WHAT IS GREEK MEDICINE?
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL HEALING IN GREEK MEDICINE
HOW TO USE THIS WEBSITE
Greek Medicine is the traditional, indigenous holistic healing system of Western civilization. It was
first codified and systematized by the Greek philosopher - physician Hippocrates in the 4th century
B.C.E. and subsequently developed and expanded by other physicians, most notably Galen,
Dioscorides and Avicenna.
In the Islamic world, Greek Medicine is known as Unani Medicine or Unani Tibb. "Unani" is the Arabic
ord for "Ionian", or Greek.
Greek Medicine was the original source and inspiration for many other natural, holistic and
alternative medical systems that developed in Europe and the United States in the 18th and 19th
centuries, which include homeopathy, naturopathy and chiropractic. The exemplary life and teachings
of its founder, Hippocrates have provided a shining source of inspiration to natural healers down
through the ages.
As a traditional holistic healing system, Greek Medicine has a lot in common with Chinese Medicine
and Ayurveda. All these traditional medical systems seek to harmonize the health of the individual
with the Universal Life Forces of Nature and the cosmos. Like Ayurveda, Greek Medicine is humorally
and constitutionally based. Like Chinese Medicine, Greek Medicine seeks a balance, or homeostasis,
between opposite yet complementary forces of Nature.
Greek Medicine is also the traditional medical system out of which modern medicine evolved. In
the basic notions and concepts of Greek Medicine we can see the fundamental assumptions and
orientations that have guided the development of modern medicine.
In the Enlightenment and the scientific and industrial revolutions that followed, the natural healing
methods of Greek Medicine were gradually abandoned in favor of more synthetic, technological
treatments and interventions. Also, the holistic orientation and traditional holistic healing wisdom of
Greek Medicine were gradually abandoned in favor of the excessively analytical, reductionistic
methods of modern science.
Modern man has become increasingly estranged from Nature. Modern technology threatens to
overwhem and dehumanize us. A global environmental crisis threatens to annihilate our very
existence on this planet and poses unprecedented challenges for the health of the individual. People
around the world are desperately searching for something natural to heal their ills. Far from being an
irrelevant, obsolete relic of the past, Greek Medicine is needed now more than ever.
It's highly ironic that Western man has been increasingly turning to the Orient in recent years for
natural healing solutions when Western civilization has at its very roots a fine, outstanding holistic
healing system of its own. The basic ideas, philosophies and archetypes that underly Greek Medicine
are not foreign but rather indigenous to Western civilization and culture. And so, reviving Greek
Medicine as a holistic healing system can have a profound healing and regenerative effect on Western
civilization itself, and create a renewed appreciation and respect for our relationship with Nature.
Greek Medicine offers a wealth of natural remedies, treatments and therapies to heal body, mind and
Modern medicine would benefit greatly by returning to its traditional Greek roots to recover the
natural, holistic perspectives and virtues it has lost. This need not be done in a blind, uncritical
manner, but rather with a discerning, integrative approach that synthesizes and combines the best of
the old with the best of the new.
Gaia | Apollo | Asclepius | Hygeia | Chiron | Hermes | Achilles | The Asclepions
A Gift from the Gods
Medicine is and always has been the Divine Art. To primitive man, the ability to heal and cure
disease seemed to be magical, even miraculous. The gospels of the New Testament are filled with the
miraculous healings of Jesus. Every traditional culture has its gods, demigods, and heroes who are
associated with the art of healing.
To the ancient Greeks, medicine was a gift from the gods. Greek mythology is full of symbolic
legends and allegories explaining the nature and origins of the art of healing. In these myths and the
gods and goddesses associated with them, we can find the basic, fundamental archetypes that have
guided and shaped the art of healing in Western civilization from its very inception. These archetypes
still guide the physician today, and all those who come to him for healing, whether they realize it or
Greek mythology is a wonderful source of wisdom and inspiration for the physician. By studying
the Greek myths, we can gain valuable insights into the nature of health and disease, and the way of
Mother Earth, Mother Nature
The first Greek god was actually a goddess. She is Gaia, or Mother Earth, who created herself out
of primordial chaos. From her fertile womb all life sprang, and unto Mother Earth all living things must
return after their allotted span of life is over.
Gaia, as Mother Nature, personifies the entire ecosystem of Planet Earth. Mother Nature is always
working to achieve and maintain harmony, wholeness and balance within the environment. Mother
Nature heals, nurtures and supports all life on this planet, and ultimately all life and health depend on
Her. In time, Nature heals all ills.
The way of Mother Gaia is the passive, feminine, Yin way of healing. All we need to do to regain
our health is to return to the bosom of Mother Nature and live in accordance with Her laws. The Gaia
archetype underlies all notions of the Nature Cure. Mother Nature is a healing goddess.
In the 1960s, James Lovelock formulated the Gaia hypothesis. It states that all life, and all living
things on this planet, are part of a single, all-encompassing global entity or consciousness which he
named Gaia. It is this global consciousness, Mother Gaia, that makes our planet capable of supporting
life, while our near neighbors in the solar system are barren and lifeless.
Through the global consciousness of Mother Gaia, all living things on this planet, from their most
primordial instincts, are constantly interacting with their environment to ensure the harmony, balance
and continuity of Life. Live in abalance with Mother Nature and health and healing are yours; violate
Her laws and get out of balance, and you pay the price in suffering and disease. In this sense, all
medicine and healing can be seen as a system of ecology.
The Source of Health and Healing
Apollo, a solar deity, was also the god of archery, music and healing. Apollo personifies the active,
Yang path to healing through self betterment and physical culture. The solar principle he represents
manifests in the body as the Vital Force - that which the Chinese call Qi and the Hindus call Prana.
Called The Bright One, Apollo is an eternal youth, and the bringer
of enlightenment and higher consciousness to all mankind. Advocating order, balance, harmony,
personal discretion and conscious living, Apollo's two basic health mottos are: Know thyself. and,
Nothing in excess.
Apollo's bow symbolizes the concept of tone and the need for physical conditioning. Tone is the
dynamic tension between opposite yet complementary forces within the human organism. The higher
the level of tone, the greater this dynamic tension is, and the greater the capacity of the organism to
respond with decisiveness, strength, and vigor. When we exercise, we're toning up our muscles; we
also feel more vital and alive, responsive and energetic.
Stringing Apollo's bow means bringing these powerful opposing forces into the proper relationship
or alignment. Until this happens, the system is non-functional, or dysfunctional, and unable to respond
Apollo's lyre symbolizes the gift of music, which is the harmony of sounds. To have health and
healing, there must be a harmonious ordering of all the vital forces within the organism; all the strings
must be in tune. There's a deep therapeutic relationship between music and healing.
In Greek mythology, Apollo is acknowledged as the original source of health and healing. He is the
first god addressed in the Hippocratic Oath. He was also the father of Asclepius, the god of medicine.
God of Medicine
All traditional cultures have some personification of the Divine Healer or miracle working physician.
The ancient Greeks had Asclepius, the god of medicine.
In Homer's Iliad, Asclepius was a man, a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy.
But by Hippocrates' day, he had become elevated to the status of a god.
Actually, Asclepius was a demigod, born of a divine father,Apollo, and a mortal mother, Coronis. While
pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis fell in love with a mortal man and married him. This so angered
Apollo that he struck both Coronis and her husband dead. As Coronis' body lay burning on the funeral
pyre, Apollo performed the first Caesarian section, freeing the baby Asclepius from his mother's womb
and certain death. And so, Asclepius' very birth was due to a heroic act of medical intervention.
Apollo then took the infant to be raised by the wise old centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of
healing. Asclepius became a great physician and surgeon, and raised the art of medicine to
The goddess Athena gave Asclepius the gift of Medusa's blood. The blood from the veins on the left
side of Medusa's head was for the bane of mankind, but Asclepius used the blood from the veins on
the right side for saving mankind and for raising the dead.
Asclepius' raising of the dead aroused the wrath of Zeus. Not only was Zeus angered to see many of
his old enemies, whom he had struck dead with his thunderbolts, returning to life, but his brother
Hades, king of the underworld, was complaining about the dearth of new arrivals. And so, Zeus struck
Asclepius dead with one of his thunderbolts, fearing the spread of his miraculous art of healing,
especially into the wrong hands.
Despite the rumors of his death, Asclepius became a living god. Healing sanctuaries, or Asclepions,
were dedicated to him at sacred sites throughout ancient Greece.
Asclepius often used the art of divination to obtain responses from his father Apollo through
oracles. From these auguries he learned much about the natures of many drugs and herbs, and how
to use them in treating disease. This knowledge he passed on to his sons, and to his students.
Asclepius is the personification of the miracle working physician of consummate medical skill. This
powerful archetype is still invoked today by many patients, desperately praying for their doctor to
work them a medical miracle, to snatch life from the jaws of death. Many people place a powerful,
almost religious faith in their doctors.
While placing a supernatural, blind faith in medicine and physicians, most men actually know very
little about life and death, and what they really are. On the whole, their approach to both is rather
cursory and superficial. Many men waste their lives away while fearing death, without properly
investigating either of them.
Asclepius' demise at the hands of Zeus shows the ultimate powerlessness of man against the
natural order and the forces of decay, destruction, and death. Even the most skillful physician cannot
hold death off indefinitely, and in the end, the grim reaper always claims his due.
Goddess of Sanitation and Hygiene
Hygeia, the goddess of health, sanitation and hygiene, was the stepdaughter of Asclepius. She was
worshipped alongside Asclepius in all his healing sanctuaries, or Asclepions.
Since ancient times, healers have noticed the close relationship between cleanliness and health.
Pestilence and disease flourish where filth and impurities accumulate. Cleanse the body, both inwardly
and outwardly, through diet, exercise, lifestyle and physical regimen, and most diseases are greatly
ameliorated, or vanish of their own accord.
