Greek Rational Medicine: Philosophy and Medicine from Alcmaeon to the Alexandrians

By James Longrigg | Go to book overview

1

Pre-rational and irrational medicine in Greece and neighbouring cultures

Morbos tum ad iram deorum relates esse.

(Celsus, De medicina, Proem, 4)

Some records of early medicine in Babylon and Egypt have survived. Although our evidence is in an incomplete and fragmentary state, it is possible to derive some general impressions from it. There is no clear indication that these ancient physicians arrived at any rational conception of disease. Diseases were considered by them to be manifestations of the displeasure of the gods or were held to be caused by the intrusion of some demon or other. The prime purpose of the physician was to appease the god or drive out the demon which had ‘possessed’ the sick person’s body. In order to do so he employed prayers, supplications, sacrifices, spells and incantations.

The ancient Babylonians lived in a world haunted by evil spirits. Whenever they fell ill, they believed that they had been seized by one of these spirits. In their suffering and impurity they sought medical aid and a return to their previous condition. The function of the healer was to help them achieve this end by removing the cause of their illness. Patients were required to atone for their sins and the angry god had to be placated. The treatment involved the employment of ritual involving sacrifice and incantations. In the following text, which conforms to the general pattern, Marduk, the city god of Babylon, is here instructed to make a clay figure in the image of the sick man and perform a ritual incantation to drive out the evil plague demon which had possessed him:


Go, my son [Marduk],
Pull off a piece of clay from the deep,

-6-

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Greek Rational Medicine: Philosophy and Medicine from Alcmaeon to the Alexandrians
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Pre-Rational and Irrational Medicine in Greece and Neighbouring Cultures 6
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy and the Origins of Rational Medicine 26
  • 3 - Philosophy and Medicine in the Fifth Century I 47
  • 4 - Philosophy and Medicine in the Fifth Century II 82
  • 5 - Post-Hippocratic Medicine I 104
  • 6 - Post-Hippocratic Medicine II 149
  • 7 - Early Alexandrian Medical Science 177
  • Appendix 220
  • Notes 227
  • Bibliography 260
  • Index Locorum 278
  • General Index 287
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