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A Brief History Into Greek Medicine History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Medicine is a huge part of our society. Millions of people become ill every year and become in need of medical attention. Every day hospitals fill with sick patients and they turn to medicine to heal them and to decrease their problems that they are having. So when did medicine all start? Disease was a huge and destructible problem for the Greeks. In the time of the Greeks disease were strong and overwhelmed many cities with death and destruction because of all the unsanitary conditions they were living in. The Greeks didn’t bathe a lot and germs would just overwhelm them. Medical problems that people come I with today would of instantly killed the Greeks because they did not have any kind of health care system. In the Greek world one out of three babies died before they could even reach the age of one and half of all children died before they reached the young age of ten. Overall though most Greeks died when they were only in their thirties of forties so the Greeks needed a better health care system that would stop all their people from dying (Medicine.net).

In 900 BC in Greece medicine was only a rumor but then took off into this great idea appreciated by everyone. The process went from a crazy idea to observation and reason. Before Greek medicine was discovered the world had never seen anything like it. The methods helped the lives of thousands and saved thousands of people as well. The Greeks were very interested in using scientific observation and logic to figure out what caused the diseases that were infecting their people and how they could prevent them in the future. These ideas of this new system of healing spread quickly throughout the Mediterranean and as far East as India and still to this day the methods stay strong in the West. These methods would later create what medicine is today and further the lives of thousands.

Ancient Greece medicine was considered to be an idea from the Gods because it was so special and unique. Greek mythology is full of legends and many different symbols explaining the origins and the methods of using medicine to heal people. In the myths the gods and goddesses who take part in them are fascinated by the art of healing. They consider it one of the most precious rituals performed since it really all has to do with life and death. Greeks also believed that the Goddess Gaia had a lot to do with the coming of Greek Medicine since she was considered to be the creator of the earth. “The way of Mother Gaia is the passive, feminine, Yin way of healing. All we need to do to regain our health is to return to the bosom of Mother Nature and live in accordance with her laws” (Greek Medicine. Net). The Greeks thought that medicine came from her because she created everything else so this must be another method devised by her.

The Greeks actually did not discover the art of medicine but rather refined it and improved it from its original form. They had a large amount of prior knowledge to build on and create their own system of medicine. Scientists and archeologists say that medicines original roots came from Egypt which was already a well established civilization right before Greece started its own civilization. Although scientists and archeologists still debate on how Egypt’s roots of medicine translated over to Greece. Many medical scholars debate and truly believe that the Minoan civilization on Crete served as the transmitter from Egypt’s medical system to Greece. Crete was an Egyptian who practiced medicine but was set to be executed in Egypt for challenging Egypt’s government. Crete ran away before his execution and resided in Greece where he was said to spread his ideas he learned in Egypt about medicine. Thayles was also said to be the transmitter to Greece about Egypt’s system since Thayles actually traveled to Egypt and back to Greece bringing the methods learned back to Greece to be adapted and improved there (Kee 22).

The Egyptians wrote on papyri and recorded their medical findings so they could pass these notes down to future generations. Most consisted of medical recipes from their main god that they believed in named Imhotep. There was also recording of effects of some drugs if taken and the symptoms of certain diseases. The Egyptians were also very clean. They bathed twice a day which was unusual in this time period because usually men and women only bathed once a month and boiled water before drinking it to cleanse it from all the bacteria retained in it. They also never ate pork because they said it was “unclean.” Not eating pork which is a red meat could have defiantly lowered their cholesterol and improved their health considerably. They also had specialists which were a bunch of different people who were in charge of healing certain body parts. Each person would have their own specialty in a certain part of the body that way they could focus on a small part and learn a lot more about the cures and symptoms of the disease from that body part instead of having to learn about the entire body as a whole (schoolhistory.com).

