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Arch Hellen Med, 30(5), September-October 2013, 619-626


The evolution of ancient Greek medicine as a trade and a science: Study of the sources

G.Z. Hiliopoulos, K. Poulas, G.P. Patrinos, M.E. Kambouris
Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Immunology, Department of Pharmacy, University of Patras, Rio Patras, Greece

Ancient Greek medicine is unduly and mistakenly considered to have been a mixture of shamanism and religion before the time of the Koan master, Hippokrates. According to Greek, Roman/Latin and medieval sources, however, this concept is erroneous. Asclepius, the founder of the medical guild, had been adopted by the cult of Apollo through the myth of his divine pedigree, and passed on a legacy of scientific curiosity, theory and experiment to his descendants, who might well have been considered to be his "sons" sensu lato. By the time of the Trojan War Greek medicine had diversified into surgery and internal medicine, each branch being practiced by one of the Thessalian Asclepiad warrior brothers. The guild had further diversified by the 6th century BC and supported the Delphic Oracle of Apollo during the Holy Wars, thus gaining renown for all of its three schools (Kos, Epidaurus and Trikka). The spinoff centers of Kroton and Cyrene took the lead with one of the disciples, Demokides, who was the personal physician of the Persian emperor Darius I. The renowned Hippocrates subsequently amassed a significant medical library. The guild followed Alexander the Great into Asia. Diocles accomplished a vast improvement in surgery with the design of new instruments, while Praxagoras furthered the study of anatomy and with the discernment of veins and arteries. With Herophilus the guild migrated to the disease-plagued 3rd Century BC Rome. The 2nd Century BC saw advances in the medical terminology and glossary and the differentiation of chronic and acute syndromes, followed by the honorific awarding of Roman citizenship to all members of the guild by Julius Caesar. Dioscurides, a military surgeon of the 1st Century BC, catalogued pharmaceutical herbs, plants and roots, using bionymic nomenclature 1,500 years before Linnaeus. Galenus, from 2nd century AD Pergamus, was the descendant of the guild who fused all the schools, aspects and concepts of medicine into a single, holistic practice through his gigantic work of 150 medical manuscripts and books.

Key words: Ancient Greek medicine, Asclepiadae, Evolution, Practice.

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