Billeder på siden

glimpses we get of the rank and estimation of the art of
medicine and its practitioners in the great panorama depicted
by Homer, the only exponent we possess of the thoughts
and feelings of the ancient Greeks. It is impossible not to
be struck with the contrast that it presents to the status of
the same class in later ages. The Niebelungen Lied may
be called in a rough way the Homeric poem of Germany;
it gives almost the only accredited traditions of the pre-
historic Teutonic epoch, just as Homer does of a correspond-
ing period of the Greek era. Now what a miserable posi-
tion the medical men here occupy as compared to Machaon
and his brother! Take for example the fourth adventure of
the hero Siegfried, when he goes on a chivalrous errand to
encounter the Saxon army which is advancing against his
host, King Gunther, father of the incomparable beauty
Kriemhilden, with whom he, like all the world, was in love.
The brave Siegfried accomplished prodigies of valour, and of
course overthrew the Saxons, killing hundreds with his own
hand and taking many wounded prisoners. In Homer's
time they gave no quarter; but we have now got into the
Christian era.
Had this adventure been conceived and
narrated by a Greek of the Homeric age, he no doubt would
have sent out with it some sturdy son of Esculapius to tend
the wounded; but no such attendant accompanied Siegfried,
so that his wounded had to be taken all the way back to
King Gunther's land before their wounds were dressed, and
then what an unheroic posture do the Physicians occupy!

"Den wohlerfahrnen Aerzten bot Man reichen Geld,
Silber unbewogen, dazu das lichte Geld,

Wenn Sie die Helden heilten nach des Streites Noth." 1

"Rich remuneration was offered to the experienced physicians-unweighed silver and bright gold-if they cured the heroes after the battle's need."

With what indignation and astonishment on the other hand would Aristotle, an accredited and theme-honoured 1 Das Niebelungen Lied, übersetst von Dr. Karl Simrock. Bonn, 1839, p. 43.

descendant of Esculapius,' and himself a physician, have heard the question proposed by a Frenchman of the seventeenth century of the Christian era, "Is the art of medicine. derogatory to nobility?" He certainly would not have set about proving that there was no degradation to nobles in the exercise of the divine art of healing by citing, like the learned interrogator, instances to show that there were many physicians ranked among the saints, that numerous popes, emperors, and kings practised medicine as well as not a few queens and other "Dames de qualité," and even several gods and goddesses."" Aristotle, had he thought the subject worthy of serious entertainment, would doubtless have raised some such preliminary questions as the following: Is there any just conception of man's nobility that can in any degree, or at any point, clash with the proper exercise of an art which we honour the great gods themselves for having practised?—Is not the highest epithet of honour we can bestow upon a man "godlike," or "godborn?"-Do not the sons of the gods take the first rank among the heroes-the nobility of Greece? How then can dishonour come from sharing the attributes of the only recognized fountain of honour?

Such an argument would probably have satisfied both the reason and the feelings of the Athenians at the time of Aristotle; but it ceased to be sufficient after the invasion of Christianity. The first great Christian orator overthrew it when, standing upon the very spot where Socrates had stood three hundred years before, he proclaimed to the inhabitants of Athens the God whom in ignorance they worshipped, and taught them that their false gods were demons. It could be no compliment to a man to be told

1 "Aristotle was the son of Nicomachus, a citizen of Stagira and Phæstias (Phæstiada); and Nicomachus was descended from Nicomachus,

the son of Machaon, the son of Escu-
lapius." Diogenes Laertius, translated
by C. D. Yonge, B.A., p. 181.
2 Le Clerk, Op. cit., Preface.

he was descended in a direct line from a demon of dubious

position in the land of spirits.1

The promulgation of the doctrines of Christianity converted the Greek mythology into a demonology. Hence

the necessity of an entirely new source of nobility. The purely Christian view exalted every human being who accepted the Gospel of Christ into an heir of the kingdom of Heaven. According to it every believer held his patent of nobility direct from the Almighty. But the great doc

trine of humility and the insignificance of material objects of ambition and desire, as compared to spiritual, was far too repugnant to men's pride and habits to obtain more than very partial, temporary, and theoretical acceptance. Beside it rose, or rather had already risen, in stupendous magnitude, its permanent antagonist the worship of strength and force, represented by the Roman empire. Between these two, Christianity cutting away the ground on which she had raised such exquisite fabrics of philosophy and poetry, and Rome reducing her sons to slavery, Greece lost her life.