In Greek medicine there were many different influential contributors that made Greek Medicine possible. One huge contributor was Hippocrates. Hippocrates was considered to be the founder of Greek Medicine and was the one that made this science rational. He brought the science from being superstition and magic to actual facts and descriptions. Hippocrates took Greek Medicine and put reasoning behind it and could easily explain why things happen to the body the way that they do. Hippocrates conducted many experiments and collected a lot of important data that was found and concurred by the data that disease was a natural process. In the data that was found, he found that the diseased bodies had symptoms that were caused by the disease and could be read. By creating and discovering data it really furthered Greek medicine from what it was previously (GreekMedicine.net).

When Hippocrates first started to practice medicine the only real established school to study medicine was at the Cnidian School.  The only problem was that this school’s approach to medicine had a lot of inconsistent data and many flaws that held the school back from really understanding what medicine was. The students that attended also graduated not really having a clear idea about medicine and the flaws in the study that were taught to them. “The Cnidian School considered the body to be merely a collection of isolated parts, and saw diseases manifesting in a particular organ or body part as affecting that part only, which alone was treated.  Their system of diagnosis was also faulty, relying exclusively on the subjective symptoms related by the patient, while totally ignoring the objective signs of the disease” (Greek Medicine.Net). Hippocrates greatly disagreed with this statement along with many other ideas that the school recently had. Hippocrates believed that the human body functioned as a whole with every part working together to accomplish a common goal. He did not believe that every part works differently and has a different goal then the other. Both theories were very different and a method needed to be cleared so the study of medicine for the Greeks could continue and proceed forward (Schiefsky 27).

Hippocrates truly believed in strengthening and building up the body’s resistance to disease, basically a human’s immune system. Since in this time in history the most up to date sanitary precautions and vaccines were not available to Hippocrates knew that the Greeks needed to build up a better immune system to fight off these diseases so it would be easier to fight them when they eventually got sick.  When encouraging this Hippocrates prescribed diet, gymnastics, exercise, massage, hydrotherapy and sea bathing as all ways of helping prevent disease and the spread of disease. Even something as simple as sea bathing in which he prescribed really could help a person fight disease because of the amount of salt in the water which will kill the bacteria on a person’s body. Hippocrates was a strong believer and activist in eating healthy while someone was sick. With this in mind he came up with many ideas of diets for each kind of disease that a patient had. He prescribed a light diet during the climax stage of a small illness which is when the illness is the worst, and a liquid diet if the patient was diagnosed with a fever. He prescribed a liquid diet because then the patient had a faster recovery kind because the liquids were constantly going through body collecting germs and turning them into waste, basically flushing out the fever from the body (Schiefsky 61).

Hippocrates was the first physician to diagnose a disease on the patient’s symptoms by comparing them to the symptoms in relation to other patients.  Hippocrates also originated the disciplines of etiology and pathology by deciding the diseases the patient was diagnosed with. For once patients felt convinced of their diagnosis and were not as skeptical as they were before Hippocrates. Overall Hippocrates was one of the all time best known and most influential physicians. His works lead the way for future medical physicians and really changed the whole world of medicine around. He will always be known for his love of healing and great attitude towards his patients. As a physician it is not all about just healing the patient but also creating a relationship with them of trust because they truly are putting their life into the physician’s hands. “Hippocrates is most remembered today for his famous Oath, which physicians take before beginning the practice of medicine.  In writing his Oath, Hippocrates set high ethical standards for future physicians to follow.  Needless to say, compliance, both then and now, has been considerably less than perfect” (Schefski 87).

Another important and influential figure in Greek Medicine was Aristotle. Aristotle even though became a great figure in medicine he made his biggest findings in Biology. Aristotle was a natural historian who spent most of his time dissecting plants and different kinds of animals to collect data and tried to come up with new theories. Aristotle was the father of comparative anatomy and physiology. Aristotle even contributed too many ideas about evolution (Sigerist 150-152). 