Personifying the value of diet and hygiene in health maintenance and disease prevention, Hygeia is
the antithesis and complement to Asclepius. We look to Asclepius for medical miracles in times of
crisis, nut first let us do all we can to maintain our health and prevent disease ourselves. The body has
amazing powers of self healing if we keep it clean and live in accordance with Nature's laws.
In his book, Spontaneous Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil categorizes various approaches to the art of
medicine as being either predominantly Asclepian or Hygeian. Most natural, holistic, alternative
medical systems are in the Hygeian camp, whereas modern medicine is overwhelmingly Asclepian.
The Hygeian approach, he maintains, is ultimately the most positive and empowering.
Hippocrates wasn't a fanatic or idealogue; he was, above all, eminently pragmatic, and believed in
common sense to use whatever worked, and was most appropriate to the case at hand. But even
though he believed in timely and heroic intervention where necessary, he was, in the balance, more
Hygeian in his approach.
Father of the Medical Art
Chiron is the father of the medical art in
Greek mythology, for without him there would be no medicine. It was Chiron, the wise old Centaur,
who taught the art of healing to Asclepius and others.
Chiron was the good centaur - sober and civilized, and not at all given to rowdiness and drunken
revelry like the others. Chiron was certainly wiser than men, whom he surpassed in justice; and
sometimes, he was even wiser than the gods.
One day when Hercules, one of his pupils, was visiting Chiron, they were examining one of his
arrows. One of them fell on Chiron's thigh, inflicting an agonizing wound. The wound was so painful
that Chiron wanted to die, but, being immortal, he couldn't.
After Hercules released Prometheus, whom Zeus had imprisoned for giving the gift of fire to man,
Chiron wiilingly gave up his life and consented to die in Prometheus' place. The genial centaur Chiron
had renounced immortality, taught man the art of medicine, reared many famous disciples, and
surpassed men in justice, conscientiousness and dilligence. In recognition of these monumental
accomplishments, Chiron was immortalized after his death and accorded a place amongst the stars, in
the constellation Centaurus.
Chiron embodies the spirit of compassion and selfless service that all good physicians must have to
master and practice the medical art. Through his supreme sacrifice, willingly given, Chiron gave
mankind the art of healing.
Chiron's agonizing woulnd symbolizes the transformative power of illness and affliction. Through
pain and suffering, our personal wounds, both psychic and physical, can transform themselves into
sources of great moral and spiritual strength.
And His Magic Wand
Hermes, the messenger god on Mount Olympus, had a magic
wand called a Caduceus, which was given to him by Apollo. The Caduceus is a rod or staff framed by
two intertwined snakes; at the top of the staff are two wings.
The Caduceus symbolizes the spinal column, the central conduit for the Psychic Force, or nerve
energy, which animates all the organs and members of the body. The places where the snakes cross
represent the spinal energy centers or chakras of the subtle body.
The two snakes represent the two complementary halves of the nervous system: motor and
sensory, sympathetic and parasympathetic. For optimal functioning of the nervous system, these
complementary halves must be balanced.
Hermes, also called Mercury by the Romans, is sometimes pictured as a hermaphrodite, or a
person who is half male and half female. So it is with the nervous system; it is neither
emissive/masculine/Yang, nor is it receptive/feminine/Yin, because it incorporates both principles, or
The essence of the nervous system is communication, and Hermes, or Mercury, is the god of
communication, transportation, and commerce. Greek mythology also depicts Hermes as a clever
trickster, sent out on missions by Zeus and other Olympian gods to do their dirty work. And so,
Hermes symbolizes the Mercurial adaptability of the mind, which must survive by living by its wits and
Esoterically speaking, the two intertwining snakes of the Caduceus symbolize the lunar Ida and
solar Pingala channels of yogic philosophy, which must be cleared and balanced in order for the
kundalini energy, or serpent power, to ascend from the base of the spine to the crown, producing
enlightenment. In the Western esoteric tradition, this is called the Alchemical Marriage.
Snakes also have a profound symbolic significance in science, medicine and healing. The snake,
which periodically molts, or sheds its skin, is a symbol of healing, regeneration and renewal. In
ancient Greece snakes, which move about without any visible means of support or locomotion, were
considered to be the wisest and cleverest of all animals.
Asclepius' staff has only one snake entwined around it, which symbolizes healing, regeneration,
and the consummate skill of the medical art. Hermes' Caduceus has two intertwined snakes, which, in
addition to all the above, also represent the need for balance, or homeostasis, for optimum health
maintenance and disease prevention.
It seems as if snakes were also solar symbols. Apollo, who gave the Caduceus to Hermes, is often
pictured with snakes. And the staff of Asclepius, son of Apollo, has a snake entwined around it. The
sun, as the source of all Life and energy in our universe, is deeply connected with healing and the
expression of vitality and wellbeing in general.
And His Vulnerable Heel
Achilles was a powerful hero in Homer's Iliad, and undoubtedly the greatest warrior on the
battlefield at Troy. In his youth, he had been a pupil of Chiron.
When Achilles was just an infant, his mother immersed him in the river Styx, which separates the
land of the living from the land of the dead, to confer on him immortality, and to make him invincible
in battle. But when doing this, she committed a grave error. Through her oversight and negligence,
she held Achilles by his left heel when immersing him in the river Styx, and forgot to immerse his heel
And so, in spite of his great power and strength, and unsurpassed skill and prowess in battle,
Achilles remained with one weak or vulnerable spot, his left heel, which was ultimately to prove fatal.
In the final battle of the Trojan War, as Troy was being sacked and burned by marauding Greek
soldiers, Achilles was shot in his left heel with a poisoned arrow, which finally killed him.
We all have our weak or vulnerable areas, our Achilles' heels. Even someone who may outwardly
appear to be all-powerful, or even invincible, isn't without a weak spot, or Achilles' heel. We may
seem to be impervious to all harm until an injury, microbe or other pathogenic factor comes along that
has the ability to specifically target or exploit our weak spot, or Achilles' heel.
As the myth of Achilles so aptly symbolizes, our vulnerable areas, or Achilles' heels, are usually
either genetic, or handed down from our parents; or the result of some prior denial, neglect, or other
unconscious behavior; or both. It would greatly benefit all of us to take a long, hard look at our
vulnerable areas and consider carefully what we can do to ameliorate, remedy or eradicate them. But
all too often, it's much easier to take the path of least resistance and fail to do anything significant or
decisive, thereby allowing the vulnerable area to fester and grow.
The morbid humors, toxins and microbes that cause chronic and degenerative diseases are
basically opportunistic in nature; their inherent tendency is to seek out or gravitate towards the weak
spots or vulnerable areas of the organism, where they focus their attacks and become entrenched.
This is another important reason why we should make every effort to strengthen, vitalize and shore up
our weak spots, or areas of vulnerability.
Sanctuaries of Healing
The roots of healing and medicine in ancient
Greece lie in religion and spirituality. Asclepius, the Divine Physician, was worshipped as a god, and
supplications were made to him for healing.
Healing sanctuaries called Asclepions, dedicated to the god of medicine, were established
throughout Greece, usually in settings of awe-inspiring natural beauty and scenic grandeur. The main
Asclepion was in Epidaurus, with important branches in Cos and Pergamum. There, physician - priests
practiced a kind of spiritual healing centered around dream therapy on patient - pilgrims, who came
seeking a healing intercession from the Divine Physician.
The preliminary treatment for admission into the Asclepions was Katharsis, or purification. It
consisted of a series of cleansing baths and purgations, accompanied by a cleansing diet, which lasted
Then the supplicant was admitted into the sanctuary proper to participate in the Asclepian rites.
Offerings were made, usually in the form of gold, silver, or marble sculptures of the body part to be
healed. Sometimes, coins were tossed into a sacred spring. The priest invoked suggestive prayers to
the supplicant, and also included accounts of previous cures, to put him into a positive and receptive
frame of mind.
Then the supplicant entered the Abaton or dream incubation chamber for one or more nights, to
receive a healing dream from Asclepius. If the patient - pilgrim was lucky, he would receive a personal
visitation from the Divine Physician himself, who would either heal the supplicant directly in the dream
state, or tell him what to do to cure his illness or affliction.
Other dreams were less direct, and more symbolic. The physician - priests at the Asclepions were
also master dream interpreters who would divine the treatment to be followed from the patient's
account of the dream. The god Asclepius had certain totem animals in whose guise he liked to visit the
supplicants as they slept. These were the dog, the rooster, and of course, the snake.
From the ancient Greek Asclepions comes the concept of the healing retreat or sanctuary, the
sanitarium where people go to take the Nature Cure. You can find their
descendants in the health spas that are so popular throughout
Europe. Sometimes these even have an overtly religious character, as in the healing sanctuary at
Today, modern scientists praise and emphasize Hippocrates' establishment of medicine as a
rational science and his freeing of it from the shackles of magic and the supernatural. But the fact
remains that Hippocrates' father was a physician - priest in the Asclepion at Cos, where the young
Hippocrates got his first practical experience and training in the art of healing and caring for the sick.
Even the great physician Galen received a lot of his early training and instruction in medicine from the
physician - priests at the Asclepion in Pergamum.
Life is short, the Art long...
In these first few words of his first aphorism, Hippocrates places the life of the individual physician
against the panoramic backdrop of medical history for a sense of humility and perspective. The
practice of medicine stretches all the way back into the misty dawn of time. What any individual
physician can hope to learn and master in relation to the entirety of medical knowledge collected
throughout human history is indeed miniscule by comparison.
The vast expanse of medical history is indeed a panoramic landscape filled not only with deep
valleys, but also numerous exalted peaks. Some paths of medical experience and development have
proven to be blind alleys, while others have been extremely fruitful. Above all is the impressive
ingenuity, persistence and resourcefulness of man in his ongoing struggle against disease.
Modern man can easily lull himself into a sense of chauvinism and condescension, thinking that he
is living in the best of all possible worlds and times. He also tends to belittle or downplay the medical
accomplishments of the past. Instead, we should go back, seek them out, and try to learn from them
with an open mind.
