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Hippocrates

HippocratesBorn: c. 460 BC
Birthplace: Island of Cos, Greece
Died: c. 377 BC
Location of death: Larissa, Thessaly, Greece
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Doctor

Nationality: Ancient Greece
Executive summary: Father of Medicine

Hippocrates, Greek philosopher and writer, termed the "Father of Medicine", was born, according to Soranus, in Cos, in the first year of the 80th Olympiad, in 460 BC. He was a member of the family of the Asclepiadae, and was believed to be either the nineteenth or seventeenth in direct descent from Aesculapius. It is also claimed for him that he was descended from Hercules through his mother, Phaenarete. He studied medicine under Heraclides, his father, and Herodicus of Selymbria; in philosophy Gorgias of Leontini and Democritus of Abdera were his masters. His earlier studies were prosecuted in the famous Asclepion of Cos, and probably also at Cnidos. He traveled extensively, and taught and practiced his profession at Athens, probably also in Thrace, Thessaly, Delos and his native island. He died at Larissa in Thessaly, his age being variously stated as 85, 90, 104 and 109. The incidents of his life are shrouded by uncertain traditions, which naturally sprang up in the absence of any authentic record; the earliest biography was by one of the Sorani, probably Soranus the younger of Ephesus, in the 2nd century; Suïdas, the lexicographer, wrote of him in the 11th, and Tzetzes in the 12th century. In all these biographies there is internal evidence of confusion; many of the incidents related are elsewhere told of other persons, and certain of them are quite irreconcilable with his character, so far as it can be judged of from his writings and from the opinions expressed of him by his contemporaries; we may safely reject, for instance, the legends that he set fire to the library of the Temple of Health at Cnidos, in order to destroy the evidence of plagiarism, and that he refused to visit Persia at the request of Artaxerxes Longimanus, during a pestilential epidemic, on the ground that he would in so doing be assisting an enemy. He is referred to by Plato as an eminent medical authority, and his opinion is also quoted by Aristotle. The veneration in which he was held by the Athenians serves to dissipate the calumnies which have been thrown on his character by Andreas, and the whole tone of his writings bespeaks a man of the highest integrity and purest morality.

Born of a family of priest-physicians, and inheriting all in traditions and prejudices, Hippocrates was the first to cast superstition aside, and to base the practice of medicine on the principles of inductive philosophy. It is impossible to trace directly the influence exercised upon him by the great men of his time, but one cannot fail to connect his emancipation of medicine from superstition with the widespread power exercised over Greek life and thought by the living work of Socrates, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus and Thucydides. It was a period of great intellectual development, and it only needed a powerful mind such as his to bring to bear upon medicine the same influences which were at work in other sciences. It must be remembered that his training was not altogether bad, although superstition entered so largely into it. He had a great master in Democritus, the originator of the doctrine of atoms, and there is every reason to believe that the various "asclepia" were very carefully conducted hospitals for the sick, possessing a curious system of case-books, in the form of votive tablets, left by the patients, on which were recorded the symptoms, treatment and result of each case. He had these records at his command; and he had the opportunity of observing the system of training and the treatment of injuries in the gymnasia. One of his great merits is that he was the first to dissociate medicine from priestcraft, and to direct exclusive attention to the natural history of disease. How strongly his mind revolted against the use of charms, amulets, incantations and such devices appears from his writings; and he has expressly recorded, as underlying all his practice, the conviction that, however diseases may be regarded from the religious point of view, they must all be scientifically treated as subject to natural laws (De aëre, 29). Nor was he anxious to maintain the connection between philosophy and medicine which had for long existed in a confused and confusing fashion. His knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology was necessarily defective, the respect in which the dead body was held by the Greeks precluding him from practicing dissection; thus we find him writing of the tissues without distinguishing between the various textures of the body, confusing arteries, veins and nerves, and speaking vaguely of the muscles as "flesh." But when we come to study his observations on the natural history of disease as presented in the living subject, we recognize at once the presence of a great clinical physician. Hippocrates based his principles and practice on the theory of the existence of a spiritual restoring essence or principle, the vis medicatrix naturae, in the management of which the art of the physician consisted. This art could, he held, be only obtained by the application of experience, not only to disease at large, but to disease in the individual. He strongly deprecated blind empiricism; the aphorism "whether it be his or not", tersely illustrates his position. Holding firmly to principle, he did not allow himself to remain inactive in the presence of disease; he was not a merely "expectant" physician; as Thomas Sydenham puts it, his practice was "the support of enfeebled and the coercion of outrageous nature." He largely employed powerful medicines and bloodletting both ordinary and by cupping. He advises, however, great caution in their application. He placed great dependence on diet and regimen, and here, quaint as many of his directions may now sound, not only in themselves, but in the reasons given, there is much which is still adhered to at the present day. His treatise Airs, Waters, and Places contains the first enunciation of the principles of public health. We find in his treatises evidence of the acuteness of observation in the manner in which the occurrence of critical days in disease is enunciated. His method of reporting cases is most interesting and instructive; in them we can read how thoroughly he had separated himself from the priest-physician. Laennec, to whom we are indebted for the practice of auscultation, freely admits that the idea was suggested to him by study of Hippocrates, who, treating of the presence of morbid fluids in the thorax, gives very particular directions, by means of succussion, for arriving at an opinion regarding their nature. Laennec says, "Hippocrate avait tenté l'auscultation immédiate." Although not accurate in the conclusions reached at the time, the value of the method of diagnosis is shown by the retention in modern medicine of the name and the practice of "Hippocratic succussion." The power of graphic description of phenomena in the Hippocratic writings is illustrated by the retention of the term "facies Hippocratica", applied to the appearance of a moribund person, pictured in the Prognostics. In surgery his writings are important and interesting, but they do not bear the same character of caution as the treatises on medicine; for instance, in the essay On Injuries of the Head, he advocates the operation "of trephining" more strongly and in wider classes of cases than would be warranted by the experience of later times.

Father: Heraclides
Mother: Phaenarete

    Lunar Crater Hippocrates (70.7N, 145.9W, 60km dia)

Is the subject of books:
Oeuvres Complètes d'Hippocrate, 1839-61, BY: Emile Littré, DETAILS: (10 vols.)

Author of books:
Aphorisms
Instruments of Reduction
Of the Epidemics
On Airs, Waters, and Places
On Ancient Medicine
On Fistulae
On Fractures
On Hemorrhoids
On Injuries of The Head
On Regimen in Acute Diseases
On the Articulations
On the Sacred Disease
On the Surgery
On Ulcers
The Book of Prognostics
The Law
The Oath



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