3

BEFORE HIPPOCRATES

In 1879 it was revealed to the learned world that the poet Homer had composed his Iliad while serving as deputy chief of the medical staff with Agamemnon's army before Troy. That he was a doctor was evident from the poem's remarkable emphasis on wounds and other matters medical; and his position as a staff officer was proved by his access to detailed information on the activities taking place on both sides of the front line. His vantage point, a little above the daily round of the actual fighting, showed that he was not serving on the battlefield itself, although he had seen corpses and casualties, and the position as chief of the medical staff would not have allowed him the leisure for writing of a post only a little less senior. Although this conclusion reveals more about the organisation and prejudices of the Royal Saxon Army in which Oberstabsarzt Frölich served than it does about Homer, it points to one undeniable fact: the poet chose to include many medical details and to treat them in a sophisticated way. 1

It is important to begin with Homer, not just because the Greeks themselves did, or because in his description of Machaon as 'a healer (iatros) worth many other men in cutting out arrows and spreading soothing drugs' he provided later doctors, neglectful of both the qualification in the second line and the military context, with a warrant for their sense of general superiority over the rest of mankind. 2 The Homeric poems afford us a glimpse of medical ideas and practices long before any of our strictly medical literature, and although their information cannot be taken back to the heroic days of Agamemnon and Odysseus, it can be used to illustrate what the poet's audience would have expected or taken for granted in the late eighth century. We may note the complex vocabulary for types of wound with which Homer expected his readers to be familiar, and the graphic descriptions of injuries, not all of which are the result of poetic imagination. 3 Frölich's belief that only a doctor could have written with such accuracy and technical precision underestimates both the necessity for a rapport between poet and audience, and, although he could not have known this in 1879, the methods of oral composition that lie behind the Iliad and Odyssey as we have them. Far from an acquaintance with medical terms and situations being the preserve of professionals alone, the poems demonstrate

-37-

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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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