Ancient Greek Medicine

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Ancient Greek Medicine

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 using things such as plants and herbs, then finally practising surgery on the human body using different instruments.

Before the scientific method developed, most people still 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 ...

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...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, “After 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.

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