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[hi pahk' ruh tEz] "the father of modern medicine"


Hippocrates was born about 460 B.C., on the Greek island of Kos, the son of a physician. He is said to have taught at a medical school on Kos, but also traveled widely and lectured throughout mainland Greece and Asia Minor. Little else about his life is known.

What is known is that Hippocrates was the first to free medicine from its traditional link with magic and religion. He also established the foundations of medical diagnosis based on experience and observation.

The most important work attributed to Hippocrates is the Hippocratic Collection, a series of practical and descriptive treatises on most aspects of medical treatment and research. Although the work itself was likely penned by many hands, there is little doubt that it was based on Hippocrates' own writings.

Hippocrates emphasized the body's own ability to heal, saying, "Our natures are the physicians of our diseases." He believed that every disease had a natural cause, rather than being some kind of "infliction from the gods." By systematic observation, and by his insistence on recording failures as well as successes in treatment, he established standards of objectivity. He also insisted that physicians must study patients in their whole environment, and treated his patients with proper diet, fresh air, change in climate, and attention to habits and living conditions. He objected to the use of strong drugs without careful tests of their curative values.

Hippocrates also practiced surgery, reducing dislocations of joints and setting fractures, as well as boring holes in the skull to relieve pressure caused by brain tumors or other disorders. But he was primarily a medical doctor, and except for wounds, fractures, and dislocations, he used surgery only as a last resort. To him, the goal of the physician was the care and cure of the patient, saying: "For where there is the love of man, there is also love of the Art."

The other writing with which Hippocrates is most associated, the Hippocratic Oath, has provided a blueprint for medical ethics for more than 2,000 years, even though it was probably not actually written by him.

Hippocrates died in Larisa about 377 B.C.

Cossons, Neil Making of the Modern World, Milestones of Science and Technology London: John Murray (Publishers) Ltd., 1992

Hippocratic Oath

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This page was last updated on 09/19/2017.