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Hippocrates | Galen

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Great Books of the Western World, Volume 10 of 54

The collection compiles history's greatest written works, from the ancient classics to more recent masterpieces, and contains 517 works from 130 of the most renowned minds throughout history.

Collection ISBN: 0852291639

Nineteenth printing, 1971

Content of this volume:

Hippocratic Writings
*The Oath
*On Ancient Medicine
*On Airs, Waters, and Places
*The Book of Prognostics
*On Regimen in Acute Diseases
*Of the Epidemics
*On Injuries of the Head
*On the Surgery
*On Fractures
*On the Articulations
*Instruments of Reduction
*The Law
*On Ulcers
*On Fistulae
*On Hemorrhoids
*On the Sacred Disease

*On the Natural Faculties

215 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1952

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525 books181 followers
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, and was considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the "father of medicine" in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields that it had traditionally been associated with (notably theurgy and philosophy), thus making medicine a profession.

However, the achievements of the writers of the Corpus, the practitioners of Hippocratic medicine, and the actions of Hippocrates himself are often commingled; thus very little is known about what Hippocrates actually thought, wrote, and did. Nevertheless, Hippocrates is commonly portrayed as the paragon of the ancient physician. In particular, he is credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath and other works.

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Ben.
6 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2012
If nothing else, the works of Hippocrates (a semi-legendary figure of the ancient past) and Galen (a slightly less legendary figure) together represent the state of the art of Western medicine as it was from the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans approximately up through the Renaissance, though it's infallibility was becoming questioned even earlier in the middle ages. Summarized, there's a lot to admire about these works. How they understood so much of general medicine, health, and anatomy despite lacking the innovations of the formal scientific method, the printing press, or the microscope, and in a time when superstitions and baseless beliefs dominated the lives of so many, is truly a wonder to behold.

That said, I fear the modern reader's interest will be lost early in the writings of Hippocrates for a number of reasons. First it's not presented in the manner of a modern textbook or encyclopedia. These are essentially fragments of Hippocratic teachings, probably from lectures, from the hands of not especially talented or organized writers. One gets the impression that it was someone's duty to copy as much as they could of certain ideas without fully grasping them, and thus being unable to clarify or distill them in any sense (in all fairness it would be a rare mind to succeed in that).

Secondly, the writings often delve into the philosophical as we would call it, as regrettably there was no clear distinction between the practice of science and philosophy at that time; even a direct observation was not held of great importance if it couldn't be justified philosophically (and typically, brought into resonance with accepted beliefs). And it's assumed that the reader/pupil is well grounded in the contemporary philosophical studies of the day, which they certainly would have been to approach the likes of Hippocrates. Make sure you've not neglected your Aristotle, Epicurus and so forth!

Not only that, but men such as Aristotle and Hippocrates were held in such reverence in their own time and long after, that even brilliant men were afraid to challenge their assumptions for fear of losing respect. Indeed there was seen little practical value in doing so, their ideas were beyond reproach. Instead they invented a number of increasingly fallacious arguments to justify the "perfection" of the ancient tenets when observed reality seemed to contradict them. Which seems perfectly ridiculous to us now, though we're guilty of the same in our own way, where our knowledge falls short.

Last but not least, even children could now perceive that much of what Hippocrates, Galen, and their contemporaries believed is patently false (at least they could if the education system hasn't totally failed them). The body is not composed of humours, the balance of which effect everything from personality to health, we most certainly do not need said bodily fluids drained regularly to restore balance. Nor are heat, cold, moist, and dry subjects of great importance to medicine, being merely observable properties of other more profound processes (energy, friction, and molecular structure). We now know about cells, bacteria, atoms and molecules, DNA and circulation -- to name a few of the concepts foreign to Hippocrates, Galen, and practically everyone until quite recently in history.

However, despite these shortcomings and as I alluded to earlier, it's fascinating to catch a glimpse of how their minds worked. Personally I had no idea that Ancient Romans knew about heartburn but Galen accurately describes its origins (to a certain extent), whereas in my mind I imagined frightened masses fearing divine punishment, desperately praying and sacrificing to rid themselves of the burning in their chests. I don't know, that might still have happened, but if so it was their own fault for not paying attention to Galen and his predecessors who clearly understood this as an act of "Nature" with a logical origin and purpose. And they weren't afraid to perform vivisections on animals to prove it. Galen also fascinatingly describes the digestive system in stunning detail, I didn't even know people performed dissection back then, and here's Galen describing an experiment on a living animal to show the flow of urine into and out of the bladder. He also described multiple types of muscle fiber and how they differ, and their purpose for different organs. Amazing.

Similarly Hippocrates' writings show fascinating insights into aspects of life that even now we know to affect health, such as environment (climate, water quality, etc.) and people's predispositions to certain diets and regimens, the upsetting of which can prove detrimental. Similarly we accept that there are good and bad treatments for illness, that the results of the treatment show how good it was. While this may all seem elementary to us, consider the minds which made the leap from ignorance and superstition to hypothesis, observation and logical discourse, and it was not without some controversy at the time as Hippocrates and Galen take pains to detail.

Perhaps most well known of all the contents of this volume is the Hippocratic Oath which appears first and is a well known fixture of medical practice to this day, even if it seems doctors do rather stray from the ideal. I think, I hope, most readers can make it through that single page with some comprehension, but I also hope some will at least skim through the rest. At least to appreciate the origins of modern medicine, how far we've come and yet in some sense, how deeply indebted we are to the ancients for the miracle drugs, medical technology, and appreciation of health and wellness we have today.

