Hippocrates, the famous physician of ancient Greece: The most famous physician of the ancient times, Hippocrates (460-377 BC) was the first to release medicine from any kind of religious superstition and to establish it as a science based on observation and case recording. He is often described as the model of the ancient physician and the founder of western medicine, although in modern terms we can say that he used both clinical and homeopathetic ways.
Want to discover more famous people?
View all Famous people | Next famous personality: Archimedes, the mathematecian
His Life and Death
Born on the island of Kos Dodecanese in around 460 BC, Hippocrates was the son and grandson of physicians, who practiced medicine in the local Asclepieion, the famous healing centre dedicated to god Asclepius. Hippocrates himself practiced medicine throughout his life, not only in the Asclepieion of Kos but also in other places and towns of Greece. Not much about his personal life is known, but sources say that he died around 377 BC in Larissa Thessaly, in one of his journeys. Other sources tell that Asclepius was over a hundred years old when he died.
At that time, there were two medical schools that dominated in Greece: the Knidian and the Koan Schools of Medicine. The former concentrated on diagnosis, the later on prognosis. The former failed to achieve its purpose since in the Greek tradition it was forbidden to dissect a human body, so physicians knew very little of the human anatomy.
Hippocratic Theory and Practices
The Koan, or else Hippocratic, School developed certain theories that were based mostly on self-treatment. Hippocrates believed that a body became ill when there was an imbalance in the four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. Medicine therefore aimed to restore this balance. Another Hippocratic concept was that each disease reached to a state of "crisis", after which the disease would either subside or increase, leading eventually to the death of the patient. A relapse might occur depending on the number of days between the crisis and the contraction of the disease.
Hippocrates also developed an early homeopathetic theory: he believed that a human body has the power to heal itself or restore the balance of the four humors. Thus, complete rest and immobilization was recommended to patients to remove pressure from the point of pain and diffuse it all over the body. For this end, Hippocrates had developed special machineries, such as the Hippocratic bench, a bed to pull the body of the patient and diffuse pressure.
Nature could do a great job in healing illnesses, according to Hippocrates. He usually didn't use drugs, except if they were natural balms and extracts. He also gave much attention to the sterilization of the patient and he was said to use clean water and wine to heal wounds. The Hippocratic School taught physicians to be strictly professional and to follow certain procedures. They had to be calm, honest, understanding, smart and very serious.
However, the most important innovation of the Hippocratic School was that he made physicians keep a detailed record with all their observations and methods for each medical case separately, thinking that these records would be very helpful for the latter generations. In this way, Hippocrates founded clinical medicine. After many observations, he came to believe that diseases could be a matter of family inheritance, natural environment, lifestyle and food habits.
The Hippocratic Corpus
Hippocrates and his students had made remarkable achievements in the detection of various diseases and their symptoms. He even classified illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic. All his clinical observations and medicinal applications are discussed in detail in the famous Hippocratic Corpus, which comprises of medical notes, textbooks, lectures, essays and researches. The most famous text of the Hippocratic Corpus is the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take even today upon their graduation.
Unfortunately, after the death of Hippocrates, all researches and observations on clinical case histories came to a stop. Probably his discoveries were so much respected that the physicians of the following centuries didn't dare to investigate or question them. His clinical methods were utilized by the Arabs in the Middle Ages, by the Europeans after the Renaissance and by physicians till the 17th century, when medicine started to develop again as a science.
Discover the history of Greece by periods