As the drawbacks of modern technological medicine become increasingly self-evident, there is an
increasing need to think outside the box to search for innovative solutions. Past civilizations and
cultures, with their radically different perspectives on Life, may also hold the key to providing
refreshing new answers and solutions to the medical problems and challenges we now face.
For all its tremendous accomplishments, modern medicine isn't without its failures and
Many of its methods and treatments are unnatural and invasive, and try to suppress or subvert the
natural defensive and recuperative responses of the organism, which can only deplete and
compromise the overall health and vitality of the body in the long run. We should go back to
Hippocrates and learn again how to work with nature, not against it.
Many synthetic pharmaceutical drugs have numerous negative side effects, even when used and
prescribed properly, because they're not metabolized in a natural, balanced way by the
organism. Many infectious microbes are now resistant to antibiotics, which were once hailed as the
"wonder drugs" of modern medicine, mainly because they've been overused and
overprescribed. Natural remedies and treatments from the past don't have these drawbacks, and are
generally safer and gentler.
Technology can truly be a great blessing to modern medicine where it is truly necessary and cost
effective. But a lot of modern medical technology is prohibitively expensive, and is driving the cost of
healthcare way up and out of sight. "Low tech", or traditional alternatives are usually much cheaper,
and are often just as effective.
Because of their great cost effectiveness, the United Nations has supported and endorsed the use
of traditional medical systems and their natural remedies and treatments, especially in impoverished
Third World countries. Insurance companies in the industrialized nations are also recognizing this cost
effectiveness, and are now starting to pay for traditional medical treatments like acupuncture.
Like the great medical systems of China and India, Greek Medicine is a traditional healing system
with a lot to offer to relieve the illness and suffering of modern man. It was also the traditional
medical system from which modern medicine evolved. By studying its history and development and
how it evolved into modern medicine, we can begin to understand the true nature of healing and gain
a sense of perspective that lifts us above the fray of current medical politics and propaganda.
So, what are the historical accomplishments of Greek Medicine, and how can they benefit us
today? Read on!
The Origins of Greek Medicine
The ancient Greeks didn't invent the art of medicine; rather, they had a large body of preexisting
medical lore and knowledge to draw on. Their distinctive genius lay in their ability to distill and refine
all this medical knowledge into a new systematization and synthesis.
Most medical historians now agree that the
main source and
reservoir of medical knowledge that the ancient Greeks drew upon came from Egypt, whose
civilization was already old and well-established as the Golden Age of classical Greece was
dawning. But exactly how this medical knowledge was transmitted from Egypt to Greece is still
Many medical scholars maintain that the Minoan civilization on Crete served as the intermediary in
this transmission. But two other figures also stand out in this regard: Pythagoras and
Thales. Pythagoras is known to have traveled widely, and Thales received his medical training in
As with Greek Medicine, the origins of Egyptian Medicine lie in religion and spirituality. The
Egyptian god of medicine was Imhotep, whose basic role and function roughly corresponded to that
of Asclepius. Prayers and supplications were made to him and other gods for healing intercessions,
and it was believed that the gods intervened in matters of health and disease.
In spite of these religious origins, Egyptian Medicine was mostly rational and scientific. Blood was
considered to be an important nutritive and regulatory substance, and the heart was considered to be
the center of the circulatory system. The influence of respiratory patterns on blood circulation was
also widely recognized.
The ancient Egyptians wrote many medical papyri, which were filled with medical recipes that were
attributed to Imhotep, the legandary god and founder of their medical system. Other medical papyri
discuss the effects of various drugs and the classification and systematization of diseases and their
symptoms. The most famous of these medical papyri is the Ebers Papyrus.
The personal hygiene of the ancient Egyptians was impeccable. They bathed twice a day and
anointed themselves with perfumes and medicated oils. They boiled their water to sterilize it before
drinking, and never ate pork, as it was considered to be unclean. For similar reasons, women never
engaged in sex during their menstrual periods.
Specialists abounded for just about every field of medical practice. Each part of the body had its
own specialist who attended to it.
The Foundations of Greek Medicine
Of all the forerunners of Hippocrates,Pythagoras was certainly the most fabled and
legendary. His life is the provinde of legends, myth and miracles. Pythagoras had a famous school for
philosophers at Crotona, and many were his pupils.
Pythagoras was a mathematician, and believed in the harmony of
numbers. He discovered the whole number ratios at work in musical scales and intervals, and their
healing effects on the organism. And so, Pythagoras' name is frequently invoked by music
Pythagoras was indeed a seminal thinker, but because his life is so shrouded in myth and legend,
it's hard to say with any degree of certainty exactly which basic concepts of Greek Medicne were
actually his. Many feel that the concepts of critical days, and perhaps even the basic notion of
the humors, may have originated with him.
Pythagoras kept a very strict diet and health regimen, and many way that he was a lifelong
vegetarian. Believing that meat eating impaired one's faculty of judgement, he advised judges to
abstain from eating meat before trying important cases. As a mystic, Pythagoras believed
inmetempsychosis, which is reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls.
The theory of the Four Elements is generally attributed toEmpedocles. According to this theory,
everything in the universe, including the human body, is composed of the Four Elements: Fire, Air,
Earth and Water - in varying proportions.
Empedocles had a theory of building up, or synthesis (anabolism) versus breaking down, or
analysis (catabolism). The physician's job was to assess the patient to see which aspect of
metabolism predominated, and then bring them back into balance.
Another Four Element theorist was Thales, who had a theory of biogenesis. Reasoning that
everything that now exists had to come from something, he tried to figure out what was the original
source element for all life. After some thought, he concluded that it must have been Water. This is
more than just wild speculation; biologists now agree that all biochemical reactions essential to life
must take place in water, and that all life evolved out of the primordial oceans.
As a physician, Thales received his medical training in Egypt. In order to bring Greek medical
theory more into line with that of Egyptian Medicine, Thales proposed adding a fourth humor, black
bile. This brought the humors into line with the Four Elements.
Alcmaeon of Crotona was a younger contemporary of Pythagoras, and quite possibly his disciple
as well. He had a theory of isonomia, which means the perfect harmony of all substances in the
metabolism. The body was healthy as long as this metabolic harmony was maintained; disease
resulted from its disruption. Disease was cured by restoring metabolic balance and harmony to the
Modern nutritionists and physiologists see in isonomia the precursor of all modern metabolic
theory. More specifically for Greek Medicine, humoral physiology and pathology evolved from the
concept of isonomia.
Greek Medicine, as codified and systematized by Hippocrates, came together from many diverse
strands of scientific, medical and philosophical thought. This rich diversity of conceptual background
has given Greek Medicine much resiliency, versatility and adaptability as a medical system, and
openness to continued growth and change.
ALCHEMY AND MEDICINE
Healing and Transformation
Today, we tend to dismiss the alchemists as nothing more than dubious hucksters and impractical
dreamers whose sole mission was a misguided search for ways to transform base metals into
gold. But actually, they were much more than that; as the forerunners of modern chemists they
originated many chemical processing methods that are still in use today.
One of the key areas of human endeavor that the
alchemists were involved in was medicine. The essence of medicine is transformation, and the
alchemists transformed deadly poisons or otherwise inert organic substances into valuable medicines
capable of bringing about beneficial healing transformations in the organism.
Alchemical practices and currents of thought can be found in all the world's great traditional
medical systems. In Chinese Medicine, the Taoists were involved in alchemy. In Indian Ayurvedic
Medicine, alchemical bhasmas,or mineral ash preparations, are wonder drugs that are still in use
The alchemical tradition in Greek Medicine is based on Hermetic philosophy, which was founded by
the legendary Egyptian philosopher kingHermes Trimegistus, or the "Thrice-Great Hermes". Many
alchemists equate him with the Greek god Hermes or Mercury, and take his winged, serpent-entwined
staff as their symbol or emblem.
The guiding principle of Hermetic philosophy is, "As above, so below; as within, so without." In its
overal form, structure and composition, the microcosm of the human body reflects the macrocosm of
Nature. Disease and dysfunction arise when the microcosm of the human body gets out of balance
with the macrocosm of Nature; healing consists of bringing the microcosm of the human body back
into balance with the macrocosm of Nature.
Hermetic philosophy also underlies the science and practice of Medical Astrology. The planets
symbolize universal life forces and processes that are active both in the macrocosm of the natural
world and within the microcosm of the human body. Being intermediaries between God, the Prime
Mover, and the world of Man and Nature, the planets and signs of the zodiac deal with the pure forms,
or archetypes, that underly all the changing forms and transitory phenomena of the outer world.
The Classical Era
Greek Medicine was codified, systematized, and put into its classical form by Hippocrates, who is
best remembered for the theory of the Four Humors. The basic principles of natural healing in Greek
Medicine given in the introduction to this website are the key tenets upon which Hippocrates based his
Anatomical knowledge wasn't the strong point of
Hippocratic medicine. Anatomy literally means, "cutting up", or the dissecting of bodies to reveal their
various parts and structures. In ancient Greece, there was a religious ban on the dissecting of
Rather, the forte of classical Greek Medicine was its understanding of physiology, or how the living,
breathing human organism as a whole relates and responds to its environment, and how it functions
to ensure its health, survival and wellbeing. This gave Greek Medicine a holistic orientation.
Hippocrates laid the theoretical foundation for Greek Medicine, which was further elaborated,
expanded and added to by other physicians and philosophers. These included Plato, Aristotle and
Plato was a spiritually oriented philosopher who was vitally interested in the relationship between
soul, mind and body. His ideas on anatomy and physiology were basically teleological - that the
human body and all its constituent parts were fashioned by their Creator to serve as a vehicle for the
indwelling soul, or psyche, with the lower functions serving the higher in a hierarchy of form following
function. Plato believed that all physical forms and entities were reflections of pure forms or ideas
called archetypes which existed in the eternal, spiritual realm. The physical world of becoming was
but a transitory and imperfect reflection of the spiritual world of being.