So, I found this entire volume enlightening, but Hippocrates writings to be far more tedious, especially because they go to great details about principles which I believe to be total nonsense. On Ancient Medicine is worth reading to see how Hippocrates differed from his predecessors in approaching health and medicine. On Airs, Waters, and Places touches on concepts even the modern reader can appreciate (with some filtering). The case studies in Of the Epidemics are a fascinating if grim reminder of the fragility of life. On the Surgery is worth reading to appreciate the advancement in the practice even at that time. The Aphorisms can be read without too much pains.

Galen by comparison is more concise and focused, but also more personal, conveying his own vivid words rather than being regurgitated by a nameless third party. He had me laughing at times with his jests, doubtless a masterful but pitiless opponent in rhetoric. All three books of On the Natural Faculties can be managed fairly easily, he wanted to make this material approachable to those of curiosity not perfect understanding of anatomy and philosophy (for in his mind if you had perfect understanding, you wouldn't need correcting from his treatise). He does spend a considerable amount of time refuting some of his peers, and considering I know both he and those he sharply refuted to be both partially wrong and partially correct in their assumptions, it takes some of the life from his arguments. Anyway it's worth reading in full for the anatomical references alone, it will open your eyes to knowledge at the peak of ancient Greco-Roman civilization.
Profile Image for Dylan Katthagen.
38 reviews
October 7, 2020
Though quite lengthy, complex, and medically outdated, it was truly a blessing to spend some time in the writings of Hippocrates (400 B.C.) and Galen (A.D. 130-200) - "the fathers of medicine". The knowledge that these men display, especially without modern technology, is truly profound. I particularly enjoyed Hippocrates' list of "Aphorisms" and his argument that the gods are not the source behind "polluting" human beings with diseases. Instead, one must turn their frustrations to the elements of nature. Overall, this is an extensive reading, but one with some hidden gems. I imagine that these ancient writings on medicine would be a lot more enjoyable for the contemporary student of medicine.

As a student of theology and ancient history, here is one gem that I found which relates to the subject of purification in the ancient Greek world. In "On the Sacred Disease," Hippocrates writes:
"Neither do I count it a worthy opinion to hold that the body of a human is polluted by god, the most impure by the most holy; for were it defiled, or did it suffer from anything, it would be more likely to be purified and sanctified rather than polluted by god. For it is the divinity which purifies and sanctifies the greatest offences and the most wicked, and which proves our protection from them... and when we enter temples we are sprinkled with holy water, not as being polluted, but as laying aside any pollution which we formerly had." 155.
Profile Image for Joshua Dew.
200 reviews
May 11, 2020
I could probably have gotten by reading an abridged version of Hippocrates; page after page of Warm, Cold, Moist, Dry humors, bile, etc. There was a bit of interesting philosophy peppered in and some chiropractic/bio-mechanical advice that's still relevant today. Galen is a sassy bitch, constantly shitting on poor Erasistratus and others. His approach to medicine is definitely more empirical, though obviously still ignorant of much of the workings the body.
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 5 books104 followers
October 6, 2020
This volume of the Great Books series is relatively light in Great Ideas. The books are concerned almost entirely with the details of medical techniques and theory. This volume will be of interest mainly to the student of the history of medicine.
Profile Image for Jeff Ragan.
54 reviews3 followers
March 20, 2011
Keeping in mind that the writing style of the 5th Century BC was very early in the development of writing (you can read that to mean "a laborious read"), I was impressed by several things. First, Hippocrates must have worked around the clock. He observed so many different patients with so many different ailments, he must have just had them stacked up outside his office. His breadth of knowledge is truly impressive.

Secondly, I was impressed with his creativity. The manner and extent that he would go about addressing an illness or injury was quite elaborate sometimes. For example, for every type of dislocation you can imagine there was a protocal of positions and machines to re-set the bone or joint.

Lastly, I was impressed by Hippocrates' scientific mind. It's easy to read his explanations of how the body works, and assume that he was a half step above a witch doctor. He attributes epilepsy to an inbalance in blood and phlegm in the brain. While we now know this to be completely fales, Hippocrates came to the conclusion based on careful observation of the body and the environment. I could detect his scientific curiosity and methodism underneath the now comical attributions.

While it has taken me years to finish this book (and I dare anyone to try to surpass me), I am glad I finished it. While I didn't learn much about modern medicine, I learned a tremendous amount about classical science, and the way the ancients thought. That is invaluable.
July 24, 2016
I'm going into Medicine, and I've had a great interest in it ever since I learned to read. Reading the collected works of the Father of Medicine was definitely insightful and gave me a perspective about Hippocrates himself. A philosopher and physician of which we know little about, compared to philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. The heart of Medicine as an Art is illustrated beautifully across this book, and although modern medical standards are obviously founded upon modern and constantly progressing research, this is what there was for Medical research in the beginning of the Art, and that definitely makes Hippocrate's works stand on their own.
Profile Image for Todd.
48 reviews
June 30, 2019
Providing comments on what these two got wrong and what later developed would be helpful. I tired of reading about humors, hot/cold temperatures, various states of water, wind directions, etc after 20 pages. Good information to keep around to remind us to not follow misguided instructions for a millennium or more. There may be a nugget or two of worthwhile information in this book, but I am unwilling to continue. Look elsewhere for medical histories.
Profile Image for James Violand.
1,212 reviews61 followers
June 30, 2014
Just how far back to certain remedies go? Very far. These were the first medical experts who obtained their knowledge through observation. Some procedures are stunning by their antiquities.
Profile Image for William Crosby.
1,171 reviews6 followers
April 22, 2016
Book 10 of the Great Books series: Hippocrates/Galen.
Assorted information on medicine and health and the body.
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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