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THE CONDITION OF MEDICINE IN THE EARLIEST ORGANIZATIONS OF SOCIETY.
THE art of medicine is at the present day so universally exercised, that we can hardly suppose an organized community ever existed in which it was overlooked; and yet such appears to have been the fact.
There is reason to believe that among the Assyrians and other early Asiatics, it was never pursued as a distinct occupation. The eastern Magi must have devoted some attention to it; and the seers of Palestine may have had some pretensions to skill in the cure of diseases as a part of their divine calling. Job speaks of his counselors as "physicians of no value;" and Moses, of the preparation of the sacred oil after "the apothecary's art." King Asa, when his disease was exceeding great "sought not the Lord, but his physicians;" and Jeremiah asks, " Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?" From these and other allusions in the Old Testament, it is evident that among the Israelites there were, perhaps after the manner of the Egyptians, certain men giving their attention to medicine. But the Babylonians, as we learn from Herodotus,*
Book I. chap. 197.
were destitute of physicians, and in the custom of exposing their sick in the market-place, in order that those who had been similarly affected might communicate to them the means of cure. The kings of Persia had no physicians of their own nation; but were in the habit of obtaining them from Egypt, or luring them by rich rewards from Greece. The early Romans were in like condition. Their first attempt to secure competent medical attendance, was in the year of the city, 535; when they induced Archagathus of Peloponnesus to settle amongst them, offering him the freedom of the city, furnishing him with a residence, and providing liberally for his support at the public expense. But, as we learn from Pliny,* Archagathus proved to be their "carnifex" rather than their "vulnerarius;" so that their first effort not turning to their advantage, they were not soon again disposed to repeat it; and we find Cato, nearly a century afterwards, relying for medical assistance upon charms and superstitious observances of his own, or upon the untutored skill of his domestics.+
In the earliest stages of civilization, among most primitive people, where medicine is practiced at all, the functions of the physician are usually united with those of the priest and civil ruler.
The oak-groves of ancient Europe were as sacred to medical observances as to the other mysteries of Druidism. The blossoming of the mistletoe and the ripening of its berries, at the summer and the win
* Nat. Hist., lib. xxix., cap. vi. viii. f Cato de Re Rustica, cap. 160.
ter solstice, marked the seasons of the sacred feasts; and after adorning the ceremony of the sacrifice, the hallowed plant was carefully set aside by the ovate and physician of the tribe, to be used in case of need as a medicine.*
According to Hindoo mythology there are, besides Brahma, the creator, not less than six minor divinities skilled in the healing art. The ancientand still existing caste of Hindoo physicians, the Vaidhyas, trace their family descent from Virabhädra, the fortunate, the son of Brahma. It was to the thirteen sons of this demi-god that were first revealed the sacred sagas, by the study of which they and their descendants to the present day, have been rendered learned pundits and skillful physicians.t
Among the Tartars, the lama is the only physician. One of these people, conversing with a recent traveler‡ on the subject of the war between China and England, says, "The Chinese were everywhere protesting that we were marching to certain death. 'What can you do,' say they, 'against these seamonsters! They live in the water like fish. When least expected they appear on the surface, and throw combustible balls of iron. When the bow is bent against them they take to the water like frogs.' Thus they tried to frighten us. But we soldiers of the Eight Banners are ignorant of fear. The em
Giles, in Richard of Cirencester's Ancient Britain.
Wise, Hindoo System of Medicine. Calcutta, 8vo., 1845. Chap. ii.,
M. Huc. "Souvenirs. d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie, la Thibet, et la Chine." See Edinburgh Review, April, 1851, p. 207.
peror has supplied each leader with a lama instructed in medicine, and initiated in all sacred auguries,, able to protect us from the diseases of the climate, and to save us from the magic of the sea-monsters. What, then, have we to fear? The rebels hearing that the invincible troops of Tchakar were approaching, *** sued for peace; *** and then we re
turned to our pastures, and to the charge of our flocks."
Again, among the aborigines of our own country, the functions of the physician are in the hands of the priest. The Tla-quill-augh, or man of supernatural gifts, is supposed to know all things, and to be capable of throwing his good or bad medicine, without regard to distance, on whom he will; and to kill or cure by magic at his pleasure. These Tla-quillaughs are generally men beyond the meridian of life; grave, sedate, and shy, with a certain air of cunning; but possessing some skill in the use of herbs and roots, and in the management of injuries and external diseases. The people at large stand in great awe of them, and consult them on every affair of importance. But their personal safety is not in pro portion to their influence. Every misfortune, unseen evil, or sudden death among the people, is immediately attributed to them. And, however innocent of the calamity, they are apt to pay for it with their lives.*
These customs of the savage, springing as they do out of the untutored instincts of the human heart,
* Ross. "Adventures on the Oregon and Columbia River."
may be taken as no inapt illustration of what may have been the first estate of medicine among those people from whom it has descended to ourselves. Overlooking the juggleries of the Indian priests, the philosopher will discover that their real force lies precisely in that department of the art which, in ancient times, was cultivated earliest, and with most success; and that the foundation for the future development of medical science among them, is quite as broad as that upon which the enduring, but still unfinished temple of medicine was originally begun, more than thirty centuries ago; the first architects of which, like the Tla-quill-aughs of Oregon, were also of the order of the priesthood.
Among the early Egyptians the priests were a numerous and influential body; receiving for their support about one-third of the whole income of the nation. They were of several orders; most of them skilled in medicine, and practicing, as some suppose, gratuitously among the people. "Here," says Herodotust, each physician applies himself to one disease only, and not more, all places abound in physicians; some for the eyes, others for the head, others for the teeth, others for the parts about the belly, and others for internal diseases." Of this same class were the embalmers, whose occupation must have rendered them familiar with the internal
* Schulze, p. 24, from Diodorus Siculus,
Herodotus, Book II. ch. 86,
† Book II. c. 84.