Aristotle was much more materialistic than his teacher Plato, and injected a spirit of rationalism,
empiricism and healthy skepticism into Greek science and medicine. Ever the curious student and
observer of Nature, Aristotle wrote voluminously on all the sciences, and could be called the Father of
Through the conquests of his pupil, Alexander the Great, Greek Medicine spread far and wide,
throughout the entire Mediterranean world and beyond. An important medical school was established
in Alexandria in Egypt, which served to transmit Greek Medicine to the Romans after they conquered
Egypt in 33 B.C.E. The Alexandrian school called itself theEmpirical School, and everything was
open to testing and experimentation. For a brief period, the religious ban on dissecting cadavers was
lifted, and Herophilus performed the first postmortem examination on a dead body in public around
The famous library in Alexandria housed the collection of writings attributed to Hippocrates, or
the Hippocratic Corpus. Not all the writings in the Corpus were genuinely written by Hippocrates;
many were written by his students. Within the Hippocratic Corpus are many original, pioneering
works, such as Airs, Waters and Places, which is probably the the first known treatise on medical
geography and climatology. Other works, such as Hippocrates' Aphorisms and The Nature of Man, are
The early Romans were a simple, stoic lot who didn't like to rely on doctors; rather, their
prescription for a healthy life was a simple diet of good, wholesome food, personal cleanliness and
hygiene, and plenty of hard work and exercise.
But as the Roman empire grew and life became more complex, the demand for doctors and their
services increased. Ambitious physicians from all over the empire, eager for fame and fortune, poured
in to Rome. The most famous and highly reputed physicians were Greek, many of whom had been
trained in Alexandria. However, a few of them, like Celsus, were Roman by birth.
The Romans, with their genius for governing an empire, were masters of public health. They
installed long aqueducts and sophisticated plumbing systems in Rome and other major cities
throughout the empire, and drained swamps and marshlands near crowded urban areas to prevent the
germination and spread of pestilential diseases like malaria. Public healthcare was offered at low cost
or free of charge, since the ancient Romans realized the benefits that would accrue to the empire by
keeping all its citizens healthy.
The Romans were also great devotees of the bath. Roman emperors vied with each other to see
who could build the most luxurious, splendid public baths, which were also a pleasant way to relax
after a hard day's work. Everywhere they went, the Romans took their baths with them, even to the
farthest outposts of the empire. The Roman baths in Bath, England are still popular tourist
attractions, and Baile Herculane (the Bath of Hercules) in Dacia (present day Romania) is a popular
spa resort to this day.
The two brightest stars in the Roman medical firmament were Galen and Dioscorides, both of
whom were Greeks. They were both pioneering innovators who made major contributions to the
theory and practice of Greek Medicine. Galen was the greatest physician of the Roman empire, and
Dioscorides was a master herbalist and Father of Pharmacy.
Although the Western Roman Empire fell to barbarian invasions in 476 A.D., the Eastern Roman
or Byzantine Empire endured for another thousand years, finally falling to the Ottoman Turks in
1453. Although the Byzantine Empire produced its share of fine physicians, they were not quite the
equal of Galen or Dioscorides. The Byzantines kept classical Greek Medicine alive long enough to pass
it on to the Muslim Arabs, who kept the spirit of science and learning alive while Western Europe was
in the Dark Ages.
Unani is the Arabic word for Ionian, or Greek. Greece's Islamic neighbors call
Greece Yunanistan,or the Land of the Unanis.
While Western Europe was in the Dark Ages, Greek Medicine and other branches of classical
science and learning found a safe haven in Islamic lands. But Greek Medicine didn't remain static or
unchanging; it continued to grow and evelve as Muslim scholars and physicians continued to make
important discoveries and contributions of their own.
In the process, Greek Medicine was "Islamicized" into Unani-Tibb, or Greco-Arabic Medicine. This
transformation proved that Greek Medicine was flexible, resilient and adaptable enough to absorb and
incorporate new developments and influences.
Within a few short centuries after its birth, the Islamic world had expanded to stretch from the
Atlantic ocean in the west to the Indian ocean in the east, from Moorish Spain to the plains of
Hindustan. Everywhere the Muslims went, their Unani physicians went with them, adapting
themselves to the local conditions and resources. In the words of Unani medical historians, Unani Tibb
enriched itself by imbibing new medicines, techniques and treatments from the various cultures and
medical systems with which it came into contact, which included Indian Ayurveda and Oriental
Around the time of the Crusades, the Islamic world produced a few very prominent and influential
physicians and medical scholars. Their names were Latinized, and their medical treatises were
imported into Europe and translated into Latin, to serve as texts and reference manuals in the medical
schools that were just starting to spring up in Medieval Europe.
Ibn Rushd, or Averroes (1120 - 1198) was a physician and Islamic scholar and philosopher in
Moorish Spain. He wrote a five volume treatise on medicine called Al-Culliyat(The Fundamentals),
Al-Razi, or Rhazes (865 - 924) was a Persian physician, chemist and alchemist. He wrote a vast
medical encyclopedia called Continens, with many excerpts from Hindu and Greek medical sources.
But the greatest of these was
undoubtedly Hakim Ibn Sina, or Avicenna. He wrote a five volume treatise called The Canon of
Medicine, which became a standard textbook in European medical schools. Today, it serves as the
basic handbook for all practitioners of Unani Medicine.
Unani Medicine found fertile soil in India. The Delhi Sultanate and later the Moghul
emperors were great patrons of medicine. Many eminent physicians from Persia and Central Asia
came to India not only to seek fame and fortune, but also to find a safe haven from the wars and
strife devastating their homelands.
Under British rule, all forms of healing except conventional allopathic medicine were
discouraged. But Unani Medicine survived, due to its popularity with the masses, and the safe, gentle
yet effective nature of its treatments.
Hakim Ajmal Khan (1864 - 1927) was an Unani physician, and also an Indian patriot and
freedom fighter in the struggle for independence. He was also a great advocate and champion of the
indigenous systems of Ayurvedic and Unani Medicine, and pioneered scientific research into their
Today, the Indian government supports and subsidizes both Ayurvedic and Unani medical colleges
and hospitals. But whereas Ayurveda has enjoyed a phenomenal surge in popularity, Unani Medicine
still lags behind in recognition, perhaps due to its minority Islamic associations.
MEDICINE IN MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE EUROPE
Greek Medicine Returns to the West
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe entered the Dark Ages. All forms of science and
learning, including medicine, retrogressed. This was the Age of Faith, and faith was contrary to
knowledge and reason.
In medicine, the works of Galen and Aristotle survived, since they were snctioned by the church,
but were blindly accepted as dogma. The true spirit of scientific inquiry had died, and was no longer
The Crusades and the High Middle Ages
The Crusades were a violent, destructive and misguided period of European history, to be sure, but
it wasn't without its fringe benefits. Islamic science and medical knowledge began to flow back into
Europe, first as a trickle, then later as a flood. The medical works of Averroes,
Rhazes and Avicenna were translated into Latin, and used as texts in the medical schools that were
being established all over Europe.
Of these, the oldest and most famous was the medical school at Salerno, in Italy. So great was
its reputation that the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick decreed, in 1121, that only physicians who had
been trained in Salerno could work in his court.
Salerno also had the distinction of producing the first woman obstetrician and
gynecologist, Trotula of Salerno. In an age of rampant patriarchy and sexual repression, Trotula
considered it her sacred duty to educate male physicians on the nature of the female body and how to
care for it. She wrote a book on women's diseases and health issues entitled Passionibus Mulherum
Curandorum, or "Curing the Diseases of Women".
The medical school at Salerno was followed in short order by the school at Montpelier in southern
France. By the year 1300, there were over a dozen medical schools throughout Europe.
The physicians trained in these medical schools worked as court physicians throughout Europe, and
treated the nobility and the aristocracy. The common man couldn't afford their serevices, and had to
make do with the local folk healer or barber-surgeon.
The Church responded in kind to this growing influx of
medical learning from the East and established religious orders and monasteries throughout Europe,
which were also centers of learning and of medicine. The medieval monks and friars cultivated
medicinal herbs in their gardens, prepared herbal medicines in their apothecaries and officinas,and
cared for the sick as an expression of their Christian charity and compassion.
One of the most medically distinguished was the Benedictine Order. They prepared a famous
digestive tonic called the Benedictine liqueur. Its main ingredient, Carduus benedictus, or Blessed
Thistle, derives its name from its associations from this order.
The Christian brothers in these orders were master herbalists and pioneers of botany. Their
influence can be seen in the Latin botanical names of many medicinal herbs. If the second name of
the Latin binomial is officinalis or officinale, it was used by the medieval monk apothecaries in their
medical dispensaries, or officinas. Plants of the Mustard family are called Cruciferae, or "crossforming" because, when viewed from the bottom end of the stalk, their fourfold branches form a
cross, the symbol of Christianity.
Medieval physicians placed great emphasis on exercise, a healthy diet, and healthy living
conditions. They often prescribed laxatives, diuretics, fumigation and cauterization, herbs, and
bathing, or hydrotherapy. Surgery, generally used only as a last resort, was performed on tumors,
fistulas, hemorrhoids, gangrene, cataracts and scrofula.
Of all types of surgery, venesection, or bloodletting, was the most common. Although excesses
and abuses of this practice were common, bloodletting does have its beneficial, curative
applications. Medical science is starting to rediscover the therapeutic value of venesection and
Uroscopy, or urine analysis, was an important and highly developed diagnostic method in
medieval medicine. So common was this prctice that it was almost routine to bring along a jar or
flask containing the morning's urine sample when visiting the doctor.