Aristotle’s most influential and most popular contribution to Greek Medicine was his document made up of the Four Basic Qualities which were hot, cold, wet, and dry.  “Later philosopher-physicians would apply these qualities to characterize the Four Elements, Four Humors, and Four Temperaments.  The Four Basic Qualities are the foundations for all notions of balance and homeostasis in Greek Medicine” (Greek Medicine. Net). Aristotle’s teachings on biology, medicine and the natural sciences were finally accepted by the church which before denied all of Aristotle’s claims and findings because they didn’t believe that he was being true to the religion. Another important part of Greek medicine was actually getting it passed to practice by the church. This was the most difficult challenge in the study because the church did not agree with most of the methods and ideas. Physicians needed to clearly explain that the methods being performed by the patients was for the better of mankind and was not offending or going against God in any way (Sigerest 155).

There were many different basic principles to Greek Medicine. One principle was the seven natural factors principle. These factors were what the Greeks used to measure whether or not the body was healthy or not. The first one of the Four Elements which is what the body is made up of. The second is the Four Humors which are the metabolic agents of the Four Elements This principle is made of what a healthy body is made up of so they could compare it to a body that is diseased. The third is the Four Temperatures which is “the qualitative yardsticks by which health and homeostasis, or deviation there from, are measured; the basis of constitutional medicine” (Greek Medicine.net). The fourth is the Four Faculties which describe the basic functions of life. The fifth is the Vital Principles which are the essence and energies that give life to the body. The sixth principle is the Organs and Parts which is about the basic usage and functions of different parts of the body. The last is the Forces or Administering Virtues which are the principles of all bodily fluid.

The four element principle was a principle based on the four elements that the Greeks believed in which were earth, water, air, and fire. Each element had a different meaning. Earth the center of the universe and the Greeks related that back all dense solids in the body that are permanent such as bones, joints and teeth. Water is running over and around the earth and is very important to the Greeks so they related it back to the vital fluids of the body such as blood and mostly the clear fluids such as mucus. The element air goes over the earth and water so the Greeks related that to the lungs, chest and, thorax of the body and all open spaces. The final element fire was considered to light up the sun, moon and stars to the Greeks so they made it represent all muscles, the heart, the liver and the stomach of a person (raredisease.com).

The Greeks also came with principles for energy. The Greeks discovered that there are two different kinds of energies. One kind of energy is thermal kinetic or “Pneuma” energy which is what the Greeks called it which is responsible for the digestion and metabolism and basically all kinds of energy inside the body (thermal meaning warm describing the inside of the body). The second kind of energy called kinetic energy is responsible for controlling all functions of movement that the body does. Both energies work equally together to accomplish certain goals. For example in digestion kinetic energy is caused when the stomach churns the digested food then moves the food to the intestine. The thermal kinetic energy is caused when distillation and metabolism occurs (historyforkids.com).

Another principle that was discovered was the vital faculty. The vital faculty is the most important organism because it gives the body life. The vital faculty is centered along the heart and lungs and includes the immune system which is a cell group working together to get rid of all unnecessary cells in the body that might cause harm or damage. This system helps the body fight disease once it has entered the body. The circulatory system is also included and that system which includes all organs and tissue that help blood flow throughout the body. The last system it includes is the respiratory system. The respiratory system is a system that retrieves oxygen and feeds the lungs while turning that oxygen into carbon dioxide. This system includes the lungs, bronchi and nasal passages. “Besides giving life to the organism and empowering cellular metabolism, the Vital Faculty also activates and coordinates responses of the organism as a whole to its environment.  This includes the immune response.  And so, the Vital Faculty acts as a central nexus for the whole organism” (GreekMedicine.net). The heart and lungs are the central part of the Vital Faculty. Both components work closely together, the lungs pump blood for the heart and the heart takes that blood and makes new blood out of the blood that the lungs pumped to the heart.

