"Sickness is not sent by the gods or taken away by them. It has a natural basis. If we can find the cause, we can find the cure."Hippocrates

In a time where the majority of the people believed every illness had a supernatural association, one man challenged their faith. Hippocrates carried out his duties as a well educated physician and treated everyone to the best of his abilities guided by his own philosophies on medicine.

The medical giant who revolutionised modern medicine. Photo credit: Peter Paul Rubens/public domain
The medical giant who revolutionised modern medicine. Photo credit: Peter Paul Rubens/public domain

Interestingly enough, information on Hippocrates’ early life and contributions only surfaced roughly a century after his death. Born in 460 BC to a wealthy family, he studied medicine under the guidance of his father and another local physician.

This medical giant made his mark back then by treating Macedonia’s king for tuberculosis and actively fought the plague in Greece from 430 BC to 427 BC. He later went on to start a medical school in Cos where he taught the students clinical observation skills and the importance of keeping a record of patients’ conditions amongst other things.

Hippocratic corpus: A collection of art


Hippocrates’ work and other writings bearing his significance were compiled by the Museum of Alexandria in Egypt to celebrate the past Greek contributions. Roughly 60 books relevant to physicians, pharmacists and even laymen were gathered and collectively called the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’.

This collection encompasses studies on multiple case histories and includes reflections on practices of medicine. As a compilation of work from various authors, contradicting opinions can be seen across the books. On the other hand, majority of the books agree to reject spiritual causes for illnesses.

The author of ‘An Ancient Medicine’ stressed on the importance of finding a cause for ailments. “It is not sufficient to learn simply that cheese is a bad food, as it gives a pain to one who eats a surfeit of it; we must know what the pain is, the reasons for it, and which constituent of man is harmfully affected,” he wrote.

Orthopaedic surgeons correcting a jaw dislocation as described in On Joints, On Fractures and Surgery from the Hippocratic Corpus. Photo credit: University of Virginia/public domain
Orthopaedic surgeons correcting a jaw dislocation as described in On Joints, On Fractures and Surgery from the Hippocratic Corpus. Photo credit: University of Virginia/public domain

These writings shed light on how the body functions, epidemics and covered the definition of diseases in depth. It aimed to educate by providing the symptoms of conditions, their prognoses as well as treatment options.

It is claimed that back then Hippocrates focused on the importance of diet and exercise as the mainstay of treatment for a majority of illnesses; whereas medications were only supplemented when necessary.

Hippocratic oath: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Hygieia, by Panacea....”


Arguably, the most outstanding legacy left behind by Hippocrates is the Hippocratic Oath. A modified version of this ancient Greek pledge is taken by graduating medical students all around the world. Over recent years, the origins of this oath have sparked debate but lack of evidence still renders Hippocrates to be its pioneer.

An excerpt of the original Hippocratic Oath. Photo credit: Public domain
An excerpt of the original Hippocratic Oath. Photo credit: Public domain

The original oath covered many aspects, for instance, to respect teachers. Hippocrates portrayed utmost admiration for his teachers by including the pledge “To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture.” It is also stated in the oath that one’s knowledge should be imparted on those willing to learn.

In addition to that, the Hippocratic oath stressed on the importance of non-maleficence by never intending to cause injury or do wrong. Patient confidentiality is also maintained as Hippocrates stated in the oath “And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.”

Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, penned the current version of the oath in 1964 which does not digress greatly in terms of content. However, some additions were made such as acknowledging one’s academic limits and seeking peer assistance where necessary.

Eternal legacy for the progression of medicine


It is vital to bear in mind that much of the anatomical and physiological data from the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ was derived from blatant observation or external palpation. Therefore, that literature was later proven to have a high level of inaccuracy.

The field of medicine has since evolved tremendously allowing comprehensive dissection and research to pave the way for new information. Despite this, Hippocrates still prevails in modern medical teachings. By drawing much needed attention to the importance of ethical medicine and the fundamentals of a good patient-doctor relationship, his legacy lives on. MIMS

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Sources:
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hippocrates
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7654432.stm
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/a-history-of-medicine/hippocrates/
http://www.ancient.eu/Hippocrates/
http://www.biography.com/people/hippocrates-082216