There's a humorous little anecdote that illustrates just how precise the science of uroscopy was:
A wealthy baron, instead of collecting a sample of his own urine, decided to play a trick on his
doctor, and instead collected a sample from his maidservant. Upon inspecting the sample, the
physician boldly declared:
"Almighty God has decided to bless us with a great miracle: that a man should give birth to a
Unbeknownst to the baron, his maidservant had conceived, and was pregnant.
In the medical schools of medieval Europe, the dissection of a human cadaver was a basic
initiatory ritual in the study of anatomy. Anatomy really came into its own as an important
foundational science for the theory and practice of medicine.
Medicine in the Renaissance
By the Renaissance, the flow of classical and Islamic science and learning back into Europe had
become a flood, and a new spirit of openness and humanism was in the air. Classical medical
doctrines concerning the Four Humors, the Four Temperaments, and the like were all the rage.
This intellectual curiosity and appetite in the popular mind for classical notions and concepts was
exploited by writers and dramatists like William Shakespeare, Ben Johnsonand Christopher
Marlowe, who made frequent poetic allusions to the humors and temperaments in their works. In
fact, it's impossible to adequately understand or appreciate their writings without some knowledge of
classical medical terms like Sanguine, Melancholy, Choleric and the like mean and imply.
The Renaissance also saw a reawakening of the spirit of scientific inquiry in medicine. The
teachings of Galen, Aristotle and other medical authorities of antiquity were no longer blindly accepted
as dogma, but open to investigation and experimentation, and revision or expurgation if
necessary. Andreas Vesalius, the great Renaissance anatomist, pointed out the errors of Galen
concerning the pulmonary circulation and the oxygenation of the blood, for example.
Sometimes it took the shock therapy of medical iconclasts and renegades likeParacelsus to shake
medicine out of its medieval slumber of blind faith in the authorities and tradition of
antiquity. Although Paracelsus' theories were highly unorthodox and controversial, they did open the
eyes of the medical profession to alternative ways of medical thinking. Paracelsus' motto was: "Let
no man belong to another who can belong to himself."
MEDICINE IN THE MODERN ERA
Medicine and Modern Technology
After reaching a peak during the Renaissance, classical Greek ideas in medical theory and practice
started to die out. It wasn't a sudden death, but more like a long, slow decline. But the change was
radical and far-reaching until, by the mid-20th century, virtually nothing was left of the vast edifice
that had once been Greek Medicine.
Several revolutionary developments in science were mainly responsible for the death of Greek
Medicine, and resulted in a total demolition and rebuilding of medicine and the science on which it's
based from the ground up. In fact, they would result in a whole new understanding and perception of
scientific truth and clinical reality.
Modern chemistry started to discover and isolate the elements in a test tube. And they proved to
be many more than, and quite different from, the basic four of Greek Medicine.
The existence of blood, phlegm and plasma, and bile could be verified and proven, but the various
subtle, energetic or psychosomatic notions associated with them had to be discarded as primitive
fantasies of the ancient mind unless their mechanisms of action could be proven in the
laboratory. And it was highly doubtful that black bile even existed at all.
But since the classical concepts of humor and temperament provided a simple, elegant and
eminently workable model for clinical diagnosis and treatment, they didn't die overnight, but lingered
on in the actual practice of medicine until quite recently. Not until the 19th century do we find a
gradual transition from the classical precepts to the new ways of medical theory and practice.
Natural medicinal substances, mostly of botanical origin, were the mainstay of medical treatment
up until the early 20th century. The wholesale switchover to synthetic pharmaceutical drugs didn't
really happen until the advent of antibiotics in the 1930s.
The Nineteenth Century: A Radical Break with Medicine's Past
During the 19th century, medicine underwent a radical transformation as the latest discoveries of
medical science began to be implemented in its practice as well. These changes also radically altered
the way we look at health and disease.
The classical way of understanding and classifying diseases was to identify them as specific
complexes of certain signs and symptoms. This classification system was gradually abandoned in
favor of models based on measurable disturbances of organ function and pathological lesions in the
organs and tissues that were observable under a microscope.
Diagnostically, there has been an ongoing shift in emphasis and reliance from qualitative data
obtained from direct clinical observation of the patient to quantitative data obtained mostly from lab
tests, microscopic analysis of cultures and tissue samples, and sophisticated diagnostic
machinery. Powerful economic interests like the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations have sought to
technologize medicine, thus making it a profitable venue for capital investment and development. The
downside of this trend is that medical costs continue to skyrocket up and out of sight.
The 19th and 20th centuries also saw the infatuation of modern medicine with the germ theory of
disease. Many diseases, from the common cold to cancer, have been blamed on various
microbes. The germ theory has also been a powerful marketing tool for the medical-industrial
complex, which is always developing a new pill or vaccination against the latest "bad guy" microbe.
While Greek Medicine doesn't deny the existence of these microbes and their involvement in the
infectious disease process, it rejects the notion that they are the unique, specific, or original cause of
the disease for the following reasons:
There is always at least one prior predisposing factor, be it a constitutional weakness or an
imbalance of humor and/or temperament.
There's really no such thing as a single agent or cause of disease. An illness or disease is usually
the result of the simultaneous convergence of multiple causative factors.
If microbes were really the primary causative agents in infectious diseases, then all doctors and
healthcare workers coming into contact with them on a daily basis would become ill; this is clearly not
Exposure to microbes alone is not enough; there must also be some predisposing factor within the
Allopathy, the dominant conceptual system of modern medicine, tends to view disease as an
enemy that attacks us from without. But Greek Medicine and other holistic healing systems prefer to
focus on factors connected with host resistance and immunity, and the metabolic balance and
soundness of the organism as the best way to overcome morbidity and disease.
This internal biological and metabolic environment of the host organism is what many holistic
healers call the terrain, or ground. If some potentially pathogenic microbe finds a morbid or toxic
terrain that is hospitable to it, it will grow and thrive; if not, it won't even be able to gain a foothold in
the host organism.
Louis Pasteur, the founder and main proponent of
the germ theory of disease, won fame and fortune, and became one of the scientific heroes of modern
medicine. His main scientific rival, Dr. Claude Bernard, whose alternative theory of infectious
disease emphasized the terrain and host resistance, was refuted and ridiculed by Pasteur and his
colleagues. Finally, on his deathbed, with no more money to be made and no more honors to be won,
Pasteur had his moment of truth, and finally conceded that Bernard was right - that the terrain was
Greek Medicine also takes issue with the use of harsh, potent synthetic pharmaceutical drugs to
treat disease, even the most minor illnesses. Since these drugs are concentrated, purified, and
therefore extreme and unbalanced by nature, they aren't metabolized in a balanced, harmonious
fashion by the organism, and create humoral imbalances and negative side effects.
So many pharmaceutical drugs also work in a negative fashion, by blocking this or that function,
channel or receptor. Herbs and natural medicines mainly work by strengthening the healthy,
righteous functioning of the organism.
By radically discarding so many classical theories and practices, modern medicine has lostouch
with its roots, with any sense of tradition and continuity from its past. The great traditional medical
systems of India, Chana and Greece also had their periods of rapid growth and change. But the old
ways weren't discarded completely; they were usually just modified, expanded or refined. Galen
worked within the Greek medical tradition while introducing improvements; so did Avicenna.
But with Western medicine, the whole edifice of classical medicine was discarded as being
erroneous, primitive and merely misguided superstition. In the process, "the baby was thrown out
with the bathwater", so to speak, and Western medicine lost touch with its traditional holistic healing
GREEK MEDICINE AND MODERN PSYCHOLOGY
Ancient Healing for the Mind and Spirit
Classical Greek Medicine was holistic; it saw the mind and body as one. The Four
Temperaments, or constitutional types originally pertained just as much to the body as to the
mind. By treating the mind as well as the body, the Greek physicians of antiquity were the first
psychologists of Western civilization.
Since the body is more solid and visible, its workings were more open to scientific testing and
verification. And so, the physiological side of the classical Greek concepts of humor and temperament
were abandoned fairly early on in favor of a physiology and pathology based more on the findings of
modern science. However, the psychological notions associated with the Four Temperaments lingered
on to become a kind of proto-psychology.
And so, the Four Temperaments went on to become descriptions of character or personality types,
or states of mind. These are as follows:
Sanguine - optimistic, hopeful, cheerful, exuberant, outgoing
Choleric - bold, feisty, angry, irritable, contentious, confrontive, ambitious
Phlegmatic - relaxed, slow, sentimental, subjective, passive, stable, good natured
Melancholic - sad, moody, withdrawn, pensive, cautious, prudent, reflective
Given the materialistic emphasis of modern science, it's only natural that psychology and
psychiatry were the last branches of science to develop. Not until Sigmund Freud at the end of the
nineteenth century did each of these sciences come into its own.
But even then, due to the analytical, reductionistic nature of modern science, the mind was viewed
as being separate from the body. This mind/body split, or schism, has inflicted much needless harm
and suffering on modern man.
Modern Psychological Typology
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The great spiritual psychologist Carl Gustav Jung developed a system of psychological typology
based on the Four Elements of Greek Medicine and their associated temperaments. These are:
Intuitive Type (Fire / Choleric): Bold, flambuoyant, imaginative; perceiving the subtle
energies, possibilities and associations of things more than their actual physical reality.
Sensation Type (Earth / Melancholic): Cautious, prudent, reserved, pragmatic, efficient,
reliable; perceiving just the actual physical reality of things, exactly as they are, through the ordinary
Thinking Type (Air / Sanguine): Subtle, sophisticated, refined; relates isolated facts and
phenomena to each other through underlying ideas and conceptual frameworks.
Feeling Type (Water / Phlegmatic): Emotive, sentimental, passive, subjective; evaluates
experiences through their direct, visceral impact on the feelings and emotions.
The first two personality types, Intuitive andSensation, Jung considered to be opposing modes
of perception. The second two,Thinking and Feeling, Jung considered to be opposing modes
of judgement. Although Jung's system does allow for mixed types, one can't be both Intuitive and
Sensation because these are opposing modes of perception; neither can one be both Thinking and
Feeling, for the same reason.