The Greeks came up with many different diagnosis’s to treat disease. The word diagnosis literally means “knowing through” (dictionary.com). Making a diagnosis means someone has gone through the mazes and calculations of figuring out what is wrong with the patient then figuring out a plan of action to heal that patient and eventually save their lives. Making a clear diagnosis for someone in Greek Medicine was difficult and a lot more difficult than it is today because of the technology we use. Back then the Greeks used several different methods to figure out how to approach that person’s disease and how to stop it. The Greeks had to act as a detective on a case because that was basically what they were doing. Making a diagnosis separates all other kinds of science away from medicine and takes medicine away from being supernatural and magic. “Diagnosis is the heart of the medical world” (GreekMedicine.net).

There were several different ways that a Greek physician would make a diagnosis. One thing that the doctor needed to have was a basic knowledge of anatomy. Knowing the anatomy of the body and where everything was created many new possibilities of diagnosis for the Greeks. Knowledge of the physiology of the body is also needed so the doctor can pinpoint where the problem is and how to fix it. Knowing the physiology of body also comes with knowing the seven natural factors and the basic principles which the Greeks thought of and used throughout their medical discovery. Another kind of science that the Greeks used was pathology which is the study of what went wrong with the body before death or cause of injury (RightHealth.com). Using the information they about pathology they could relate what bodies looked like after they died with certain diseases and compare them to what they saw on the new patient and what they couldn’t stop for one patient they could learn and heal another.

One type of diagnosis the Greeks used was a visual diagnosis. Seeing someone for the first you get a first impression and that was exactly what the Greeks used when trying to make a diagnosis. This is the first kind of diagnosis performed by the Greek doctors because as soon as a patient came to see the doctor the doctor would start to analyze them up and down to try to find out if there were any visual keys to the illness that was occurring.”The clinical eye of the physician is trained to be more objective, detached and dispassionate than the average layperson.  In general, it moves methodically from the generalities of the patient’s overall frame and physique, behaviors and mannerisms to increasingly more detailed, specific signs and clues” (GreekMedicine.net). The physician looks for a cue and goes with the cue he finds and most of the time that one small cue that the doctor originally noticed leads to a complete diagnosis of the patient. Observing and inspecting the patient were also major parts in Greek Medicine for creating a diagnosis for a patient. After observing the patients outer most part the doctor could take samples and observe the urine, stool, and tongue (Longrig 109).

The Greeks would also observe the behavior of the patient and take that into account when creating a diagnosis. There are four different attitudes that can be associated to certain terms to match behavior to a certain disease. If the patient is acting forceful and energetic that person was considered Choleric. If a person was acting poised and sophisticated then that person was considered to be Sanguine. If a person was acting quiet and reserved then that person was considered melancholic. Finally if a person was acting slow and relaxed they were considered Phlegmatic. Hippocrates discovered that patients that were acting incoherent or unresponsive such as a Melancholic or Phlegmatic patient was never a good sign and a diagnosis would need to be made as soon as possible (Singer 63).

The Greeks also looked at the posture and physique of a patient. The way a person carries themselves could tell a lot to a doctor about just how low their energy levels were and their vitality levels. The Greeks would look if the patients were leaning or slouching which could indicate certain disease factors just from their body language observed. The complexion of a patient’s skin could also be a factor in making a diagnosis according to the Greeks. Normally a person’s skin is a pink-like color so when the Greeks saw patients that had a pale face they knew that something was wrong. The Greeks figured out that if a patient’s face was a pale color then that person could be suffering from a blood deficiency or anemia as well as a common cold virus (Grmek, Mueller, Mueller 102).

The Greeks also used a patients nails as a way to figure out a diagnosis. A healthy nail is a pink-like color which shows generally good blood flow throughout the body. A pale nail represents some kind of blood deficiency problem. A purple-like nail represents cyanosis which is when the body does not get enough oxygen to its cells. White spots on a patients nails can also indicate an insufficiency such as not even zinc or calcium in a patient’s diet. The sturdiness of their nails can also be a symptom of something going wrong in their body. The sturdiness of a patient’s nails was founded by the Greeks to show a lot about the kind of nutrition the patient has. Flimsy nails can mean a lack of protein in the patient’s diet and it reflects the bones and hard tissue underneath the skin as well. The Greeks came to the conclusion that what the nails look like is similar to what the patient’s bones look like and a diagnosis can be made from that. (MedicineNet.com).

