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Greek and Roman medicine



The Hippocratic Corpus, is a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece strongly associated with the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and his teachings.

 

The first known Greek medical school opened in Cnidus in 700 BC. Alcmaeon, author of the first anatomical work, worked at this school, and it was here that the practice of observing patients was established. As was the case elsewhere, the ancient Greeks developed a humoral medicine system where treatment sought to restore the balance of humours within the body.

 

Temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius, known as Asclepieia (Greek: Ἀσκληπιεῖα, sing. Ἀσκληπιεῖον, 'Asclepieion), functioned as centers of medical advice, prognosis, and healing. At these shrines, patients would enter a dream-like state of induced sleep known as "enkoimesis" (Greek: ενκοίμησις) not unlike anesthesia, in which they either received guidance from the deity in a dream or were cured by surgery. Asclepeia provided carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing. In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, three large marble boards dated to 350 BC preserve the names, case histories, complaints, and cures of about 70 patients who came to the temple with a problem and shed it there. Some of the surgical cures listed, such as the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material, are realistic enough to have taken place, but with the patient in a state of enkoimesis induced with the help of soporific substances such as opium.

 

A towering figure in the history of medicine was the physician Hippocrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC), considered the "father of modern medicine." The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece strongly associated with Hippocrates and his students. Most famously, Hippocrates invented the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, which is still relevant and in use today.

 

Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical conditions. He is given credit for the first description of clubbing of the fingers, an important diagnostic sign in chronic suppurative lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease. For this reason, clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as "Hippocratic fingers". Hippocrates was also the first physician to describe Hippocratic face in Prognosis. Shakespeare famously alludes to this description when writing of Falstaff's death in Act II, Scene iii. of Henry V.



 

Hippocrates began to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and use terms such as, "exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence." Another of Hippocrates's major contributions may be found in his descriptions of the symptomatology, physical findings, surgical treatment and prognosis of thoracic empyema, i.e. suppuration of the lining of the chest cavity. His teachings remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery. Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his findings are still valid.

 

View of the Askleipion of Kos, the best preserved instance of an Asklepieion.

 

The Plinthios Brokhos as described by Greek physician Heraklas, a sling for binding a fractured jaw. These writings were preserved in one of Oribasius' collections.

Herophilus of Chalcedon, working at the medical school of Alexandria placed intelligence in the brain, and connected the nervous system to motion and sensation. Herophilus also distinguished between veins and arteries, noting that the latter pulse while the former do not. He and his contemporary, Erasistratus of Chios, researched the role of veins and nerves, mapping their courses across the body. Erasistratus connected the increased complexity of the surface of the human brain compared to other animals to its superior intelligence. He sometimes employed experiments to further his research, at one time repeatedly weighing a caged bird, and noting its weight loss between feeding times. In Erasistratus' physiology, air enters the body, is then drawn by the lungs into the heart, where it is transformed into vital spirit, and is then pumped by the arteries throughout the body. Some of this vital spirit reaches the brain, where it is transformed into animal spirit, which is then distributed by the nerves.

 

The Greek Galen was one of the greatest surgeons of the ancient world and performed many audacious operations—including brain and eye surgeries— that were not tried again for almost two millennia. Later, in medieval Europe, Galen's writings on anatomy became the mainstay of the medieval physician's university curriculum along; but they suffered greatly from stasis and intellectual stagnation. In the 1530s, however, Belgian anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius took on a project to translate many of Galen's Greek texts into Latin. Vesalius's most famous work, De humani corporis fabrica, was greatly influenced by Galenic writing and form.The works of Galen and Avicenna, especially The Canon of Medicine which incorporated the teachings of both, were translated into Latin, and the Canon remained the most authoritative text on anatomy in European medical education until the 16th century.

 

The Romans invented numerous surgical instruments, including the first instruments unique to women, as well as the surgical uses of forceps, scalpels, cautery, cross-bladed scissors, the surgical needle, the sound, and speculas. Romans also performed cataract surgery.

 

Medieval medicine was an evolving mixture of the scientific and the spiritual like Unani. In the early Middle Ages, following the fall of the Roman Empire, standard medical knowledge was based chiefly upon surviving Greek and Roman texts, preserved in monasteries and elsewhere. Ideas about the origin and cure of disease were not, however, purely secular, but were also based on a spiritual world view, in which factors such as destiny, sin, and astral influences played as great a part as any physical cause.

 

Oribasius was the greatest Byzantine compiler of medical knowledge. Several of his works, along with many other Byzantine physicians, were translated into Latin, and eventually, during the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, into English and French. The last great Byzantine Physician was John Actuarius, who lived in the early 14th century in Constantinople.





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