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Types of Ancient Greek Medicine

Three main types of ancient Greek medicine

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Attic Red-Figure cup, attributed to the Foundry Painter, c. 500-475 B.C. at the British Museum.

Pankration training. Attic Red-Figure cup, attributed to the Foundry Painter, c. 500-475 B.C. at the British Museum.

[www.flickr.com/photos/pankration/] Pankration Research Institute @ Flickr.com
What do these three have in common?
  1. Asclepius
  2. Chiron
  3. Hippocrates

Have you heard of a healing god of Greece called Asclepius or Asculapius? He was Apollo's son, but his divine parentage didn't keep him alive after he became too good at his craft, depriving the Underworld gods of their denizens.

Alongside the mythology about demigods bringing the dead back to life and a centaur who taught generations of heroes how to tend to their future, battle or quest-incurred wounds, were Greek thinkers and observers who furthered the craft of healing to what we would probably consider scientific levels.

Ancient Greece is considered the home of rational medicine, but that doesn't mean they rejected all forms of religious healing. Alternative and scientific medicine co-existed in the ancient world just as they do today. Lyttkens ("Health, Economics and Ancient Greek Medicine") says healing cults took an upswing at the time of the birth of secular medicine and doctors sacrificed to the healing god Asclepius. There were, of course, magicians, charlatans and quacks, as well as midwives, but the main divisions, according to G. M. A. Grube ("Greek Medicine and the Greek Genius"), were temple medicine, medicine connected with physical training, and the medicine of the medical schools.

  1. Medical Schools

    The two most important medical schools were those of Cos (Kos) and Cnidos (Knidos). Cos and Cnidos are in Asia Minor where there was contact with Asia and Egypt, as well as Greece. Practitioners from both these schools did not believe illness was connected with the supernatural. Treatment was holistic, involving diet and exercise. Typical physicians were itinerant craftsmen, although some physicians became public doctors (archiatros poleos) or attached to a household. They practiced rational medicine rather than deducing from philosophical theory.

  2. Temple Medicine

    The two main healing sanctuaries were located in Cos (again; remember religious and secular medicine were not mutually exclusive) and the birthplace of Asclepius, Epidauros (dating from the end of the 6th century). Following a sacrifice, treatment included incubation by which was meant the patient went to sleep. Upon awakening he would either be cured or have received divine instruction in a dream that would be interpreted by experienced priests.

  3. Gymnasium

    Gymnastic treatment, based on experience, relied mainly on athletic training and hygiene (mens sana in corpore sano). Henry ("Lectures On The History Of Medicine") says the trainers were like chemists (druggists/pharmacists) to the Aesclepian priests. Gymnasium personnel administered enemas, bled, dressed wounds and ulcers, and treated fractures. The sophist Herodicus is called the father of gymnastic medicine. He may have taught Hippocrates.

Ancient Greek Medicine References

Philosophy/Science > Physicians > Types of Ancient Greek Medicine

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