The life of Greece was distinguished from that of all other nations by having incorporated into it, as a part of its most intimate nature, the element of art. Other peoples, as the Romans, put on art as an adornment to their mature power; as a man in England, who has made his fortune by spinning cotton, orders a Correggio or a Turner, as well as a handsome carriage. But the Greeks were a nation of artists; by superiority in art, whether by the art of thinking as philosophers, or of speaking as orators, or by the art of medicine as physicians, or any other art, an Athenian became great in his social and political position. Such a condition of society never existed before, and the infinite distance at which we in England are at present removed

"The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils and not

to God."-St. Paul's 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. x., verse 20.

from it, may be estimated by the fact that when it was proposed to raise a statue to Jenner in a conspicuous part of London, there was a clamorous voice raised against it in the House of Commons, as if it were absurd to place so insignificant a personage as Jenner by the side of the hero of Scind. This could not have occurred at Athens in the time of Pericles, or indeed during any period of its existence as a civilized capital.

This contrast is not brought forward to reproach the age we live in, but on account of its historical significance, to bring into prominent view the fact that we are even now more Roman than either Greek or Christian-that force and power are our divinities. Such a condition may be the only possible one at present for a great nation, but surely there is no offence in hopefully anticipating a future which shall combine more of the Greek element of art, and be penetrated by more of the Christian element of peace, so as at once to repress and refine the Roman element of force which now lords proudly over the whole earth, and seems to defy the Almighty himself to accomplish his promise of a season of perpetual respite from the pressure of the iron hand of war, a promise announced at the close of the rude Pagan age, and whose fulfilment has been hourly expected to commence for nearly two thousand years.

At this stage of the history of medicine we encounter what the geologists would term a fault. There is an abrupt termination of the Homeric era, and all trace of medicine is lost for several hundred years. "Strange to say," says Pliny,' "it was concealed in thickest night from the time of the Trojans to that of the Pelopennesian war." When it revisits the light, it finds Greece a changed country. No longer are the tales about Time being the youngest son of Earth and Heaven, themselves gods and children of Chaos, accepted by the leading intellects among the Greeks, 1 Pliny, Lib. XXIX. Chap. 1., nocte densissima latuere usque ad Peloquoted by Le Clerk, p. 75. "A Trojanis temporibus, mirum dictu, in

ponnesiacum bellum."

but a wholly new order of men has taken the place of the old poets" the wise men" have come on to the stage. The beautiful sunny-haired boy we left dreaming beside the great god Neptune, and watching the approach of Aphrodite and Apollo, and enjoying the glorious trance of the rosy dawn of genius-when all that the eye saw and the ear heard was received with delight, and without any disposition to doubt has grown into a young man, has gone to college, has been taught to question everything, has entered, in short, the age of Scepticism. Still it is the same youth, the poet-boy is father of this philosophic man; there is no decline of imagination, but there is a quickened faculty of analysis and reasoning superinduced upon the primitive exuberant loam of the mind. We now stand on the threshold of the scientific era, we can scarcely be said to have entered it; for the methods of investigating the natural phenomena, which were becoming recognized as being, at least in some degree, not the immediate actions of gods and goddesses, but forces of nature, were too vague to lead to any practical progress: they were gropings after another sort of cosmogony than that of Homer and Hesiod, but purely tentative gropings.—What was the origin of all things? "Water," was the reply of Thales, the companion of Solon; "or rather the element of fluidity-always the same in its essence, but capable of assuming an infinite variety of forms." His attempts at solving the physical problems indicate the same kind of intellectual effort as he displayed in a more appropriate field, when, in answer to the question, "What is difficult?" he replied, "To know thyself;" and, "What is easy?" "To advise another." The following passage presents a striking contrast between the Greek mind of this and the Homeric period: "God is the most ancient of all things, for he had no birth: the world is the most beautiful of things, for it is the work of God: place is the greatest of things, for it contains all things:

[ocr errors]

Grote, Op. cit. Vol. IV. p. 518.

« ForrigeFortsæt »