Written by Steve Belcher
Hippocrates was a physician who lived in Greece from 460 to 370 B.C.E. He's often called the "Father of Medicine" due to his various contributions to the medical field, which includes practices still used today, such as clinical observation in order to diagnose patients. He also helped establish medicine as a distinct field separate from philosophy and theurgy. There is some disagreement among historians about the details of Hippocrates's life and to what extent the written works attributed to him were actually written by him, but there's no doubt that he was influential in the history of medicine.
Hippocrates was born on Kos, an island off of the Greek coast. Another Greek physician, Soranus of Ephesus, who lived in the second century C.E., wrote the first biography of Hippocrates, and this work is still where most information about Hippocrates is gleaned from. According to Soranus, Hippocrates was born to a doctor named Heraclides and his wife, Praxitela. Hippocrates had two sons, Draco and Thessalus, who also went on to become doctors, as did his son-in-law, Polybus. Polybus was considered to be Hippocrates's true successor. Plato wrote about Hippocrates twice. Hippocrates practiced medicine until he died sometime in his 80s.
Seventy of Hippocrates's works, all written in Ionic Greek, make up the Hippocratic Corpus. However, there are academic discussions about if Hippocrates actually wrote the pieces included in the corpus. The different pieces display a variety of writing styles and subject matters. Some experts believe that up to 19 different authors wrote the essays, research notes, and textbooks in the corpus. Some pieces are written in support of opposite viewpoints and theories.
From the time of Hippocrates until the 19th century, humoral theory was central to the practice of medicine. Humoral theory stated that the body contains four humors: black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile. Every person's balance of humors was different, and a healthy person's humors were well-balanced. A person's psychology was also said to be influenced by an imbalance of humors; someone might be described as choleric (too much yellow bile), melancholic (too much black bile), phlegmatic (too much phlegm), or sanguine (too much blood). It's believed that Hippocrates developed both the biological and psychological theories of humors.
Some scholars now believe that Hippocrates didn't write the Hippocratic Oath and it was actually written after his death. However, since the time of classical Greece, Hippocrates has been credited with writing it. The oath is rarely spoken in its original translation today, but it still forms the basis of the oaths taken by doctors and nurses today. The oath basically states that the medical professional will only prescribe treatments that will benefit their patients and will do all that they can to not cause harm to the people in their care.
The ancient Greeks contributed a lot of ideas that are carried on in today's medical practices. Famed physician Asclepius, for example, promoted focusing on the patient's entire health and well-being when doctors were treating a sick or injured patient. Hippocrates went a step further and came up with a treatment approach that is still followed today. Hippocrates believed that all doctors should understand anatomy thoroughly, especially the spine and nervous system. He also believed that good doctors and nurses should thoroughly observe their patients to understand their issues and their overall health status. Hippocrates also believed that a patient's diet, lifestyle, psychological state, and stress levels all played a part in their health and their ability to recover from illness or injury.