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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF HIPPOCRATES
It is well known that the oldest documents which we possess relative to the practice of Medicine, are the various treatises contained in the Collection which bears the name of Hippocrates. Their great excellence has been acknowledged in all ages, and it has always been a question which has naturally excited literary curiosity, by what steps the art had attained to such perfection at so early a period.
It is also generally admitted that the Hippocratic Medicine emerged from the schools of philosophy; therefore, since the philosophy of the Greeks was indigenous, there is every reason to suppose that their medicine was so in like manner. How long the union between medicine and philosophy had subsisted before the time of Hippocrates, has not been determined upon any contemporary evidence, but the disciples of Pythagoras, in after ages, did not hesitate to ascribe to him the honor of effecting this alliance. However this may be, it appears to me very doubtful whether these philosophers ever practised medicine as a craft. Indeed, it is much more likely that they merely speculated upon the phenomena of disease. Thus we shall see afterwards, that Plato himself did not discard speculative medicine from his system of philosophy, although we are quite sure that he never practised it as an art. But this connection between medicine and philosophy was by no means regarded, in after times, as having been favorable to the advancement of the former, for we find Hippocrates complimented by Celsus for having brought about a separation between them.
It is clearly established that, long before the birth of philosophy, medicine had been zealously and successfully cultivated by the Asclepiadæ, an order of priest-physicians that
1 Celsus mentions Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Democritus, as the most distinguished of the philosophers who cultivated medicine,
traced its origin to a mythical personage bearing the distinguished name of Æsculapius. Two of his sons, Podalirius and Machaon, figure in the Homeric poems, not however as priests, but as warriors possessed of surgical skill in the treatment of wounds, for which they are highly complimented by the poet. It was probably some generations after this time (if one may venture a conjecture on a matter partaking very much of the legendary character) that Æsculapius was deified, and that Temples of Health, called Asclepia, presided over by the Asclepiadæ, were erected in various parts of Greece, as receptacles for the sick, to which invalids resorted in those days for the cure of diseases, under the same circumstances as they go to hospitals and spas at the present time. What remedial measures were adopted in these temples we have no means of ascertaining so fully as could be wished, but the following facts, collected from a variety of sources, may be pretty confidently relied upon for their accuracy. In the first place, then, it is well ascertained that a large proportion of these temples were built in the vicinity of thermæ, or medicinal springs, the virtues of which would no doubt contribute greatly to the cure of the sick. At his entrance into the temple, the devotee was subjected to purifications, and made to go through a regular course of bathing, accompanied with methodical frictions, resembling the oriental system now well known by the name of shampooing. Fomentations with decoctions of odoriferous herbs were also not forgotten. A total abstinence from food was at first prescribed, but afterwards the patient would no doubt be permitted to partake of the flesh of the animals which were brought to the temples as sacrifices. Every means that could be thought of was used for working upon the imagination of the sick, such as religious ceremonies of an imposing nature, accompanied by music, and whatever else could arouse their senses, conciliate their confidence, and in certain cases, contribute to their amusement. In addition to these means, it is believed by many intelligent Mesmerists
1 The number of Asclepia in Greece noticed by Pausanias is sixtyfour. Plutarch states in positive terms that all the Temples of Health were erected in high situations, and where the air was wholesome.
of the present day, that the aid of Animal magnetism was called in to contribute to the cure; but on this point the proof is not so complete as could be wished. Certain it is, however, that as the Mesmerists administer medicines which are suggested to the imagination of patients during the state of clairvoyance, the Asclepiadæ prescribed drugs as indicated in dreams. These, indeed, were generally of a very inert description; but sometimes medicines of a more dangerous nature, such as hemlock and gypsum, were used in this way, and regular reports of the effects which they produced were kept by the priests in the temples. It is also well known that the Asclepiadæ noted down with great care the symptoms and issue of every case, and that, from such observations, they became in time great adepts in the art of prognosis. The office of priesthood was hereditary in certain families, so that information thus acquired was transmitted from father to son, and went on accumulating from one generation to another. Whether the Asclepiadæ availed themselves of the great opportunities which they must undoubtedly have had of cultivating human and comparative anatomy, has been much disputed in modern times; but there is good reason for believing that the scholars have greatly underrated the amount of anatomical knowledge possessed by Hippocrates, and his predecessors the priestphysicians in the Temples of Health. Thus Galen holds Hippocrates to have been a very successful cultivator of anatomy. Galen further states, upon the authority of Plato, that the Asclepiadæ paid no attention to dietetics; but this opinion would require to be received with considerable modification, for, most assuredly, whoever reflects on the great amount of valuable information on this subject which is contained in the Hippocratic treatises, will not readily bring himself to believe that it could have been all collected by one man, or in the course of one generation. Moreover, Strabo affirms that Hippocrates was trained in the knowledge of dietetics. That gymnastics were not recognized as a regular branch of the healing art, until the age of Hippocrates, is indeed not improbable, and this perhaps is what Plato meant when he says that the Asclepiadæ did not make any use of the pedagogic art until it was introduced by Herodicus. But at the same time
there can be no doubt, as further stated by Galen, that exercise, and especially riding on horseback, constituted one of the measures used by the Asclepiadæ for the recovery of health, having been introduced by Æsculapius himself.
Of the Asclepia we have mentioned above, it will naturally be supposed that some were in much higher repute than others, either from being possessed of peculiar advantages, or from the prevalence of fashion. In the beginning of the fifth century before the Christian era, the temples of Rhodes, Cnidos, and Cos were held in especial favor, and on the extinction of the first of these, another rose up in Italy in its stead. But the temple of Cos was destined to throw the reputation of all the others into the background, by producing among the priests of Æsculapius the individual who, in all after ages, has been distinguished by the name of the Great HIPPOCRATES, which was given him by Aristotle. 1
That Hippocrates was lineally descended from Æsculapius was generally admitted by his countrymen, and a genealogical table, professing to give a list of the names of his forefathers, up to Æsculapius, has been transmitted to us from remote antiquity.
Of the circumstances connected with the life of Hippocrates little is known for certain, the only biographies which we have of him being all of comparatively recent date, and of little authority. The birth of Hippocrates is generally fixed as having occurred in the 460th year before the vulgar era. There is also much uncertainty as to the time of his death: according to one tradition he died at the age of 85, whereas others raise it to 90, 104, and even 109 years. It will readily occur to the reader, then, that our author flourished at one of the most memorable epochs in the intellectual development of the human race. He had for his contemporaries, Pericles, the famous statesman; the poets Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Pindar; the philosopher Socrates, with his distinguished disciples Plato and Xenophon; the venerable father of history, Herodotus, and his young rival, Thucydides; the
1 Galen states repeatedly that the greater part of Aristotle's physiology is derived from Hippocrates.