Ancient Greek Medicine

Notes on Ancient Greek medicine

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Supernatural causes and cures: The Greeks believed Gods lived on Mount Olympus and they believed that they could influence peoples lives.

They believed the God Asclepius was the God of healing and that visitng Asclepions (healing temples) would cure them from disease as they would get help from the God, his daughters Panacea and Hygeia and his healing serpents. Asclepias also had baths and a sports area for exercise.

Most of the Greeks blamed illnesses on the Gods however some people wanted to find out more rational reasons for illnesses. They came up with the theory of the four humours; phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile. The theory of the four humours was the basis of lots of Greek treatments and doctors continued to believe in it for over 1000 years after it was invented. They believed that if a person humours were unbalanced a person would become ill so they tried to restore the balance by either making a paitent vomit, bleeding them or purging their bowels. The Greeks linked the theory of the four humours to the four seasons and the four elements. Fire = Summer; the weather was hot and dry. Earth = Autumn; the weather was cold and dry. Water = Winter; the weather was cold and moist. Air = Spring; the weather was hot and moist.


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The Hippocratic Oath: The oath was used by Hippocrates and it is still used today by doctors and other people in the medical profession. Once a person has taken the oath they have to obey the rules of and promise to keep high standards and treatments and they need to work for the benefits of the paitents rather than to make them selves rich.

The Hippocratic Corpus: The hippocratic corpus is a collection of medical books; some of which would have been written by Hippocrates and some may have been written by his students. The books were used for hundred of years after they were written and they were important because they contain the first lists of detailed symptons and treatments.

Oberving and Recording: Hippocrates showed how important it was to observe paitents and then record symptons and any developments of diseases. This method had many advantages as doctors could find the right cure for their patients and the results could be written down to help other doctors in the future.

Causes of Disease: The theory of the four humours was developed by Hippocrates and although the theory was wrong; it led medical treatments for centuries after it.

Natural Treatments: Hippocrates encouraged doctors to look for natural treatments for illnesses and diseases rather than blaming and relying on the Gods for help.

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Obeservation: Greek doctors were trained to diagnose illness carefully and to observe and record the stages of an illness. They sometimes wrote a casehistory of a paitent.

Advice: Due to their obesrvations, Greek doctors noticed that many disease went away without any help or medicine from a doctor. They often gave advice to many paitents on a prognosis which was based on the knowledge that they aquired from previous paitents. They also offered advice to paitents to keep clean, eat healthily and do exercise.

Treatments: When they had diagnosed the illness, they would try to restore the balance of the humours by either making them vomit, purging their bowels or bleeding them. If no treatments work- they would send the paitent to an Asclepion.

Surgery: The developments of iron and steel allowed doctors to have stronger and sharper instruments. They developed methods to set broken bones and in some cases amputation, however not many operations were done inside the body except the operation of draining the lungs but only if the paitent had pneumonia.


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Alexandria was a city in Egypt that allowed doctors to perform dissections on the human body (something that couldn't be done in Greece). One of the first doctors to perform a dissection in 250BC and he made the most important discovery which was that the brain controlled the body, not the heart and he distinguished between arteries and nervesm and he could identify different parts of the stomach; he was big influence on Galen.

The city of Alexandria was known as the centre of new medical ideas and knowledge - students from around the Mediterranean travelled to Alexandria to learn from knowledge. The Greeks built a university and a library which has writings from doctors such as Hippocrates and doctors from India, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, eventually there were 700,000 items in the library.

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