Ancient Greek Medicine
Episode #3 of the course “Brief History of Medicine”
The ancient Greek physicians took the practice of medicine to new heights, founding their first medical school around 700 BCE. Based on the ideas that health was attached to natural causes, people in ancient Greece received a variety of medical opinions from experts who explored the connections between all the parts of the body. The most famous physician of ancient Greece, and one who impacted medicine more than anyone until the Renaissance, was Hippocrates. Famous for his “Hippocratic Oath,” which states that doctors should cause no harm to patients, Hippocrates promoted many treatments that were considered advanced in the ancient world.
Ancient Greek medical personnel believed that physical problems could be supported with evidence, so they would examine a patient’s body as well as take a medical history when the person came in for treatment. For patients who were housed in some of the first student hospitals, the training doctors examined the person’s bodily fluids and progression of symptoms. Doctors in ancient Greece began to experiment in a systematic way by prescribing medicines specific to illnesses rather than seek supernatural causes. They also believed in certain dietary benefits, and they promoted hygiene and clean drinking water to advance people’s health and quality of life.
The Greek city of Alexandria in Egypt is known for housing much of the knowledge in the ancient world in its famous library, which featured scrolls and scholarship on all topics of study and inquiry of the time. The Alexandrian physician Erasistratus was also able to update biology when he was allowed to perform dissection on live criminals who had been sentenced to death. Before the person died, Erasistratus observed organs working at their functions and made diagrams and thorough observations. Although brutal, these research methods brought a new level of knowledge about the body to the ancient world.
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