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

By James Longrigg | Go to book overview

2

Ionian natural philosophy and the origins of rational medicine

Primoque medendi scientia sapientiae pars habebatur.

(Celsus, De medicina, Proem, 6)

Our earliest evidence of Greek medicine reveals, then, that, as in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the causation of disease and the operation of the remedies applied to the sick were so linked with superstitious beliefs in magic and supernatural causation that a rational understanding of disease, its effect upon the body, or of the operation of remedies applied to it was impossible. The sixty-odd works of the Hippocratic Corpus, however, provide a striking contrast and are virtually free from magic and supernatural intervention. 1 Here, in this collection, for the first time in the history of medicine complete treatises have survived which display an entirely rational outlook towards disease, whose causes and symptoms are now accounted for in purely natural terms. The importance of this revolutionary innovation for the subsequent development of medicine can hardly be overstressed. This emancipation of (some) medicine from magic and superstition, was the outcome of precisely the same attitude of mind which the Milesian natural philosophers were the first to apply to the world about them. For it was their attempts to explain the world in terms of its visible constituents without recourse to supernatural intervention which ultimately paved the way for the transition to rational explanation in medicine, too.

Like their poetical predecessors in ancient Greece, these Ionian thinkers firmly believed that there was an orderliness inherent in the world about them; they believed in a universe regulated by causal laws. The alternation of day and night, the regularities of springtime and harvest, the regular procession of the heavenly

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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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