Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Before the fourth and fifth centuries b.c.e., there was no written record of medical practices in the Western world. Medicine was largely the job of healers who used herbal remedies; women who had knowledge of the healing powers of certain plants were often consigned to caring for the sick. In ancient Greece, however, healing became a profession, and the mostly male, literate doctors recorded their experiences with patients and their theories of how diseases spread in numerous essays, some of which were quite polemic as the writers defended their common mode of practice against possible detractors. About seventy of these essays (only sixty still exist), all anonymous, were collected and are known as the writings of Hippocrates, a physician who practiced during the time of Plato.

The writings in the Hippocratic collection were revolutionary because they usually attributed disease to natural causes and not, as was commonly held to be true, to the influence of demons or evil forces. When the cause of a disease could not be determined or when traditional remedies were not effective, early peoples turned to religious healing. This consisted of amulets and talismans to ward off the evil, prayer, and ceremonial requests to the gods. Healing also relied on incantations and the playing of music for the sick. Another method of treatment was dream healing, in which the cure was revealed to the patient in a dream or the patient was...

(The entire section is 423 words.)