot and dry. It can be associated with fire, summer, gallbladder and childhood.
- Black bile which can be related to melancholy and qualities of dry and cold. It can be associated with earth, spleen and old age
- Blood was connected with a sanguine disposition and qualities of hot and moist. They are linked with air, spring, heart, and adolescence.
- Phlegm can be related to phlegmatic disposition and qualities of cold and moistness. It can be connected to water, brain and maturity.
Hippocrates and other Doctors
Hippocrates and other doctors worked on the assumption that all diseases had a natural cause rather than a supernatural one. Priests believed that an illness such as epilepsy was caused by the gods. Hippocrates believed that with all other illnesses it had a natural cause.” Men believe only that it is a divine disease because of their ignorance and amazement.”