5

HIPPOCRATIC THEORIES

When the Anonymus Londinensis papyrus was first published, in 1893, it created a considerable stir because it contradicted what had for centuries been the traditional understanding of Hippocratic medicine. 1 The immediate debate centred largely upon the so-called Hippocratic question, the identification of the source or sources of the ideas attributed in the papyrus to the historical Hippocrates, and upon the authorship, and by implication the reliability, of the doxographical sections that the anonymous author had taken over from Aristotle. 2 Less attention was given to the actual theories described in the papyrus, despite the fact that many of the authors named in it were previously unknown. That many of them flourished in the first half of the fourth century was a further reason to omit them from consideration in a study of Hippocratic medicine in the fifth. This excuse for neglect becomes less cogent, however, when one examines the Hippocratic Corpus as a whole (since many of the texts contained therein are likely also to come from the fourth century), and it is certainly out of place in any study of Greek medicine in general.

The Aristotelian section of the papyrus opens with the unequivocal statement, probably by the writer himself, that there has been a considerable disagreement (stasis) over just what causes disease. Some believe that diseases result from residues, whether produced pathologically or as natural bodily secretions; others from changes in the body's elements. 3 Although this emphasis on disagreement may simply be an heuristic device to assist in classification and can be found in many similar ancient lists of philosophical and medical doctrines, there can be no doubt that both here and in the Hippocratic Corpus is to be found a variety of competing solutions to the same question: what is disease or illness? 4 Yet it is also clear that there are many similarities between all the authors, whatever their theories and wherever and whenever they were active. All provide entirely natural explanations for disease and assume that whatever cause they have identified is a universal cause, applicable to all or most conditions. Some authors thought in terms of more than one cause: Ninyas distinguished congenital from non-congenital conditions, while stressing the effects of harmful residues produced from nutriment; Philistion held that there were three general causes, an imbalance between the body's elements,

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