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NARRATIVE OF SURGERY; A HISTORICAL SKETCH1
"Ut transeundi spes non sit, magna tamen est dignitas subsequendi.” -QUINTILIAN.
470 TO 361 B.C.
HERCULES was the father of Esculapius, who was the father of Polidarius (one of Homer's heroes), and so on for twelve generations until we come to the first Hippocrates, who was the grandfather of the second Hippocrates, the Great Hippocrates, born about 470 B.C. Much of this genealogy is myth, but there is no myth about Hippocrates. He was a
Among medical heroes it is the positive, the virile, the real, that appeals to us. Mists and vapors, hypotheses and systems, do not interest the average modern reader; but things accomplished and the final word said, do interest him. So observe this, that deeds done, facts accurately stated, action taken in accordance with what is known, - these things are characteristic of the history of surgery as distinguished from much
'Chapter I in Keen's "System of Surgery." Reprinted by kind permission of the W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia.
of the history of medicine. Often we cannot divorce the two tales of medicine and surgery, but very often we can; and when this is possible, the tale of surgery and of the surgeon will attract us.
Hippocrates was the Father of Medicine, but he was a surgeon also; Herophilus, after him, was a surgeon; so were Asclepiades and Soranus and Galen and Paul of Ægina, and others of whom the writers tell.
Who was this famous Hippocrates? Where did he live? What were his teachings, and who his professional forebears? What was it he did that he is to be remembered as the father of us all?
Hippocrates was born and lived in stirring times. His native place was the Greek island of Cos, close to the coast of Asia Minor, and in about the latitude of Sparta. In those days the tide of Persian invasion was being rolled back; the Athenians, under Cimon, were reëstablishing Greek supremacy in the Levant, on the eastern shores of the Ægean Sea, and Athens was developing that era of social and intellectual greatness to which we now refer as the Age of Pericles, - an era covered roughly by the sixty years subsequent to the battle of Salamis (480 B.C.).
Hippocrates grew up in an island Athenian in its sympathies and affiliations; and the influence lasted throughout his life. He came of a family of physicians, long trained in a medical practice handed down from father to son; and be it observed that medical practice was not altogether contemptible even before his time. For more than a thousand years the surgery of Egypt had meant something to the world, and the
ancient Egyptian custom of embalming the dead had given its practitioners a little crude knowledge of anatomy. They trephined the skull for migraine and epilepsy, they performed circumcision, they removed superficial tumors, and they set broken bones.
Then there were the Old Testament Jews, who made acquaintance with surgery, an acquaintance acquired from their Egyptian masters. They sutured wounds and passed the uterine sound; they appear to have operated for imperforate anus and are said to have used some feeble anæsthetics. There were dentists among them who inserted false teeth, and there were artificers of wooden legs. Such accomplishments show very practical advances in surgery many centuries before our era.
Egyptian surgeons became famous; they traveled and visited foreign courts and peoples, practicing upon the bodies of Arabians, Persians, Assyrians, and Greeks. Nor were the Greeks themselves idle through all those years. In some sort they were the Yankees of that far-away ancient world. They were travelers, traders, seamen, and scholars, - always restless, eager, inquisitive; seeking new markets, planting colonies, looking for knowledge.
It came about, then, long before Hippocrates was born, while Æsculapius was being deified and Polidarius was quoted still, that much of the Egyptian learning was beginning to find its way to the Greek mainland and to the islands of the sea. Surgeons were esteemed in that Greek country of intelligent men, for the people were warlike, and even in the days