If one analyzes Jung's types in terms of the classical Greek notions of element and
temperament, the Intuitive and Sensation types correspond to the Fire and Earthelements,
respectively, which are both Dry. The Thinking and Feeling types correspond to
the Air and Water elements, respectively. which are both Wet. In essence, Jung is saying that you
can't mix temperaments / types that have the same secondary quality of Wetness or Dryness. And
so, Jung's system goes against classical authorities on temperament, who say that you can't mix
temperaments having the same active or primary quality of Hot or Cold.
Methods of personality typology based on Jung's model are still very much in use today in the
psychological and counseling professions. In this way, Greek Medicine still lives on.
REEK MEDICINE AND HOLISTIC HEALING
Looking for a Natural Alternative to Modern Medicine
Seeing the overly analytical, reductionistic direction that modern medicine was taking, and the
harmful, toxic, or invasive nature of many of its treatments, a number of far-sighted, holistically
minded individuals arose in rebellion to found their own schools of holistic medicine. Many of these
medical revolutionaries looked to the life and teachings of Hippocrates and other classical Greek
physicians for inspiration and holistic healing wisdom.
The first of these medical revolutionaries
was the German
physician Samuel Hahnemann,who founded homeopathy in the late 18th century. Seeing all the
harm being done by the heavy doses of harsh, toxic drugs, which was the standard medical practice of
his day, Hahnemann decided to experiment with giving these same potent poisons in harmless
microdoses, to see what kinds of effects they would have.
He found that microdoses of these toxic drugs, properly diluted and prepared according to a special
homeopathic process, helped the body heal or recover from the same diseases or symptoms that they
caused in regular doses. They did this, Hahnemann theorized, by stimulating the natural innate
healing responses of the organism to throw off the disease condition.
Homeopathy is based on the principle Similia similibus curantur, or "Let like cure like.", a medical
aphorism that the homeopathists attribute to Hippocrates. In other words, "a hair from the dog that
bit you" cures the illness or affliction.
Homeopathic methods of like curing like do indeed have their place in Greek Medicine. But the
usual rule in most cases is to help the organism reestablish balance and homeostasis with medicines
and treatments that are contrary in nature to the disease or affliction.
American Schools of Herbal Medicine
In 18th and 19th century America, a couple of influential schools of herbal medicine developed and
flourished. These were the Thomsonian School and the Eclectics.
The Thomsonian School was started by the maverick herbal practitioner Samuel Thomson in the
late 18th century. As the school grew and flourished, it became known asPhysiomedicalism.
The Thomsonians believed in stimulating the vital defensive and metabolic powers of the organism
by using heating, stimulant herbs like Cayenne, Lobelia and Bayberry bark. They focused their
treatments on what Greek Medicine would call the Vital Faculty, by stimulating the immune response,
the Innate Heat of metabolism, and balancing and optimizing the circulatory system.
Like homeopathy, the Eclectic School began as a protest against the harsh, toxic drugs and
harmful medical treatments of their day. The Eclectics were looking for a gentler, saner, more natural
approach to medical treatment, and found the alternative they sought in herbs.
The Eclectics were true masters of herbal medicine. They had a doctrine of herbal specifics, or
precisely matching single herbs or simple formulas to the patient's condition, in contrast to the crude
"shotgun approach" of large doses of harsh, potent, but poorly chosen drugs favored by the
conventional practitioners of their day.
The Eclectics treated diseases according to their natures, not their names. Their system of disease
syndrome differentiation and treatment had a lot in common with the classical Greek concepts of
humor and temperament. They treated the person, not the disease.
The word eclectic means, "I choose" in Greek. The Eclectics were very progressive and openminded, and believed in using whatever would best help their patients. In classical Greek Medicine,
the term "eclectic" was reserved only for the greatest physicians, like Hippocrates and Galen, who had
mastered the art of medicine to such an extent that they were free to pick and choose, and
incorporate concepts and treatments from other medical schools and systems into their practice.
The German cleric Father Sebastian Kneipp (1821 - 1897) developed a system of natural
therapeutics that he called the Nature Cure. It combined diet, herbal medicine, fresh air, fasting and
purification treatments, exercise and hydrotherapy, or therapeutic bathing into one integrated
system. This became the basis for Naturopathy.
In the mid-19th century, the teachings and practice of naturopathy came to American
shores. People like Dr. William Kellogg went to Europe to learn the Kneipp system of natural
therapeutics and used it in his famous sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Benedict Lust and his
son John Lust, both disciples of Father Kneipp, were also instrumental in establishing naturopathy in
the United States.
Chiropractic is a natural, drugless osteopathic system of healing through physiotherapy and
manipulation. Its central theory is that since nerves branch out from the spinal column to vitalize and
animate all the organs, tissues and parts of the body, spinal subluxations, or displaced vertebrae can
pinch or put undue pressure on important spinal nerves, thus impeding the flow of vital nerve force to
the organs and tissues they supply, causing dysfunction and disease. Putting the spinal column back
into alignment with chiropractic adjustments removes the original cause of the disorder and returns
the organism back to a state of health and balance.
In terms of Greek Medicine, chiropractic treats and heals the organism through the Psychic Faculty
and its neural network. Through adjustments to the spinal column, or central nexus of this neural
network, the chiropractor rebalances the flow of the Psychic Force, or nerve energy, thus putting the
whole organism back into a state of homeostasis.
Although the Caduceus, or winged, serpent-entwined staff of Hermes is the present day symbol of
conventional allopathic medicine, chiropractors are better able to understand and appreciate its
significance. The Caduceus is a symbolic representation of the human spinal column with its energy
centers, or chakras.
The fact that all of these alternative holistic healing systems reverted back, either consciously or
unconsciously, intentionally or otherwise, to certain fundamental principles of Greek Medicine is a
testament to their timeless universality. In their essential commitment to gentler, safer methods of
treatment, and to working with Nature, these holistic healing systems are in harmony with the basic
precepts of Greek Medicine.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN GREEK MEDICINE
Ancient Healing Wisdom for Today
Disillusioned with the failures of modern medicine in treating the chronic degenerative diseases
that now plague mankind, many progressive, open-minded physicians have started to look beyond the
prevailing practices of conventional medicine for healing solutions. Their search has led many of
them, to a greater or lesser extent, intentionally or otherwise, back to the teachings of Hippocrates
and Greek Medicine.
Metabolic Body Typing
One of the key concepts of Greek Medicine is that of different constitutional types, or
temperaments. Knowing one's constitutional type is the key to all diagnosis and treatment in Greek
The classical Greek system of constitutional typology was based on inherent predominances of
humor and qualities of temperament. In Greek Medicine, there are four basic constitutional types,
whose predominances are as follows:
Sanguine - Warm and Moist - Blood
Choleric - Hot and Dry - Yellow Bile
Melancholic - Cold and Dry - Black Bile
Phlegmatic - Cold and Wet - Phlegm, Plasma, Lymph
In recent years, certain progressive, holistically minded nutritionists and physicians have started to
develop various systems of constitutional and metabolic typology. Their researches led them to
realize that there were actually great variations in the way the systems of different individuals, all
considered to be healthy and normal by conventional medical standards, metabolized various foods
and nutrients. And so, various systems of metabolic body typing were born.
In the mid-20th century, Dr. Sheldon developed the first modern system of body typing: the
threefold differentiation of endomorph, ectomorph and mesomorph. Although these types were
first developed as a form of psychological profiling, Dr. Sheldon soon realized that there were certain
characteristics of physiology and metabolism associated with each type.
Then, in the 1960's, Dr. Bieler came up with a system of constitutional typology based on one's
dominant endocrine gland. Dr. Bieler recognized three basic glandular types: theAdrenal
type, the Thyroid type, and the Pituitary type. To these basic three have been added two
more: a Gonadal type and a Pancreas type.
Some correspondences have been made between these glandular types and the Four
Temperaments, or constitutional types of Greek Medicine, although these aren't universally accepted:
Choleric - Adrenal type
Melancholic - Thyroid type
Phlegmatic - Pituitary type
Sanguine - Gonad type
Roger Williams was another great scientist and pioneer into body typing. His research
discovered considerable individual variation not only in the size, but also in the functional performance
of the various endocrine glands. Dr. Williams was the first to coin the termbiochemical
The modern sciences of nutrition, physiology and biochemistry are incredibly complex. Besides the
relative strength and dominance of the various endocrine glands, modern researchers have identified
several other key ways in which one individual's physiology and metabolism may differ from
another's. These are:
1) Autonomic nervous system balance - either sympathetic or parasympathetic dominant.
2) Variations in cellular metabolism, or the carbo-oxidative system - fast oxidation, slow
oxidation, or sub- (incomplete) oxidation.
3) Lipo-oxidative processes - fatty acid and sterol balance, aerobic / anaerobic metabolism
balance, cell membrane permeability variation, balance of catabolic versus anabolic metabolism.
4) Fluid and electrolyte balance - predispositions towards excesses or deficiencies of certain
fluids and electrolytes.
5) Acid / alkaline balance - six potential areas of pH imbalance due to seven different causative
6) Prostaglandin balance
7) Metabolic typology according to blood type
8) Typology according to constitutional elements - differing needs and constitutional
predominance of certain minerals in the organism.
9) Neurotransmitter balance - excitatory versus inhibitory neurotransmitters
Today, constitutional or metabolic body typing is used for the following purposes:
1) Determining the ideal diet for an individual, for optimum nutrition, or to facilitate weight loss;
2) Determining constitutional vulnerability to certain illnesses;
3) To facilitate better human relations through mutual understanding of differences in
Other progressive, holistically-minded physicians have sought to reform and revolutionize medical
practice by returning to certain therapeutic methods of Hippocrates and Galen, which had long been
forgaotten and abandoned by conventional medicine. For this reason, they have chosen to call
themselves Neo-Hippocratic physicians.
