4

HIPPOCRATES, THE HIPPOCRATIC CORPUS AND THE DEFINING OF MEDICINE

Except for the Bible, no document and no author from Antiquity commands the authority in the twenty-first century of Hippocrates of Cos and the Hippocratic Oath. 1 They are regularly cited in both learned journals and the popular press as the standard of ethical conduct to which all practising physicians should adhere. In medical schools around the world students give assent to principles and words they believe go back to the Father of Medicine, and in the eyes of their prospective patients failure to live up to his prescriptions for competence and morality is the greatest of all medical sins. Revised, bowdlerised, set to music and made into a CD-Rom, updated or denounced, the Oath has made Hippocrates a familiar name even today, appealed to as the creator of the modern medical profession. 2 It may then come as a shock to learn that almost nothing is known of Hippocrates himself, that he is unlikely personally to have devised the Oath, and that several passages in the Hippocratic Corpus describe practices that would have involved a doctor in breaking it, even assuming that he ever had sworn it, which is itself unlikely. 3

This discrepancy between what is generally believed about Hippocrates and what he may in reality have said or done is the result of three converging tendencies. The first is the understandable wish of Greeks and Romans to know more about the great figures from the past; the second, the gradual accretion, whether deliberate or accidental, of anonymous or suppositious treatises around more genuine writings; the third, the growth of a Hippocratic tradition of interpretation that emphasised the value of certain treatises above others and the consequent belief that these in particular came from the pen of the master. Together they allowed free rein to the imagination of those who wished to reconstruct the life of Hippocrates on the basis of information contained in texts in the Hippocratic Corpus. 4

The Greek habit of composing imaginary speeches or letters by famous persons from the past as school exercises and public display pieces gradually blurred the distinction between the genuine and the false. A group of letters and speeches which on grounds of style, content and historical detail must have

-53-

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Ancient Medicine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Note to the Reader ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • 1 - Sources and Scope 1
  • 2 - Patterns of Disease 19
  • 3 - Before Hippocrates 37
  • 4 - Hippocrates, the Hippocratic Corpus and the Defining of Medicine 53
  • 5 - Hippocratic Theories 72
  • 6 - Hippocratic Practices 87
  • 7 - Religion and Medicine in Fifth- and Fourth-Century Greece 103
  • 8 - From Plato to Praxagoras 115
  • 9 - Alexandria, Anatomy and Experimentation 128
  • 10 - Hellenistic Medicine 140
  • 11 - Rome and the Transplantation of Greek Medicine 157
  • 12 - The Consequences of Empire: Pharmacology, Surgery and the Roman Army 171
  • 13 - The Rise of Methodism 187
  • 14 - Humoral Alternatives 202
  • 15 - The Life and Career of Galen 216
  • 16 - Galenic Medicine 230
  • 17 - All Sorts and Conditions of (Mainly) Men 248
  • 18 - Medicine and the Religions of the Roman Empire 273
  • 19 - Medicine in the Later Roman Empire 292
  • 20 - Conclusion 310
  • Notes 317
  • Bibliography 419
  • Index of Names 465
  • Index of Topics 478
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