Hippocrates: The Greek Father of Modern Medicine



Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Marble relief 5th century BC / Wikimedia Commons

Born on The island of Kos, c. 460 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine, as he was the first known physician who believed that diseases were caused by some type of natural action instead of being instigated by the spirits or gods.

In addition to recognizing that disease is not caused by supernatural forces, Hippocrates invented clinical medicine and what we know today as the doctor-patient relationship.

Perhaps most amazingly of all, he was the first known physician to recognize that thoughts and emotions arise in the brain rather than the heart.

Hippocrates also was the medical practitioner who created an oath of conduct for physicians which has remained influential for 2,500 years.

Born to wealthy parents called Heracleides and Praxithea, Hippocrates received a very good education when he was child. He is said to have studied medicine under his father and another physician, Herodicos, And learning how to treat patients from them.

Hippocrates was the girst physician to name cancer (karkinos, Greek fror crab). The word came from the appearance of the cut surface of a solid malignant tumor, with the veins stretched on all sides as crab’s feet.

Hippocrates’ conception of cancer was the humoral theory, as he believed that the body contained four humors (body fluids) — namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Any imbalance of these fluids would result in disease and excess of black bile in a particular organ site was thought to cause cancer.

The ancient Greek physician believed that diet is important in a person’s life and a good diet could keep them healthy. He also believed that a proper diet could have healing qualities for certain ailments. He placed great importance to what a patient eats or what foods should avoid. He often used lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise to treat diseases such as diabetes.

Hippocrates treated and healed many people and his dedication became apparent when he fought the plague in Athens for three years, from 430 to 427 BC. However, the peak of his medical career occurred during the time of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

Later, Hippocrates taught medicine to his own sons, Draco and Thessalus and created a medical school on Kos around the year 400 BC. One of the main tenets he inculcated into his students was that it was important to keep a record of the patient’s condition and symptoms.

Very little is known about the death of Hippocrates, as there are several dates on which he may have died. A variety of sources state it was 377 BC, but others disagree.

The Hippocratic Corpus

There are about 70 books attributed Hippocrates, considered to be the oldest known books about medicine. Known as the Hippocratic Corpus, his body of work was written for physicians and pharmacists while others were written for the layman.

In some of the great physician’s books, each of the subjects was written with a particular reader or student in mind.

In his writings and advice to patients, the ancient Greek doctor recommended diet and physical exercise as a cure for some ailments. For those who who could not follow the particular advice, however, he recommended medicine.

He also practised physiotherapy, such as putting a dislocated shoulder back into place.

Hippocrates was the first known medical practitioner to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and use terms such as exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence.

The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath is a text addressingmedical practice ethics and morals which has for many centuries been attributed to the ancient Greek physician. However, new information indicates it could possibly have been written after his death.

Nevertheless, it is still believed by many to be the most famous document of the entire Hippocratic Corpus.

Although the Hippocratic Oath today is not followed in its original form, it remains the foundation for many other oaths or laws which address the good practices and morals of medicine. These oaths are commonly taken by today’s medical school graduates.

Regardless of the use of the original Hippocratic Oath today, the ancient Greek physician can undoubtedly be considered the “Father of Medicine.” His many contributions revolutionized the practice of medicine and set the standards of the medical profession today.

His teaching also laid the groundwork for the practice of medicine to be improved on in the millennia to come.

It is no coincidence that the advancement of the practice of medicine stalled after his death. In fact, it took centuries before significant improvements to his methods were made. Very unfortunately, after him the practice of taking clinical case-histories on patients died out for a very long period.

In his book “Breakthrough!: How the 10 Greatest Discoveries in Medicine Saved Millions and Changed Our View of the World,” author Jon Queijo cogently argues that the only reason many of us are alive today is thanks to the great medical discoveries which only began with Hippocrates’ brilliant ideas.

The following is the text of the original Hippocratic Oath:

THE OATH OF HIPPOCRATES OF KOS

I swear by Apollo the physician, by Aesculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and judgment the following oath:

To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him; to look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and to the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone, the precepts and the instruction. I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my art. I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by specialists in this art. In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction, and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or outside of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.