Just what kinds of therapeutic methods are we talking about? Dr. Bernard Aeschner explains in his
book, Neo-Hippocratism in Everyday Practice:
"If we study the books of Hippocrates from a practical view, we find, besides the usually discussed
subject... an enormous treasure of therapeutic wisdom of eternal value, largely unknown and unutilized
today. I wanted to demonstrate this fact by one of the most important conceptions of Hippocrates which
says that the majority of disease does not come from without (like injury or infection) but from within from
overfilling with food-stuff, blood, and superfluous or corrupt humors, that we call metabolic
products. Consequently to the concept of overfilling the six eliminating (evacuating) methods...: purging,
vomiting, sweating, diuresis, bleeding and derivation through the skin (cauterization) were the basis of a
most effective general treatment until the beginning of the nineteenth century. These methods were
discovered and developed partly be chance, instinct and experience, partly by imitation of the healing crises
of nature itself (like critical sweats, diarrhea, rashes, diuresis, hemorrhages of the nose, piles, etc...)
But ... these fundamental and true Hippocratic methods have been discarded, and I wanted to show that
their critical revival and reconciliation with modern methods gives surprising results just there, where
experimental medicine declares the condition as acute and dangerous or chronic, obstinate and
incurable. Especially for the actual so-called socially important problem of refractory chronic diseases NeoHippocratic constitutional therapy often brings effective help..."
(Quoted from Traditional Greco-Arabic and Modern Medicine: Conflict or Symbiosis? by Hakim
Mohammed Said, Copyright 1975 by Hamdard Academy, Karachi Pakistan, pg. 60)
According to Aeschner, even when evacuating or purging methods are used today, the methods
and agents used are too mechanical and standardized, too monotonous and unimaginative. The
classical physicians used a wide variety of cathartic agents to induce a wide variety of therapeutic
cleansing reactions in their patients as needed, according to the circumstances of the case, and the
particulars of the patient's condition.
Sweating isn't used comprehensively and systematically today. Modern medicine's approach to
sweating is purely mechanical in its conception, and way too primitive. Classical medicine, on the
other hand, used a wide variety of sudorific agents, each producing a differnt kind of sweat, and
producing different effects.
The same goes for laxatives and purgatives; the modern approach is much too standardized
and mechanical, merely acting on the bowels. The classical approach employed a wide variety of
cathartic agents which not only purged the bowels, but also had auxiliary systemic actions, having
beneficial resolving, derivative, antiphlogistic, antispasmodic, and detoxifying effects on the entire
Arthritis is a particularly obstinate and refractory chronic disease for which the standard modern
treatment methods are woefully inadequate, and don't offer much in the way of effective, lasting
improvement. Classical methods, on the other hand, can often lead to dramatic improvements and
breakthroughs in this debilitating disease.
Although its main manifestation is in the joints and articular structures, Hippocrates saw arthritis
primarioy as a metabolic disease, in which the toxic residues or byproducts of faulty digestion and
metabolism accumulate in the joints, producing degenerative changes in the tissues and articular
Classical medicine used a two-pronged approach in treating arthritis, combining internal and
external methods. Internally, blood cleansing remedies were given to remove toxins from the
articular structures. Externally, counterirritant or vesicant plasters like Cantharideswere applied to the
joints to produce boils, pustules or blisters, and in so doing draw out toxins from inside the joints to
be released through the skin. By getting to the root cause, Hippocratic methods can produce dramatic
breakthroughs in arthritis.
Bloodletting, or venesection, is another ancient practice that modern medicine is
reexamining. After operations to reconnect a severed finger, the site of the suture is often prone to
bllod clotting and gangrene. But applying leeches distal to the suture to draw the blood outwards
towards the fingertip keeps it flowing, preventing clotting and gangrene and facilitating healing and
Venesection is a common procedure used in Unani Medicine after cerebral trauma and cranial
fractures to prevent deadly traumatic inflammation and edema to the brain. Wherever there is
congestion of blood, inflammation or swelling, venesection, appropriately applied, can be a valuable,
even lifesaving remedy.
Neo-Hippocratic medicine is not a blind faith in the old ways, but a critical and intelligent reapplication or re-adaptation of traditional therapies in a modern clinical setting. The Neo-Hippocratic
ideal is to achieve a new synthesis of progress and tradition.
Father of Medicine
Medical historians generally look to Hippocrates as the founder of medicine as a rational
science. It was Hippocrates who finally freed medicine fromthe shackles of magic, superstition, and
Hippocrates collected data and
conducted experiments to show that disease was a natural process; that the signs and symptoms of a
disease were caused by the natural reactions of the body to the disease process; and that the chief
role of the physician was to aid the natural resistance of the body to overcome the metabolic
imbalance and restore health and harmony to the organism.
Hippocrates was born on the island of Cos, off the southwest coast of Asia Minor, or present-day
Turkey, around 460 B.C. His father was a physician-priest in the Asclepion at Cos, and his family
could trace its lineage back to the legendary Asclepius. Hippocrates lived a very long life and died at a
ripe old age in the town of Larissa in Thessaly.
The Hippocratic Revolution
When Hippocrates began to practicemedicine, the established school of medicine was the Cnidian
school. But this school's approach to medicine had several serious flaws, whichwere already
becoming apparent and starting to cause a general dissatisfaction with the art of medicine.
The Cnidian school considered the body to be merely a collection of isolated parts, and saw
diseases manifesting in a particular organ or body part as affecting that part only, which alone was
treated. Their system of diagnosis was also faulty, relying exclusively on the subjective symptoms
related by the patient, while totally ignoring the objective signs of the disease.
Hippocrates radically disagreed with the Cnidian school, countering that the human body
functioned as one unified organism, or physis, and must be treated, in health and disease, as one
coherent, integrated whole. In diagnosis, not only the patient's subjective symptoms, but the
objective signs of the disease must also be considered to arrive at an accurate assessment of what
was going on.
As his main unifying theory for the holistic understanding of the human organism and how it
functions in health and disease, Hippocrates used the concept of the Four Humors. Although the
groundwork of humoral physiology and pathology had already been laid by his predecessors,
Hippocrates finally brought the thory of the Four Humors into its classical form.
Health is a harmonious balance of the Four Humors. Disease results from their disharmony and
imbalance. The physician's job is to restore health by correcting the imbalance and restoring harmony
to the humors. To quote Hippocrates:
"The body of man has in itself blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile; these make up the nature
of the body, and through these he feels pain or enjoys health. Now, he enjoys the most perfect health
when these elements are duly proportioned to one another in respect to compounding, power and
bulk, and when they are perfectly mingled. Pain is felt when one of these elements is in defect or
excess, or is isolated in the body without being compounded with all the others."
- The Nature of Man
Hippocrates took his band of renegade physicians with him to the island of Cos. There, they set
about to revolutionize the art of medicine and put its theory and practice on a truer, sounder footing.
Physiology and pathology in Hippocratic medicine was based on the Four Humors. A united
confluence and sympathy between all four humors working together was necessary for good
health. Pneuma - the Breath or Vital Force, and the Innate Heat, which were suffused into the blood
from the lungs via the heart, gave the blood the power to sustain life.
Hippocrates saw pepsis, or an orderly, balanced, harmonious digestion and metabolism of the Four
Humors as being essential to all good health. In disorders of pepsis Hippocrates saw the origin of
Hippocrates' anatomical knowledge was rather scant, but this is compensated for by his profound
insights into human physiology and the soundness of his reasoning. But even so, his surgical
techniques for dislocations of the hip and jaw were unsurpassed until the nineteenth century.
In therapeutics, Hippocrates saw the physician as the servant and facilitator of Nature. All medical
treatment was aimed at enabling the natural resistance of the organism to prevail and overcome the
disease, to bring about recovery.
In the treatments he prescribed, Hippocrates was very sensible, pragmatic and flexible in his
approach, favoring conservatism and moderation over radical or extreme measures. Bloodletting,
which was much abused at other times in medicine's history, was used only rarely by Hippocrates, and
even then, only applied conservatively.
Hippocrates placed great emphasis on strengthening and building up the body's inherent resistance
to disease. For this, he prescribed diet, gymnastics, exercise, massage, hydrotherapy and sea
Hippocrates was a great believer in dietary measures in the treatment of disease. He prescribed a
very slender, light diet during the crisis stage of an acute illness, and a liquid diet during the
treatment of fevers and wounds.
Hippocratic medicine was constitutionally based, so its approach to diagnosis and treatment was
quite flexible. As a holistic healing system, Hippocratic medicine treated the patient, and not just the
Hippocrates was the first physician to systematically classify diseases based on points of similarity
and contrast between them. He virtually originated the disciplines of etiology and pathology. By
systematically classifying diseases, Hippocrates placed their diagnosis and treatment on a sounder
The Hippocratic Corpus
The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of over 60 works. Although all of them are attributed to
Hippocrates, the Corpus is of a heterogenous character, and many, if not most, of its works may
actually have been written by his students.
Still, we can be fairly certain that Hippocrates actually did author many books in the Corpus,
including many original, groundbreaking works. These include:
Airs, Waters and Places - the first major work on medical meteorology, climatology, geography and
Aphorisms - a collection of wise, pithy sayings giving advice on practical matters of diet, prognosis
Ancient Medicine - a defense of the empirical study of medicine against one biased by preliminary
axioms and assumptions. Also deals with the Four Humors.
The Legacy of Hippocrates
Hippocrates was the personification of the ideal physician - wise, caring, compassionate and
honest. He is most remembered today for his famous Oath, which set high ethical standards for the
practice of medicine. His exemplary life has been a constant and enduring source of inspiration for
doctors and healers down through the ages.
THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH
Hippocrates is most remembered today for his famous Oath, which physicians take before
beginning the practice of medicine. In writing his Oath, Hippocrates set high ethical standards for
future physicians to follow. Needless to say, compliance, both then and now, has been considerably
less than perfect.
