English_Master February 28, 2016 No Comments


While, Greek Medicine particularly from the 5th century B. C onwards, increasingly used scientific method to develop cures, there still however remained people that considered medicine to be a religion. The ancient Greeks (Hellenic) made important discoveries about the human body and health, so by the sixth century BC, medicinal practices focused largely on a more clinical approach involving observation. Their discoveries were made by firstly studying the human anatomy using dissection and vivisection, finding ways to heal such things such as plants and herbs, then finally practicing surgery on the human body using different instruments.

Before the scientific method developed, most people saw medicine as a religion, and believed that superstitions, evil spirits, and punishments caused illness from the gods. The best-known ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, made several important medical discoveries in Ancient Greece. He was born on the island of Cos, living from 460 B.C. – 377 B. C, and is revered as the” ‘Father of Medicine’, He was the first man to make medicine a profession and to see medicine as a science and not a religion. Hippocrates devised an oath, which every new doctor still swears to this day.

Hippocrates and his followers looked at the cause of the disease rather than the symptoms. Hippocrates saw that dis­eases came from natural causes; he discovered that thought came from the brain and not from the heart, and he saw that  the body needed to be treated as a whole and not just a series of parts. The theory of the four humours originated from the works of Aristotle. The idea of Humours is usually credited to Claudius Galen, a Greek physician of the second century A. D. But although he organized the idea more accessibly, he was probably not its creator. Centuries earlier, in the fourth century B. C, Hippocrates wrote of the bodily humours in his Hippocratic Corpus.

The physician believed that the body was made up of four components or “four humours”. The four components are: Blood formed at the heart – spring – Air, Phlegm in the brain – winter’- Water, Yellow Bile in the liver – Summer-Fire and Black Bile in the spleen – autumn – Earth. Hippocrates argued that when these four fluids were out of balance disease occurred. The ideal place for a good balance of humours was (naturally) found in the centre of Greek cul­ture, namely in the Aegean and in and around Athens. The components were each linked to a different season; these physicians believed that some diseases were more common in different seasons e. g. fevers were common in Summer/Fire.

Doctors used an important practice called vivisection. Even though this was a cruel practice, medicine couldn’t be as advanced as it is today without it. Vivisection – the act of cutting open live animals for medical research (Collins Aus­tralian Dictionary 2004). In Ancient times as well as animals, this also involved cutting open humans. Vivisection and dis­section were the ways in which anatomists discovered the anatomy of the human body and the way it functioned. Vivi­section was an extremely emotional issue; people didn’t be­lieve that cutting up a human being whilst dead, let alone alive was respectful, so it was condemned in some countries. However, during the Ptolemaic age in Egypt it became possi­ble for Greek and other anatomists to dissect and vivisect in a free and unrestricted environment. This change in attitude was due to the philosophical teachings of Aristotle. The ready sup­ply of criminals able to be used for vivisection also made this controversial practice possible.

Aristotle never possessed any inclination to open a hu­man being, although he performed many dissections and vivisections on animals seen as ‘near to man’, these being Barbary apes, dogs and pigs. The only chances of his obser­vations came from a wounded mutilated person. Via vivisec­tion, anatomists found that the heart pumps blood, humans breathe through their lungs, they cut flesh from animals and watched it move independently from the heart as proof of arteries and discovered the nervous system from live brains.

Greeks knew that health and fitness (philosophy regi­men) affected their quality of life. Most people became con­cerned with the amounts of exercise they had, what they ate, drank and made sure they had enough sleep. Ancient Greeks started healing with religious methods and then scientific methods were used. Healing that was successful never in­volved medicines that perform the functions of today’s mod­ern anti-biotic. They were capable of disinfecting wounds with alcohol and certain herbs, however once an infection is set in, there was little they could do but bolster the immune sys­tem and hope. Consequently many people died in Ancient times from only minor injuries, with even small cuts proving fatal. Health was seen as a proper balance of the four hu­mours, so if these were out of balance, disease occurred. Treat­ment of a disease is an attempt to rebalance the four humours; this could be done by diet, exercise, administering purgatives, diuretics or emetics, and bloodletting.

Herbs and ointments were used to heal. For example, they used the stinging nettle as a tonic and blood purifier, and mustard was used as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. They gained much of their knowledge of essential oils from the Egyptians. They used olive oil in their enlarge processes and the aroma of some flowers was used to relax or uplift.

Those who saw medicine as a religion worshipped Apollo – god of medicine and his son Aesculapius – god of healing. The cult of Aesculapius, a religion and a system of therapeu­tics was at its peak from the fifth century B. C. to as late as four hundred A. D. Worshippers built large temple complexes all over the Mediterranean in Aesculapius’s name. Through­out the period and into the era of the Roman Empire, people would visit these temples to be healed. At the Aesculapion (one of the temples) a patient would be expected to partake in a number of rituals, which were believed to cure the sick. These rituals involved the making of sacrifices, massaging from physicians, purificatory preparation baths, fasting and finally the patient spending a night in the god’s precinct (tem­ple), a process known as ‘sleeping in’ (enkoimesis, incubation). Snakes tongues became a symbol of healing and remained an ingredient in medicinal potions well into the middle Ages. Aesculapius was often pictured carrying a staff with a snake wrapped around it and the snake staff became the caduceus, the symbol of medicine.

Healing by medicine was not always successful, so if at last a person was not able in any way to be cured and was so sick that nothing could be done to help, permission for Eu­thanasia would be granted. Pythagoreans didn’t agree with euthanasia, but if they foresaw he/she was going to have a miserable and dishonourable life, the sufferer’s decision was respected.

Some health problems couldn’t be healed using herbs or ointments and required other means. Only when absolutely necessary, after a reasonable period of observation and though did a doctor resort to surgery, which in a time without anesthetics was extremely painful and not always successful. Surgery was usually done only as long as the patient had courage and the doctor had good tools and experience. The patient’s chances of survival increased if their head or abdomen wit not involved. Trepanning was a surgical operation carried out to let evil spirits out of the patient’s head. It was a connection with religion, if someone had bad headaches, it meant they had evil spirits inside and they had to let them out.

A cursory reading of Celsus summary of surgical tech­niques as they existed in the first century showed sure knowledge of the human anatomy. A surgical ointment was some­times used after cleansing a wound called aposticon chirurgicum.

The designs of many of the medical instrument in ancient times have remained unchanged, still being used today.
Today’s instruments are used only for surgery, unlike the ancient times. With lack of knowledge in hygiene, the same instruments for other purposes. Galen mentioned that the strigil, a curved piece of metal with a handle used for scraping oil and sweat off the body after exercise was often used to get into small openings, so as Galen said, “Alter having heated  the fat of a squirrel in a strigil, insert it into the auditory canal.”

The invention of these instruments meant they improved as new shapes were devised. Gradually new metals and alloys were found to provide sharper edges and cheaper equip­ment. Most instruments were made of bronze and occasion­ally silver. Iron was never used as it was forbidden by the Greeks and so never used on religious grounds. Some instru­ments were manufactured by specialist blade makers who specialized in medical instruments rather than by an ordinary craftsman.

The Romans employed many Greek physicians and through them the Greeks discoveries in medicine gradually spread throughout the ancient world. Greece was a country that gave birth to some of the most important medical pioneers in human history. Through Continuous studies, they changed people from seeing medicine as a religion. Their study of disease and the human body to the scientific method has resulted in the advanced medical knowledge we have today.