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p745 Medicina

Article by William Alexander Greenhill, M.D., Trinity College, Oxford
on pp745‑747 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

MEDICI′NA (ἰατρική), the name of that science which, as Celsus says (de Medic. lib. I. Praefat.), "Sanitatem aegris promittit," and whose object Hippocrates defines (de Arte, vol. I p7, ed. Kühn) to be "the delivering sick persons from their disease, and the diminishing the force of p746sicknesses, and the not undertaking the treatment of those who are quite overcome by sickness, as we know that medicine is here of no avail." For other definitions of the art and science of Medicine given by the ancients, see Pseudo-Galen (Introduct. Seu Medicus, c6, vol. XIV pp686‑8, ed. Kühn). The invention of medicine was almost universally attributed by the ancients to the gods (Hippocr. de Prisca Medic. vol. I p39; Pseudo-Galen, Introd. cap. I p674; Cic. Tusc. Dis. III.1; Plin. H. N. XXIX.1). Another source of information was the observing the means resorted to by animals when labouring under disease. Pliny (H.N. VIII.41) gives many instances in which these instinctive efforts taught mankind the properties of various plants, and the more simple surgical operations. The wild goats of Crete pointed out the use of the Dictamnus and vulnerary herbs; dogs when indisposed sought the Triticum repens, and the same animal taught to the Egyptians the use of purgative, constituting the treatment called Syrmaïsm. The hippopotamus introduced the practice of bleeding, and it is affirmed that the employment of clysters was shown by the ibis (compare Pseudo-Galen, Introd. c1, p675). Sheep with worms in their liver were seen seeking saline substances, and cattle affected with dropsy anxiously looked for chalybeate waters. We are told (Herod. I.197; Strab. XVI. c1, ed. Tauchn.; Pseudo-Galen, Introd. l.c.) that the Babylonians and Chaldaeans had no physicians, and in cases of sickness the patient was carried out and exposed on the highway, that any persons passing by who had been affected in a similar manner, might give some information respecting the means that had afforded them relief. Shortly afterwards, these observations of cures were suspended in the temples of the gods, and we find that in Egypt the walls of the sanctuaries were covered with records of this description. The priests of Greece adopted the same practice, and some of the tablets suspended in their temples are of a curious character, which will illustrate the custom. The following votive memorials are given by Hieron. Mercurialis (de Arte Gymnast. Amstel. 4to. 1672, pp2, 3):— "Some days back a certain Caius, who was blind, learned from an oracle that he should repair to the temple, put up his fervent prayers, cross the sanctuary from right to left, place his five fingers on the altar, then raise his hand and cover his eyes. He obeyed, and instantly his sight was restored amidst the loud acclamations of the multitude. These signs of the omnipotence of the gods were shown in the reign of Antoninus." "A blind soldier named Valerius Apes, having consulted the oracle, was informed that he should mix the blood of a white cock with honey, to make up an ointment to be applied to his eyes, for three consecutive days: he received his sight, and returned public thanks to the gods." "Julian appeared lost beyond all hope from a spitting of blood. The god ordered him to take from the altar some seeds of the pine, and to mix them with honey, of which mixture he was to eat for three days. He was saved, and came to thank the gods in presence of the people."

With regard to the medical literature of the ancients, "When" (says Littré, Oeuvres Complètes d'Hippocrate, vol. I Introd. ch. 1 p3) "one searches into the history of medicine and the commencement of the science, the first body of doctrine that one meets with is the collection of writings known under the name of the works of Hippocrates. The science mounts up directly to that origin and there stops. Not that it had not been cultivated earlier, and had not given rise to even numerous productions; but every thing that had been made before the physician of Cos has perished. We have only remaining of them scattered and unconnected fragments; the works of Hippocrates have alone escaped destruction; and by a singular circumstance there exists a great gap after them, as well as before them. The medical works from Hippocrates to the establishment of the school of Alexandria, and those of that school itself, are completely lost, except some quotations and passages preserved in the later writers; so that the writings of Hippocrates remain alone amongst the ruins of ancient medical literature." The Asclepiadae, to which family Hippocrates belonged, were the supposed descendants of Aesculapius (Ἀσκλήπιος), and were in a manner the hereditary physicians of Greece. They professed to have among them certain secrets of the medical art, which had been handed down to them from their great progenitor, and founded several medical schools in different parts of the world. Galen mentions (De Meth. Med. I.1 vol. X. pp5, 6) three, viz. Rhodes, Cnidos, and Cos. The first of these appears soon to have become extinct, and has left no traces of its existence behind. From the second proceeded a collection of observations called Κνίδιαι Γνῶμαι, "Cnidian Sentences," a work of much reputation in early times, which is often mentioned by Hippocrates (de Rat. Vict. in Morb. Acut.), and which appears to have existed in the time of Galen (Comment. in Hippocr. lib. cit. vol. XV. p427). The school of Cos, however, is by far the most celebrated, on account of the greater number of eminent physicians that sprang from it, and especially from having been the birth-place of the great Hippocrates. We learn from Herodotus (III.131) that there were also two celebrated medical schools at Crotona in Magna Graecia, and at Cyrene in Africa, of which he says that the former was in his time more esteemed in Greece than any other, and in the next place came that of Cyrene. In subsequent times the medical profession was divided into different sects; but a detailed account of their opinions is foreign to the object of the present work. The oldest, and perhaps the most influential of these sects was that of the Dogmatici, founded about B.C. 400 by Thessalus, the son, and Polybus, the son-in‑law of Hippocrates, and thence called also the Hippocratici. These retained their influence till the rise of the Empirici, founded by Serapion of Alexandria, and Philinus of Cos, in the third century B.C., and so called, because they professed to derive their knowledge from experience only; after which time every member of the medical profession during a long period ranged himself in one of these two sects. In the first century B.C., Themison founded the sect of the Methodici, who held doctrines nearly intermediate between those of the two sects already mentioned. About two centuries later the Methodici were divided into numerous sects, as the doctrines of the particular physicians became more generally received. The chief of these sects were the Pneumatici and the Eclectici; the former founded by Athenaeus about the middle or end of the first century A.D.; the latter but the same time p747either by Agathinus of Sparta, or his pupil Archigenes.

It only remains to mention the principal medical authors after Hippocrates whose works are still extant, referring for more particulars respecting their writings to the articles in the Dictionary of Biography. Celsus is supposed to have lived in the Augustan age, and deserves to be mentioned more for the elegance of his style, and the neatness and judiciousness of his compilation, than for any original contributions to the science of Medicine. Dioscorides of Anazarba, who lived in the first century after Christ, was for many centuries the greatest authority in Materia Medica, and was almost as much esteemed as Galen in Medicine and Physiology, or Aristotle in Philosophy. Aretaeus, who probably lived in the time of Nero, is an interesting and striking writer, both from the beauty of his language, and from the originality of his opinions. The next in chronological order, and perhaps the most valuable, as he is certainly the most voluminous, of all the medical writers of antiquity is Galen, who reigned supreme in all matters relating to his art till the commencement of modern times. He was born at Pergamus A.D. 131, came early in life to Rome, where he lived in great honour, and passed great part of his days, and died A.D. 201. After him the only writers deserving particular notice are Oribasius of Pergamus, physician to the emperor Julian in the fourth century after Christ; Aëtius of Amida, who lived probably in the sixth century; Alexander Trallianus, who lived something later; and Paulus Aegineta who belongs to the end of the seventh.


See also at least the articles Medicus and Chirurgia.


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