Certain provisions of the Oath, such as that protecting doctor - patient confidentiality and that
forbidding sexual involvement or meddling in the lives of patients, are generally accepted without
question. But after that, we start to get into the grey areas.
In forbidding abortion, Hippocrates was clearly in favor of the Right to Life. In forbidding the use
or suggestion of poisons or deadly drugs, Hippocrates comes out against euthanasia.
One key ethical principle of Hippocrates is Primum non nocere, or, "First, do no harm." But many
pharmaceutical drugs used for commmon ailments today have harmful negative side effects which
traditional, natural medicines and treatments do not have.
One little-known provision of the Oath is that the doctor should offer to teach any male offspring or
relatives of his teacher the art of medicine, free of charge. But seriously - in today's high-pressured
medical marketplace, where time is money, how many doctors can actually do that, when they don't
even have the time to talk to their own patients?
But still, I think Hippocrates was right to set such high ethical standards in his Oath. Ever
conscious of his responsibility and personal example to future generations of physicians, he felt it
better to set the bar high than to set it too low.
I swear by Apollo the Physician, and by Asclepius and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods
and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill, according to my ability and
judgement this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in
partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his
offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art, if they desire to
learn it, without fee and covenant, to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the
other learning to my sons and the sons of him who has instructed me and to his pupils who have
signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but to noone else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and
judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this
effect. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness will I
guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from the stone, but will withdraw in favor of
such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all
intentional injustice, of all mischief, and in particular of sexual relations with both female and
male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard
to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding
such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this Oath, and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy my life and my art,
being honored with fame among all men, and at all times. If I transgress it and swear falsely,
may the opposite of all this be my lot.
Father of Science
Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in Stageira in Macedonia. His father, Nicomachus, was the court
physician to the king of Macedonia. Aristotle probably received extensive training in biology and
medicine from his father. These were his preferred fields, although Aristotle studied and wrote about
all the sciences.
As a youth, Aristotle distinguished himself as a
student at Plato's Academy in Athens. He was even named to be Plato's successor, but declined the
position due to doctrinal differences. Aristotle later commented that, although he loved Plato, he
loved the truth more.
In contrast to his teacher Plato, who considered the physical world of becoming to be an imperfect,
ephemeral and illusory reflection of the spiritual world of being, Aristotle affirmed the essential reality
of the physical world, and said that the senses must be trusted as the primary sources of valid
knowledge. Aristotle's philosophy was empirical and experiential; he believed in approaching Nature
with an open mind to learn Her secrets.
Experimentation and observation were the cornerstones of Aristotle's science. He affirmed the
precedence of facts over theory by declaring that if newly discovered facts contradicted a previously
held theory, the theory had to be modified or discarded to accommodate them. In Aristotle, we can
see the origins of modern science and the scientific method.
Although he greatly loved medicine and probably even practiced it on occasion, Aristotle most
distinguished himself in the field of biology. An avid natural historian who tirelessly studied and
catalogued many species of plants and animals, Aristotle was the father of comparative anatomy and
physiology, and of later theories of evolution and embryology.
Aristotle's personal philosophy and ethics center on the virtue of reason and the Golden
Mean. Aristotle believed that the highest virtue that a man could have came from the proper exercise
of his reason. He believed that all true happiness and morality came from adhering to the Golden
Mean of moderation in all things.
Aristotle's most important contribution to the theory of Greek Medicine was his doctrine of
the Four Basic Qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet, and Dry. Later philosopher-physicians would apply these
qualities to characterize the Four Elements, Four Humors, and Four Temperaments. The Four Basic
Qualities are the foundations for all notions of balance and homeostasis in Greek Medicine.
Aristotle later founded his own school of philosophy, the Lyceum, which was patterned after Plato's
Academy. However, his teachings were to be spread far and wide through the conquests of his most
illustrious pupil, Alexander the Great.
The early Church fathers vastly preferred the spiritual, otherworldly philosophy of Plato and the
Neo-Platonists over Aristotle, who was esteemed chiefly as a logician. But in the High Middle Ages,
Muslim philosopher-Physicians like Avicenna and Averroes brought a newfound appreciation for other
aspects of Aristotle's science and philosophy.
And so, Aristotle's teachings on biology, medicine and the natural sciences were finally accepted by
the Church and incorporated into the medieval worldview. But, as with Galen, much of his work was
blindly accepted as dogma and never questioned until the Renaissance. Like Galen, Aristotle,
although impressive, was not infallible.
Aristotle in a Nutshell
Metaphysics: Change is both natural and
necessary. Four different kinds of causes explain the process of change:
Material Causes - due to what an object is made of.
Formal Causes - due to an object's design.
Efficient Causes - due to a thing's maker
Final Causes - involving the end towards which a thing is destined.
Epistemology: The most reliable source of knowledge is from the senses and direct experience and
observation. Facts take precedence over theories.
Logic: Invented the syllogism: two basic premises leading to a third conclusion.
There are ten basic categories of statementsthat can be made about any given thing:
1) Its substance, or kind.
2) Its qualities, traits and attributes.
3) Its quantity.
4) Its relationship to other things.
5) Its placement, or location.
6) Its time, or age.
7) Its position.
8) Its state.
9) Its actions, or what it does.
10) Its receptions, or what is done to it.
Ethics: The virtue of reason: Man is a rational animal.
The Golden Mean: moderation in all things.
Medicine: The Four Basic Qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry.
Biology: Natural historian; comparative biology, anatomy and physiology.
Early theories of evolution and embryology.
Source: Spark Charts: Philosophy - www.sparkcharts.com
ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Torchbearer for Greek Science and Medicine
Aristotle's teachings were spread far and wide, throughout Greece, the Middle East and Egypt,
even as far away as Persia and India, by his most illustrious and
influential pupil:Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world. But it wasn't simply
Alexander's own personal vainglory and love of power and conquest that spurred him on; he also had
a burning desire to bring the benefits of Greek science, medicine and learning to those peoples and
lands he conquered.
Alexander founded the city of Alexandria, in present day Egypt, which became a great center of
Greek science, medicine and learning. In keeping with the philosophy of his teacher, Aristotle, the
tone of the scientific and medical research conducted there was very open-minded and empirical;
everything was open to questioning and investigation. The library of Alexandria was the biggest and
most famous in the ancient world.
The school of medicine that arose in Alexandria was called the Empirical School. Founded in 330
B.C.E., the school attracted the best physicians and medical scholars from Greece and became
instrumental in the transmission of Greek Medicine to Rome after the Roman conquest of Egypt.
Through Alexander's conquests, all the Arab, Turkish and Persian peoples of the Middle East were
exposed to the teachings of Greek Medicine. This probably predisposed them to take over Greek
Medicine and Islamicize it as Unani Medicine later on, after the decline and fall of the Roman
Empire. In addition, Greek Medicine probably absorbed a lot of elements from the folk medicines of
the lands conquered, as well as from Persian and Zoroastrian medicine.
Encyclopedia of Islamic Medicine, with a Greco-Roman Background
by Dr. Hassan Kamal Copyright 1975 by General Egyptian Book Organization
pp. 12 - 13
Greatest Physician of the Roman Empire
Galen was the greatest physician of ancient Rome. Whereas Hippocrates laid the foundation of
Greek Medicine, Galen further developed its theory and practice, and carried Greco-Roman medicine
to its zenith.
Claudius Galenus, or Galen, was born inPergamum, an old
Greek city on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, or present day Turkey, in the year 130 A.D. Pergamum
was an ancient center of learning and medicine, having an Asclepion and a famous library that second
only to the one in Alexandria.
Galen was born into the lap of luxury, which afforded him ample time to study. His
father Nicon, a wealthy architect, quickly recognized his son's brilliant mind and took a keen interest
in his education, hiring the best tutors in all the arts and sciences.
When Galen was just a boy, his father had a dream in which Asclepius appeared to him and told
him to let his son study medicine. And so, the young Galen went to the local Asclepion to be trained
by its elder physician-priests. Galen remained a lifelong devotee of Asclepius.
When Galen was 19, his father died, which sent him on the journeyman phase of his medical
education. He first studied in Smyrna, or present day Izmir, Turkey, and then traveled
to Alexandria, where he finished his studies. His medical training in Alexandria made him an
Galen's first post was as a physician and surgeon to the gladiators in Pergamum, which gave him
considerable skill and knowledge in the fields of anatomy and surgery. From there, he went
to Rome, where his great skill and ability quickly attracted the attention of the influential and
elite. Galen became the personal physician to the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Galen was a master of medical philosophy, and considered the study of philosophy to be essential
to a physician's training. Philosophy enables the physician to discern between truth and illusion, or
between reality and mere surface appearances, which is so important in diagnosis. It's also necessary
for putting treatment on a sound ethical foundation.
Although he wasn't a Christian, Galen was a monotheist; he believed that the body was the
physical vehicle for the indwelling soul. Galen's monotheism greatly enhanced the acceptance of his
medical theories and teachings by later generations of Muslim and Christian scholars and physicians.
Galen's chief contributions to the theory of Greek Medicine were his theories of the three varieties
of pneuma, or vital energy, and the Four Faculties of the organism. He also developed and expanded
the humoral physiology and pathology of Hippocrates.
Proper organ function was very important to Galen's views on anatomy and physiology. He tended
to view health as the balanced, harmonious, optimal functioning of all the organs and systems of the
Galen believed in the Aristotelian doctrine that, in Nature, form follows function. If we want to
understand the function of an organ, tissue or body part, we must first study its form. That's why
Galen considered anatomy to be so important.
Galen was fanatical in his pursuit of anatomical knowledge. He conducted dissections and
vivisections on animals, chiefly apes, to figure out by inference and experiment how the human body
was structured, and how it worked.
By clamping the ureters of living apes and watching the kidneys swell, Galen concluded that the
kidneys produce urine. By cutting or stimulating various spinal nerve roots, he figured out which