What were Hippocrates' accomplishments and influence?
In founding his own school, Hippocrates (465-370 b.c.e.) formally established medicine as distinct from theurgy (natural magic) and philosophy. He himself had learned medicine from his father and grandfather. According to the Hippocratic School, illness was caused by an imbalance of four humors that were supposed to be equal in the body: black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. Every disease progressed to a crisis, from which either death or natural recovery would ensue.
Hippocratic medical practice was passive because it was believed that the body would heal itself given rest and immobilization. The therapy was always gentle, and usually only clean water, wine, or balms were used. Being able to predict the course of an illness was considered important.
In his On the Physician, Hippocrates stressed good grooming and a sober demeanor for doctors. It was important to keep records, not only about the patient but also about the patient's family and circumstances. Mystical causes of illness were dismissed. After Hippocrates' death, there was little advancement in the principles attributed to him, and some of his professional rules, such as taking case histories and keeping records, fell into disuse.
How did medicine progress after Hippocrates?
Galen of Pergamum (c. 129-c. 216 c.e.) preserved Hippocratic medicine, which continued largely unchanged through the Renaissance. Galen was able to increase knowl
An illustration from The Great Surgery Book (1526) by Paracelsus (Art Archive).
edge of physiology by dissecting pigs and apes, since human dissection was against Roman law. He learned how to treat trauma and wounds while working as a physician in a gladiator school. Galen performed many operations, including brain and eye surgery (the removal of cataracts), which were not attempted again for almost 2,000 years. He eventually became a physician to Marcus Aurelius (121-180 c.e.). In the ninth century, Galen's writings were translated into Arabic by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809-873). However, the Arabs rarely practiced surgery, and among Christians, the knowledge and practice of surgery had already been abolished. Galen remained so highly regarded that when dissections during the Renaissance appeared to contradict his descriptions, they were considered anomalous. His prescription of bloodletting for almost every illness was followed as late as the nineteenth century.
Who was Paracelsus?
"Paracelsus" was the pseudonym of Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast (a.k.a. Baumastus) von Hohenheim (1493-1541). His father was a medical doctor in Switzerland. Paracelsus traveled continuously after age 15 and studied medicine in Germany and Austria. He then traveled in Europe, combining surgery with his medical practice. Surgery was then considered a craft lower in status than medicine, so this was a significant risk for any physician.
In 1516 Paracelsus became a medical lecturer at the University of Basel, after he cured the famous printer Frobinius. His teachings against Avicenna (980-1037) and
Was Paracelsus an alchemist?
Yes, Paracelsus (1493-1541) was an alchemist. But he was an adept who broke with the tradition of keeping alchemical knowledge secret and eliminated its medieval symbolism that relied on Semitic, Greek, and Roman mythology to conceal alchemists' real beliefs.
Galen (c. 129-c. 216 c.e.) were controversial, and he was forced to resume his life of travel in 1528.
Paracelsus introduced several lasting medical innovations: chemical urinalysis, a biochemical theory of digestion, wound antisepsis, the use of laudanum for pain, and the use of mercury for syphilis. His books were mainly about human nature and the place of man in the cosmos, but he also wrote important treatises on syphilis.