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Coction

The course of our inquiry has brought us to the doctrine of "coction" (πέψις). Familiar as a modern is with the difference between chemical blending and mechanical mixture, it is difficult for him to appreciate fairly theories put forward when this difference was unknown, and the human mind was struggling with phenomena it had not the power to analyse, and trying to express what was really beyond its reach. We must try to see things as the Greek physician saw them.

We have in Chapters XVIII and XIX of Ancient Medicine the most complete account of coction as the ancient physician conceived of it. It is really the process which leads to κρᾶς1ις as its result. It is neither purely mechanical nor yet what we should call chemical; it is the action which so combines the opposing humours that there results a perfect fusion of them all. No one is left in excess so as to cause trouble or pain to the human individual. The writer takes three types of illnesses--the common cold, ophthalmia and pneumonia--and shows that as they grow better the discharges become less acrid and thicker as the result of πέψις.

In one respect the writer of Ancient Medicine is not a trustworthy guide to the common conception of πέψις. He attached but little importance to heat, and it can scarcely be doubted that the action of heat upon the digestibility of foods, and the heat which accompanies the process of digestion itself,

[p. lii] must have coloured the notion of πέψις as generally held. It is true that we read little about innate heat in the Hippocratic collection, but that is an accident, and it certainly was thought to have a powerful influence upon the bodily functions.1

A disease was supposed to result when the equilibrium of the humours, from some "exciting cause" or other (πρόφας1ις), was disturbed, and then nature, that is the constitution of the individual (φύς1ις), made every effort she could through coction to restore the necessary κρᾶς1ις.

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