2. The Hippocratic Collection
We are now in a position to attempt a brief
analysis of the Corpus Hippocraticum.
moment the external evidence of Galen and other
ancient commentators, for or against the authenticity
of the various treatises, will be passed over. This
evidence is of great importance, but may tend to
obscure the issue, which is the mutual affinities of
the treatises as shown by their style and content.
In the first place the heterogeneous character of
should be observed. It contains :--
(1) Text-books for physicians ;
(2) Text-books for laymen ;
(3) Pieces of research or collection of material for
(4) Lectures or essays for medical students and
(5) Essays by philosophers who were perhaps not
practising physicians, but laymen interested in
medicine and anxious to apply to it the methods of
(6) Note-books or scrap-books.
Even single works often exhibit the most varied
characteristics. It is as though loose sheets had
been brought together without any attempt at coordination
or redaction. Epidemics I.
, for instance,
jumps with startling abruptness from a " constitution "
of the diseases prevalent at one period in
Thasos to the function of the physician in an illness,
passing on to a few disjointed remarks on pains in the
head and neck. Then follows another " constitution,"
after which comes an elaborate classification of the
ordinary fevers, with their periods, paroxysms and
crises. At the end come fourteen clinical histories.
I have already mentioned a pre-Hippocratic group
and a Hippocratic group, and it has been noticed
that the main task of Greek medicine was to free
science from superstition and from philosophic hypotheses.
contains two polemical works,
and Ancient Medicine
, which attack respectively
the " divine " origin of disease and the
intrusion into medicine of the hypothetical speculation
There is another group of works which, while
they do not display to any marked degree the
Hippocratic characteristics, are nevertheless practical
handbooks of medicine, physiology or anatomy. The
list is a long one, and includes works by different
authors and of different schools :--
Places in Man.
Nature of the Bones.
Diseases II. and III.1
Use of Liquids.
Seventh Month Child.
Eighth Month Child.
Nature of the Child.5
Diseases of Women.7
Diseases of Girls.
Nature of Women.
Excision of the Foetus.
Regimen in Health.9
Another most important group of works consists
of those in which the philosophic element predominates
over the scientific, the writers being anxious,
not to advance the practice of medicine, but to bring
medicine under the control of philosophic dogma,
to achieve in fact the end attacked by the writer of
These works are Nutriment, Regimen
The first two are Heraclitean ; the
last is probably derived from Diogenes of Apollonia.
, however, while strongly Heraclitean, is
eclectic. Animals are said to be composed of two
elements, fire and water, fire being a composite of
the hot and the dry, water of the cold and the
moist. Certain sentences are strikingly reminiscent
of Anaxagoras, so much so that it is impossible to
regard the resemblances as accidental. Take for
instance the following :--
(1) ἀπόλλυται μὲν οὐν οὐδὲν ἁπάντων χορμάτων
οὐδὲ γίνεται ὅτι μὴ καὶ πρός1θεν ἠν
. ξυμμις1γόμενα δὲ
καὶ διακρινόμενα ἀλλοιοῦται
(2) οὐδὲν γὰρ χρῆμα γίνεται οὐδὲ ἀπόλλυται
, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπὸ
ἐόντων χρημάτων ς1υμμίς1γεταί τε καὶ διακρίνεται
To assign exact dates to these works is impossible,
but they are probably much later than Heraclitus
himself. The interesting fact remains that Heraclitus
had followers who kept his doctrine alive,
second-rate thinkers, perhaps, and unknown in the
history of science, but hearty supporters of a creed,
and ready to extend it to embrace all new know
ledge as it was discovered. Particularly interesting
is the work Nutriment.
This not only adopts the
theory of Heraclitus, but also mimics his sententious
and mysterious manner of expression. A few examples
may not be out of place.
φύς1ις2 ἐξαρκέει πάντα πᾶς1ιν
[sc. ὁ θεῖος2 νόμος2
] . . . καὶ ἐξαρκέει
μία φύς1ις2 εἶναι καὶ μὴ εἶναι
εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν
.--Heraclitus Alleg. Hom.
ὁδὸς2 ἄνω κάτω
ὁδὸς2 ἄνω καὶ κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή
Hippolyt. IX. 10.
πρός2 τι πάντα φλαῦρα καὶ πάντα ἀς1τεῖα
θάλας1ς1α ὕδωρ καθαρώτατον καὶ μιαρώτατον
μὲν πότιμον καὶ ς1ωτήριον
, ἀνθρώποις2 δὲ ἄποτον καὶ
Hippolyt. IX. 10.
χωρεῖ δὲ πάντα καὶ θεῖα καὶ ἀνθρώπεια
, ἄνω καὶ κάτω
Similar to these philosophic treatises are the
or displays, which propound theses
which are not the ὑποθές1εις2
of philosophers. These
are The Art
, the object of which is to show that
an art of medicine, and Nature of Man
which combats the monist philosophers, and sets
forth the doctrine of the four humours as the cause
of health, by their perfect crasis
, and of disease,
through a disturbance of that crasis.
To this group
we may perhaps add the treatise Decorum
deals (among other things) with bed-side manners,
, a work similar in style and subject.
