With Hippocrates of Kos the ancient Greek medicine came out of the pre-scientific phase, linked to magical-religious practices and beliefs, and was organized around a rational, rigorous and scientific methodology

Hippocrates ( Kos, about 460 BC - Làrissa, around 370 BC)

Considered the father of medicine, Hippocrates was born of an aristocratic family belonging to the medical corporation of the Asclèpiadi, he studied medicine under the guidance of his father, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Asclepius, god of medicine. To deepen the methodologies of care elaborated by his contemporaries, he makes some journeys in Egypt and Libya. On his return to Kos, the native island, he founded the most important Greek medical school . He also visits Athens, where he holds courses that give him fame, also because he helps to free the city from the plague of 429 BC, but above all, he becomes famous for his activity as a teacher.

The passage, between a medicine linked to magic-religious practices and beliefs to a rigorous and empirical rational, is marked, however, by a legend that sees Hippocrates leaving the temple of Asclepius after an alleged fire with the tablets of the deities. Those who opposed his theories accused him of having stolen the compromising writings. Most of his fellow citizens, however, interpreted the story differently: they argued that Hippocrates, as an incarnation of the god, saved the sacred tables. In the so-called Corpus hippocraticum, which contains all the production of ancient Greek medicine (about 70 texts), only a few works can be attributed to him: " On ancient medicine ", " On the air, the waters and places ", " On the disease sacred ", " Prognostic ", " On the regime of acute diseases ", " Epidemics ", and" Aforism i ".

The medicine before Hippocrates

Before Hippocrates, medicine was of the theurgic type. The disease, according to this approach, was considered a divine punishment, (a concept found in many Greek works, such as the Iliad ), which only a magical-ritual intervention operated by the priests could heal. Even the diagnosis itself was practiced according to divination methods. In that period in fact the incubation was used: the patient was put to sleep in the temple of Asclepius (the most famous is that of Epidaurus) or in the caves, and through the dream, the god provided the explanation and treatment of the disease. He was the god himself who punished with the disease and he himself would bestow healing, with his appearance during the therapeutic dream . Thus, healing took place through the encounter with the divinity who supervised, protected and advised the individual in pursuit of health.

The medicine of Hippocrates

The work of Hippocrates presents traits so innovative that he can be considered the founder of medical science. He gave for the first time an autonomous and specific character to the medical practice, giving it the dignity of a technique, based on a scientific method. The first fundamental aspect of Hippocratic medicine was that of separating the ritualistic-priestly aspect from medicine.

The diagnosis: the importance and centrality of experience, of careful and systematic observation of symptoms, allowed the physician to go back to the physical causes (no longer divine) of the pathology, building an overall and coherent theoretical framework, from which it then descended the choice of therapy. Often the description of the symptoms and the prescription of the cure to be adopted follow very ancient formulas present in the Mesopotamian and Egyptian priestly texts, but in the case of the Hippocratic writings the analogy is only external, because the doctor strongly contested the application of the mantic method to diagnostics, contrasting "divination" with " conjecturing " based on the symptoms of evil. The assumption of this form of deductive reasoning applied to the recurrence of certain symptoms had an enormous influence on Greek thought.

The external causes of diseases: in the work "On the airs, the waters and the places", the master of Kos traces one of the most magnificent etiology programs in the whole history of medicine, in which the causes were gathered in three main groups: l environment (the influence of climatic, environmental, but also social and psychological factors of the patient), which at times could directly promote the disease, but more often presented itself as a contributory cause compared to the pathogenic alterations of the regime (diet and nutrition and the habits of the patient) and the traumas (wounds, or bone-muscle injuries).

The internal causes of the disease: besides the aforementioned causes caused by external factors, Hippocrates, taking up an idea that went back to the Pythagorean Alcmaeon, maintained that the disease arose when there was a break in the balance between the four fundamental humors . Thus was born the " Humoral Theory ", according to which our body would be governed by four different humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm), which when combined in different ways would lead to health ( crasis ), in case these are in proportions and balance, or illness ( dyscrasia ), if one or more than one were in excess. In order to be eliminated, the humors had first to be modified with a process that Hippocrates called " co-ordination ". The period between this process and healing was called " crisis ".

Therapy: the cure for these imbalances would derive from the qualities contrary to mood, which caused the disease, possessed by herbs and medicinal plants. If, for example, an excess of heat occurred (hot-dry humor) the associated remedy would have been a refreshing plant (from cold-dried juices). In addition to this we owe the importance of the concept of diet and nutrition, within the doctrine of moods and the combination of medicine and surgery (for example through purges and bleeding, for the elimination of excess moods).

The figure of the doctor: The love for knowledge and trust in reason, but above all the dedication to one's art and respect for the sick characterize "the one who heals". These universal and timeless values ​​were fixed in the famous Hippocratic Oath, which still today are valid and shared by the medical profession.

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