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MEDICI´NA (ο_ατρική), the name of that science which, as Celsus says (de Medic. lib. i. Praef.), promises health to the sick, and whose object is defined in one of the Hippocratic treatises (de Arte, vol. i. p. 7, ed. Kühn) to be “the delivering sick persons from their sufferings, and the diminishing the violence of diseases, and the not undertaking the treatment of those who are quite overcome by sickness, as we know that medicine is here of no avail.” This and other definitions of the art and science of Medicine are critically examined in Pseudo-Galen (Introduct. 100.6, vol. xiv. pp. 686-8, ed. Kühn). The invention of medicine was almost universally attributed by the ancients to the gods. (Hippoc. de Prisca Medic. vol. i. p. 39; Pseudo-Galen, Introd. c. i. p. 674; Cic. Tusc. Dis. 3.1; Plin. Nat. 29.2.) So also in Aeschylus (Pr. 478) we have the claim advanced for Prometheus, that he first taught men the art of medicine both externally applied and as potions, and there is a remarkable passage in Pindar (Pind. N. 3.45) where Aesculapius is taught by Chiron the triple art of healing by drugs, incantations, and surgical operations. Another source of information too was observing the means resorted to by animals when labouring under disease. Pliny (Plin. Nat. 8.97) gives many instances in which these instinctive efforts taught mankind the properties of various plants, and the more simple surgical operations. The wild goats of Crete pointed out the use of the dictamnus and vulnerary herbs; dogs when indisposed sought the triticum repens, and the same animal taught the Egyptians the use of purgatives, constituting the treatment called syrmaïsm. The hippopotamus introduced the practice of bleeding, and it is affirmed that the employment of clysters was shown by the ibis. (Compare Pseudo-Galen, Introd. c. i. p. 675.) Sheep with worms in their liver were seen seeking saline substances, and cattle affected with dropsy anxiously looked for chalybeate waters. We are told (Hdt. 1.197; Strabo xvi. p.348) that the Babylonians and Chaldaeans had no physicians, and that in cases of sickness the patient was carried out and exposed on the highway, in order that any of the passers-by, who had been affected in a similar manner, might give some information respecting the means that had afforded them relief. (Comp. Plut. de occulte vivendo, § 21.) Shortly afterwards, these observations of cures were suspended in the temples of the gods, and we find that in Egypt the walls of their sanctuaries were covered with records of this description. The priests of Greece adopted the same practice, and some of the curious tablets suspended in their temples will illustrate the custom. The following votive memorials are given by Hieron. Mercurialis (de Arte Gymnast. Amstel. 4to. 1672, pp. 2, 3):--“Some days back a certain Caius, who was blind, was ordered by an oracle that he should repair to the sacred altar and kneel in prayer, then cross from right to left, place his five fingers on the altar, then raise his hand and cover his eyes. [He obeyed,] and his sight was restored in the presence of the multitude, who congratulated each other that such signs [of the omnipotence of the gods] were shown in the reign of our emperor Antoninus.” “A blind soldier named Valerius Aper was ordered by the oracle to mix the blood of a white cock with honey, to make up an ointment to be applied to his eyes, for three consecutive days: he received his sight, and came and returned public thanks to the god.” “Julian appeared lost beyond all hope from a spitting of blood. The god ordered him to take from the altar some seeds of the pine, and to mix them with honey, of which mixture he was to eat for three days. He was saved, and gave thanks in presence of the people.”

With regard to the medical literature of the ancients: “When” (says Littré, Œuvres complètes d'Hippocrate, tome i. Introd. p. 3) “we search into the history of medicine and the commencement of science, the first body of doctrine that we meet with is the collection of writings known under the name of the works of Hippocrates. Science mounts up directly to that origin, and there stops. Not that it had not been cultivated earlier, and had not given rise to even numerous productions; but everything that had been made before the physician of Cos has perished. We have only scattered and unconnected fragments remaining of them; the works of Hippocrates have alone escaped destruction; and by a singular circumstance there exists a great gap after them, as well as before them. The medical works from Hippocrates to the establishment of the school of Alexandria, and those of that school itself, are completely lost, except some quotations and passages preserved in the later writers; so that the writings of Hippocrates remain isolated amongst the ruins of ancient medical literature.” The Asclepiadae, to which family Hippocrates belonged, were the supposed descendants of Aesculapius (Ἀσκλήπιος), and were in a manner the hereditary physicians of Greece. They professed to have among them certain secrets of the medical art, which had been handed down to them from their great progenitor, and founded several medical schools in different parts of the world. Galen mentions (de Meth. Med. 1.1, vol. x. pp. 5, 6) three, viz. Rhodes, Cnidos, and Cos. The first of these appears soon to have become extinct, and has left no traces of its existence behind. From the second proceeded a collection of observations called Κνίδιαι Γνῶμαι, “Cnidian Sentences,” a work of much reputation in early times, which is mentioned by Hippocrates (de Rat. Vict. in Morb. Acut. vol. ii. p. 25), and which appears to have existed in the time of Galen (Comment. in Hippocr. lib. cit. vol. xv. p. 427). The school of Cos, however, is by far the most celebrated, on account of the greater number of eminent physicians that sprang from it, among whom was the great Hippocrates. We learn from Herodotus (iii. [p. 2.153]131) that there were also two celebrated medical schools at Crotona in Magna Graecia, and at Cyrene in Africa, of which he says that the former was in his time more esteemed in Greece than any other, and in the next place came that of Cyrene. In subsequent times the medical profession was divided into different sects; but a detailed account of their opinions would be out of place in the present work. The oldest and perhaps the most influential of these sects was that of the Dogmatici, founded about B.C. 400 by Thessalus, the son, and Polybus, the son-in-law of Hippocrates, and thence called also the Hippocratici. These retained their influence till the rise of the Empirici, founded by Serapion of Alexandria and Philinus of Cos, in the third century B.C., and so called because they professed to derive their knowledge from experience only. After this time every member of the medical profession during a long period ranged himself under one of these two sects. In the first century B.C., Themison founded the sect of the Methodici, who held doctrines nearly intermediate between those of the two sects already mentioned; and who, about two centuries later, were subdivided into numerous sects, as the doctrines of particular physicians became more generally received. The chief of these sects were the Pneumatici and the Eclectici; the former founded by Athenaeus about the middle or end of the first century A.D.; the latter about the same time, either by Agathinus of Sparta or his pupil Archigenes.

It only remains to mention the principal medical authors after Hippocrates whose works are still extant, referring for more particulars respecting their writings to the articles in the Dictionary of Biography. Celsus is supposed to have lived in the Augustan age, and deserves to be mentioned more for the elegance of his style, and the neatness and judiciousness of his compilation, than for any original contributions to the science of Medicine. Dioscorides of Anazarba, who lived in the first century after Christ, was for many centuries the greatest authority in Materia Medica, and was almost as much esteemed as Galen in Medicine and Physiology, or Aristotle in Philosophy. Aretaeus, who probably lived in the time of Nero, is an interesting and striking writer, both from the elegance of his language and the originality of his opinions. Caelius Aurelianus, whose matter is excellent, but the style quite barbarous. The next in chronological order, and perhaps the most valuable, as he is certainly by far the most voluminous, of all the medical writers of antiquity, is Galen, who reigned supreme in all matters relating to medical science from the third century till the commencement of modern times. After him the only writers deserving particular notice are Oribasius of Pergamus, physician to the Emperor Julian in the fourth century; Aëtius of Amida, who lived probably in the sixth century; Alexander Trallianus, who lived something later; and Paulus Aegineta, who belongs to the end of the seventh.


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.197
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 29.2
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 3.1
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