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EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.


Apollo--Æsculapius--Temples--Serpents--Gods of
Health--Melampus--Homer--Machaon--Podalarius--Temples of
Æsculapius--Methods of Treatment--Gymnasia--Classification of
Renouard--Pythagoras--Democedes--Greek Philosophers.



The history of healing begins in the Hellenic mythology with Apollo, the god of light and the promoter of health. In the "Iliad" he is hailed as the disperser of epidemics, and, in this respect, the ancients were well informed in attributing destruction of infection to the sun's rays. Chiron, the Centaur, it was believed, was taught by Apollo and Artemis, and was the teacher, in turn, of Æsculapius, who probably lived in the thirteenth century before Christ and was ultimately deified as the Greek god of medicine. Pindar relates of him:--

"On some the force of charmèd strains he tried, To some the medicated draught applied; Some limbs he placed the amulets around, Some from the trunk he cut, and made the patient sound."[1]

Æsculapius was too successful in his art, for his death was attributed to Zeus, who killed him by a flash of lightning, or to Pluto, both of whom were thought to have feared that Æsculapius might by his skill gain the mastery over death.

Amid much that is mythological in the history of Æsculapius, there is a groundwork of facts. Splendid temples were built to him in lovely and healthy places, usually on a hill or near a spring; they were visited by the sick, and the priests of the temples not only attended to the worship of Æsculapius, but took pains to acquire knowledge of the healing art. The chief temple was at Epidaurus, and here the patients were well provided with amusements, for close to the temple was a theatre capable of seating 12,000 people, and a stadium built to accommodate 20,000 spectators.

A serpent entwined round a knotted staff is the symbol of Æsculapius. A humorist of the present day has suggested that the knots on the staff indicate the numerous "knotty" questions which a doctor is asked to solve! Tradition states that when Æsculapius was in the house of his patient, Glaucus, and deep in thought, a serpent coiled itself around his staff. Æsculapius killed it, and then another serpent appeared with a herb leaf in its mouth, and restored the dead reptile to life. It seems probable that disease was looked upon as a poison. Serpents produced poison, and had a reputation in the most ancient times for wisdom, and for the power of renovation, and it was thought that a creature which could produce poison and disease might probably be capable of curing as well as killing. Serpents were kept in the Temples of Æsculapius, and were non-poisonous and harmless. They were given their liberty in the precincts of the temple, but were provided with a serpent-house or den near to the altar. They were worshipped as the incarnation of the god, and were fed by the sick at the altar with "popana," or sacrificial cakes.

[Illustration: From Wellcome's Medical Diary (Copyright) By permission of Burroughs Wellcome & Co.

Plate II.--HYGEIA

The Greek Deity of Health.]

Many of the Greek gods and goddesses were held to have power over disease. Hygeia, known as Salus to the Romans, was said to have been the daughter of Æsculapius, and to have taken care of the sacred serpents (Plate II).

Melampus was considered by the Greeks the first mortal to practise healing. In one case he prescribed rust, probably the earliest use of iron as a drug, and he also used hellebore root as a purgative. He married a princess and was given part of a kingdom as a reward for his services. After his death he was awarded divine honours, and temples were erected for his worship. The deification of Æsculapius and of Melampus added much to the prestige of doctors in Greece, where they were always held in honour; but in Rome the practice of medicine was not considered a highly honourable calling.

Something can be learned from the writings of Homer of the state of medicine in his time, although we need hardly expect to find in an epic poem many references to diseases and their cure. As dissection was considered a profanation of the body, anatomical knowledge was exceedingly meagre. Machaon was surgeon to Menelaus and Podalarius was the pioneer of phlebotomy. Both were regarded as the sons of Æsculapius; they were soldiers as well as doctors, and fought before the walls of Troy. The surgery required by Homer's heroes was chiefly that of the battlefield. Unguents and astringents were in use in the physician's art, and there is reference to "nepenthe," a narcotic drug, and also to the use of sulphur as a disinfectant. Doctors, according to Homer, were held in high esteem, and Arctinus relates that two divisions were recognized, surgeons and physicians, the former held in less honour than the latter--"Then Asclepius (Æsculapius) bestowed the power of healing upon his two sons; nevertheless, he made one of the two more celebrated than the other; on one did he bestow the lighter hand that he might draw missiles from the flesh, and sew up and heal all wounds; but the other he endowed with great precision of mind, so as to understand what cannot be seen, and to heal seemingly incurable diseases."[2]

Machaon fought in the army of Nestor. Fearing for his safety, King Idomeneus placed him under the charge of Nestor, who was instructed to take the doctor into his chariot, for "a doctor is worth many men." When Menelaus was wounded, a messenger was sent for Machaon, who extracted the barbed arrow, sucked the wound and applied a secret ointment made known to Æsculapius by Chiron the Centaur, according to tradition.

[Illustration: From Wellcome's Medical Diary (Copyright) By permission of Burroughs Wellcome & Co.

Table of Contents


  OUTLINES OF
  GREEK AND ROMAN
  PREFACE.
  EARLY ROMAN MEDICINE.
  EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.
  MACHAON (SON OF ASKLEPIOS),
  HIPPOCRATES.
  "THE LAW.
  "THE OATH.
  PLATO, ARISTOTLE, THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA AND EMPIRICISM.
  THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL.
  ROMAN MEDICINE AT THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEGINNING OF THE
  IN THE REIGN OF THE
  PHYSICIANS FROM THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS TO THE DEATH OF NERO.
  THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
  GALEN.
  I.--WORKS ON ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.
  II.--WORKS ON DIETETICS AND HYGIENE.
  III.--ON PATHOLOGY.
  IV.--ON DIAGNOSIS.
  V.--ON PHARMACY, MATERIA MEDICA, AND THERAPEUTICS.
  VI.--SURGERY.
  THE LATER ROMAN AND BYZANTINE PERIOD.
  INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON ALTRUISM AND THE HEALING ART.
  ROMAN HOSPITALS.
  GYMNASIA AND BATHS.
  GYMNASTICS.
  GREEK AND BATHS
  SANITATION.
  THE WATER-SUPPLY.
  DRAINAGE.
  DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
  APPENDIX.
  FEES IN ANCIENT TIMES.
  INDEX.


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