The last two works are interesting for their introductory
medicine and philosophy, which term is used to
denote the philosophic spirit, with its moral as well
as its intellectual attributes, and recognises the
working of an agency not human ; it is in fact
typical of the ethical science, practical if occasionally
commonplace, which came into vogue towards
the end of the fourth century B.C. The introduction
is Epicurean. The first chapter, in
fact, is a summary of Epicurean epistemology, and
is full of the technical terms of that school. A
single quotation will suffice :--
ὁ γὰρ λογις1μὸς2 μνήμη τίς2 ἐς1τι ξυνθετικὴ τῶν μετ᾽
αἰς1θής1ιος2 ληφθέντων: ἐφαντας1ιώθη γὰρ ἐναργέως2 ἡ
, προπαθὴς2 καὶ ἀναπομπὸς2 ἐοῦς1α εἰς2 διάνοιαν τῶν
This definition of λογις1μός2
is practically the same
as that of the Epicurean πρόληψις2
given in Diogenes
Laertius X. 33.
A few of the contents of the Corpus Hippocraticum
remain unclassified. Of these, by far the most
Hippocratic are Epidemics II., IV. VII.
It is indeed
remarkable that in antiquity they were not generally
assigned to the " great " Hippocrates. The clinical
histories are invaluable, although they are not so
severely pertinent as those of Epidemics I.
betraying sometimes an eye for picturesque but
The treatise curiously misnamed Fleshes
amid a variety of interesting anatomical and physiological
detail, traces of Pythagoreanism in the virtue
attached to the number seven, and of Heracliteanism
in the view put forward that warmth is the spirit
that pervades the universe.
deals with the relations of humours to
the seasons and so on.
and The Law
are small but interesting
documents throwing light on medical education and
Finally, the Epistles10
, although merely
imaginary essays, show what manner of man Hippocrates
was supposed to have been by the Greeks
of a later age.
The Hippocratic collection is a medley, with no
inner bond of union except that all the works are
written in the Ionic dialect and are connected more
or less closely with medicine or one of its allied
sciences. There are the widest possible divergences
of style, and the sharpest possible contradictions in
doctrine. The questions present themselves, why
were they united, and when did the union occur?
Littré's problem, "When was the Hippocratic
cannot be answered, for
it is more than doubtful whether, as a whole, the
collection was ever published at all. The publication
of a modern work must in no way be compared
with the circulation of a book in ancient times.
Printing and the law of copyright have created a
revolution. As soon as an ancient author let go out
of his possession a single copy of his book, it was,
to all intents and purposes, "published." Copies
might be multiplied without permission, and a
popular and useful work was no doubt often circulated
in this way. Now at least one hundred,
perhaps three hundred, years separate the writing of
the earliest work in the Corpus
from the writing
of the latest. Diocles knew the Aphorisms
probably knew Articulations
, and Menon certainly
knew two or three treatises. Aristotle himself
quotes from Nature of Man
, though he ascribes it
to Polybus. It is surely impossible to suppose with
Littré that there was anything approaching a publication
of the Corpus
by the Alexandrian librarians.
Even if they had published for the first time only
a large portion of the collection, such a momentous
event would scarcely have passed unnoticed by the
long series of commentators culminating in Galen.
The librarians of Alexandria could not have done
more than establish a canon, and if our present
collection represents their work in this direction
it was done very badly, as the most superficial critic
would not fail to notice that a great part of its
contents is neither by Hippocrates himself nor by
The Hippocratic collection is a library, or rather,
the remains of a library. What hypothesis is more
probable than that it represents the library of the
Hippocratic school at Cos? The ancient biographies
of Hippocrates relate a fable that he destroyed the
library of the Temple of Health at Cnidos (or,
according to another form of the fable, at Cos) in
order to enjoy a monopoly of the knowledge it
contained. The story shows, at least, that such
libraries existed, and indeed a school of medicine,
like that which had its home at Cos, could not
well have done without one. And what would this
library contain? The works of the greatest of the
Asclepiads, whether published or not ; valuable
works, of various dates and of different schools,
bearing on medicine and kindred subjects ; medical
records and notes by distinguished professors of
the school, for the most part unpublished ; various
books, of no great interest or value, presented to
the library or acquired by chance.
The Hippocratic collection actually corresponds
to this description. This is nearly all the historian
is justified in saying. Beyond is mere conjecture.
We can only guess when this library ceased to be
the property of the Hippocratic school, and how it
was transferred to one or other of the great libraries
which were collected in Alexandrine times, to be
re-copied and perhaps increased by volumes which
did not belong to the original collection.
It may be urged that if the Hippocratic Corpus
were originally a library, it is improbable that all the
treatises composing it would be written in Ionic. But
it is by no means certain when Ionic ceased to be the
normal medium for medical science ; for all we
know the dialect may have been in vogue until long
after the κοινή
established itself throughout the
Greek world. Moreover, we do not know what
levelling forces were at work among copyists and
librarians, inducing them to assimilate the dialects
of medical works to a recognized model. We do know,
however, that as centuries passed more and more
Ionisms, most of them spurious, were thrust upon
the Hippocratic texts. The process we can trace in
the later history of the text may well have been
going on, in a different form, in the fourth and third
It is because I regard the Hippocratic collection
as merely a library that I do not consider it worth
while to attempt an elaborate classification, like those
of Littré, Greenhill, Ermerins, and Adams. A library
is properly catalogued according to subject matter,
date, and authorship ; it is of little use to view each
separate volume in its relationship to a particular
writer. The Hippocrates of tradition and the Hippocrates
of the commentators may well be left
buried in obscurity and uncertainty. What we do
know, what must be our foundation stone, is that
certain treatises in the Corpus
are impressed with
the marks of an outstanding genius, who inherited
much but bequeathed much more. He stands for
science and against superstition and hypothetical
philosophy. The other contents of the Corpus
older or later than this nucleus, either in harmony
with its doctrines or opposed to them. More than
this we cannot hope to know for certain.