Diocles of Carystus Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Greek physician{$I[g]Greece;Diocles of Carystus} Diocles was a Greek physician who was regarded in antiquity as second only to Hippocrates. He wrote several medical works, including the first separate treatise on anatomy and the first herbal. His best-known contributions to medicine are in the area of hygiene.

Early Life

Not much is known of the early life of Diocles of Carystus (DI-uh-kleez of kuh-RIHS-tuhs). His father’s name was Archidamos, and Diocles was a native of Carystus, a small town on the southern tip of the island of Euboea, off the eastern coast of mainland Greece. According to the Roman writer Pliny, Diocles was second in age and fame to the famous physician Hippocrates (c. 460-370 b.c.e.). He has traditionally been placed in the first half of the fourth century b.c.e. It has been observed, however, that the language of his extant writings points to the later rather than to the earlier half of the fourth century b.c.e. It is likely that he was a younger contemporary of Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.) and thus was active until 300 or perhaps later. Diocles is the only physician between Hippocrates’ time and the Hellenistic period about whom very much is known.

Diocles probably learned his trade from his father, who was a physician, for medicine in the ancient world was a craft that was often passed from father to son. The ordinary physician acquired his skill and knowledge through an apprenticeship in which he learned the elements of traditional practice. Diocles wrote a work titled Arkhidamos (date unknown), dedicated to his father’s memory, in which he argued against his father’s condemnation of the practice of rubbing the body down with oil because he believed that it overheated the body. Diocles suggested instead that in the summer a mixture of oil and water be employed, while in the winter only oil be used.

There is good evidence, on the basis of Diocles’ language and thought, that he was a pupil of the philosopher Aristotle, who founded his philosophical school, the Lyceum, in Athens in 334. Whether Diocles came to Athens specifically to study at the Lyceum or had earlier established residence there is not known. He was the first Greek to write medical treatises in Attic Greek rather than in Ionic, which was the dialect normally employed by medical writers. He seems to have belonged to the same generation of Aristotle’s pupils as Theophrastus and Strato, who provide the earliest evidence for Diocles’ work.

Diocles employs Aristotelian terminology and shows the influence of Aristotle’s ethics, for example, in his use of the ideas of proportion and suitability in his theory of diet. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Diocles in turn influenced his master, perhaps as a source for Aristotle’s zoological works. Although Diocles was apparently closely associated with the Peripatetic school, which was the chief center of scientific research in the Greek world until the founding of the Museum at Alexandria, Aristotle was not the only source of his ideas. He apparently had access to a collection of Hippocratic treatises and may, in fact, have been the first medical writer to assemble such a collection. His indebtedness to Hippocratic medicine is indicated by his treatises, some of which resemble Hippocratic works in title and subject matter. Diocles’ thought also shows a debt to the Sicilian school of medicine, which was dominated by the philosopher and physician Empedocles (c. 490-430 b.c.e.). A later member of the school, Philistion of Locri (427-347 b.c.e.), who was a contemporary of Plato, also influenced him. Nevertheless, Diocles was no slavish follower of Aristotle or of any medical or philosophical system. He borrowed elements from Hippocratic medicine, from the Sicilian school, and from Aristotle, all the while maintaining his own independence and making original contributions.

Life’s Work

Diocles was a prolific writer. The titles of seventeen of his medical treatises are known, including Peri puros kai aeros (On Fire and Air), Anatomē (Anatomy), Hugieina pros Pleistarkhon (Directions on Health for Plistarchus), Peri pepeseōs (On Digestion), Peri puretōn (On Fevers), Peri gunaikeiōn (On Women’s Diseases), Peri epideomōn (On Bandages), Peri tōn kat iētreion (On the Equipment of a Surgery), Prognōstikon (Prognostic), Peri therapeiōn (On Treatment), Pathos aitia therapeia (Sickness, Causes, and Treatment), Rhizotomika, Peri lakhanōn (On Vegetables), Peri thanasimōn pharmakōn (On Lethal Drugs; this and all preceding titles translated in 2000), Arkhidamos, and Dioklēs epistolē prophulaktikē (Epistle of Diocles unto King Antigonus, c. 1550). Of these works, more than 190 fragments have been preserved by later medical writers. Diocles’ style is polished, with some literary pretensions, and shows the influence of rhetorical devices (for example, the avoidance of hiatus), while maintaining a deliberately simple style that reflects the...

(The entire section is 2158 words.)