Hippocrates Additional Biography

Biography

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

Article abstract: Greek physician{$I[g]Greece;Hippocrates} Hippocrates is credited with separating the practice of medicine from magic and superstition, inaugurating the modern practice of scientific observation, and setting the guidelines for high standards of ethical medical practice.

Early Life

Hippocrates (hihp-AWK-ruh-teez) was born in Cos; he lived during the period spanning the end of the fifth century and the first half of the fourth century b.c.e., according to two references to him in Plato’s dialogues. Though little else can be thoroughly documented, many legends, possibly true in parts, have been offered by commentators regarding Hippocrates’ early life. According to tradition, he was one of several sons of Praxithea and Heracleides. He probably had the education suitable to one of his background, which would include nine years of physical education, reading, writing, spelling, music, singing, and poetry. After another two years at a gymnasium, where he would have had intensive training in athletics, it is conjectured that Hippocrates studied medicine under his father, a member of the priest-physician group known as Asclepiads. This training was a form of apprenticeship in a medical guild.

In addition to his training, which consisted of following a physician and observing his treatment of patients, Hippocrates is believed to have traveled to the nearby islands of the Aegean Sea, to the Greek mainland, and possibly to Egypt and Libya, to study the local medical traditions. He is thought to have met the philosopher Democritus and the rhetorician Gorgias.

His sons Thessalus and Draco carried on the family tradition of medical practice. As testimony to his fame, legend also has it that King Perdiccas of Macedonia asked Hippocrates and another physician, Euryphon, to examine him and that Hippocrates helped him to recover from his illness.

Hippocrates was equally renowned as a teacher, giving rise to the image of the “Tree of Hippocrates,” beneath which students sat and listened to him. Plato, a younger contemporary, referred to Hippocrates the Asclepiad as the very type of the teacher of medicine. Some historical accounts suggest that Hippocrates habitually covered his head with a felt cap, though the reason for this habit is only a matter of speculation. This description did, however, help twentieth century archaeologists to identify a likeness of him.

Life’s Work

That Hippocrates was a well-known Greek physician who lived in the period of golden achievements in Greek history is undisputed. The rest of his achievements remain a matter of scholarly debate, centered on the problem of Corpus Hippocraticum (fifth to third century b.c.e.; Hippocratic collection), a substantial body of writings whose authorship seems to be spread out over different historical periods.

Thus the medical views expressed in this collection are carefully referred to as the ideas of Hippocratic medicine, acknowledging the complete lack of confirmation about the identity of his actual writings. Of the approximately seventy unsigned treatises that constitute the collection, only two are definitively known to have been written by Hippocrates’ son-in-law, Polybus, because another famous ancient writer, Aristotle, quoted from them.

The normal historical tendency has been to attribute those that are written with authority and good sense and that seem to be of the approximately right time period to Hippocrates and the rest to other authors. The debate over the authorship of the Corpus Hippocraticum itself has produced an enormous body of scholarship; one tentative point of agreement is that the earliest essays are from the fifth century b.c.e. and the latest about two centuries later. To cloud the matter even further, the Hippocratic writings themselves are inconsistent, suggesting that the collection incorporates the thinking of different schools of medical practice.

The collection is historically important precisely because it had more than one purpose: to establish medicine as a practice distinct from philosophy and religion and, in furtherance of this goal, to collect information about this separate discipline in writing for the future edification of patients and physicians. Part of this effort involved debate with other schools of thought, such as the Cnidian school.

The centers of medical teaching were often in the temples of healing known as Asclepieions. The two most famous ones of the time were on Cos and Cnidus, between which there were both a traditional rivalry and a fundamental difference in approach to medical practice. The Cnidus practitioners, under the guidance of the chief physician, Euryphon, seemed to have been much concerned about the classification of diseases and continued the tradition of deductive knowledge of disease derived from the practice of ancient Greece, Babylonia, and Egypt. Hippocrates was of the Coan school, which worked more inductively, concentrating on observation and treatment of the entire patient and taking into account the mental as well as the physical state.

The first important contribution of the Hippocratic writers—to separate medicine from the shackles of religion, superstition, and...

(The entire section is 2170 words.)

Biography

(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Hippocrates is credited with separating the practice of medicine from magic and superstition, inaugurating the modern practice of scientific observation, and setting the guidelines for high standards of ethical medical practice.

Early Life

Hippocrates was born on the island of Cos and lived from about the end of the fifth century through the first half of the fourth century b.c.e., according to two references to him in the dialogues of the Greek philosopher Plato. Though little else can be thoroughly documented, many legends, possibly true in parts, have been offered by commentators regarding Hippocrates’ early life. According to tradition, Hippocrates was one of...

(The entire section is 2270 words.)