Urine samples were also used by the Greeks in helping creating a diagnosis. There were six different tests when testing a urine sample. The first one was color. The Greeks would take a normal urine sample and compare it to the patient’s urine sample. From there they would not whether the sample was darker or lighter then the comparative sample. If the urine was darker then the patient could be dehydrated and the Greeks would also look at if there was a red-like color to it because then there was blood in the urine which is a symptom of kidney problems. Consistency is the second test for urine. In this test the Greek doctors would look at the urine to see if the urine was thick or thin. The third test for urine is looking for sediment in the urine. The Greeks would look whether there was some kind of presence of an unknown substance in the urine. The fifth urine test was the foam test. The Greeks would shake the urine vigorously and if there was foam formed, different amounts of foam could tell the Greeks different things about the urine. The last test was the odor test. The Greeks would test the urine to see if there was a different kind of smell to the urine or if there was even a smell at all. Different smells or no smell could tell the Greek doctors different things about the urine (RightHealth.com).

“Since the earliest times, Greek physicians like Hippocrates and Galen have always considered the tongue to be an important indicator or barometer of health and disease.  Other great traditional medical systems of the world, such as Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, also have sophisticated systems of tongue diagnosis” (GreekMedicine.net). The Greeks found the tongue to be one of the most interesting and important of all the bodies’ organs. They found this because taste comes from the tongue and the Greeks are fascinated with how taste works and how vital it is to their lives. There are millions of little nerve endings that cover the tongue. The Greeks derived a method of where they saw sore spots on the tongue to where in the body the trouble was occurring. For example on the back center of the tongue there were sore spots the Greeks knew there was an intestinal problem. If there were spots in the center of the tongue there were stomach issues, if spots were on the front center of the tongue then there were lung problems, and if there were spots and on the tip of the tongue there were heart problems.

The Greeks made another diagnosis by the pulse which they called “the river of life.” The Greeks used pulse as a method to see irregular heartbeats or any kind of heart problem that could be occurring to the patient. Even in today’s health care doctors and nurses take pulse rates to see if they can figure out a problem that the patient is having. Health care today can tell a lot more about what’s wrong with the patient from their pulse then the Greeks could but overall making a diagnosis from a patients pulse rate was common for both time periods (Nulton 174).

The first Greek to master the pulse was a Greek named Galan. Even Galan though had trouble deciphering medical conditions from the pulse saying “For many years, I was doubtful about clearly discerning the movement of contraction by touch, and I shelved the question until such time as I could learn enough to fill the gap in my knowledge.  After that, the doors of the pulse were open to me” (GreekMedicine.net). Galan introduced this new method of creating a diagnosis to the Greeks and then the Greeks mastered this skill and used it in their study of medicine. They found that this was a vital method in creating a diagnosis and this pushed Greek medicine even further in the study (Bendick 106).

In today’s health care the art of pulse taking can be taken at many different pressure points on the body. The Greeks however only used the artery in the wrist to take pulse because they only knew of being able to take it from a patient’s neck and the wrist and they felt that taking the pulse from the patient’s wrist gave much more accurate results (Bendick 94).

When taking the patients pulse the Greeks looked for ten symptoms which could mean something is wrong. The first one was the speed of the pulse. If the speed o the pulse was too fast or too slow then the Greeks knew there was some kind of problem. The Greeks would look at whether the speed was about 70 beats per minute because they discovered that was the average heart beats per minute of a normal, healthy person. The second indication the Greeks looked for was the force of the pulse. If the force of the pulse was strong then the energy of the body was high and that was a good sign to the Greeks. However if the energy of the pulse was low then this could be symptoms of many different diseases that usually drain the energy from the body such as the common cold (Bendick 73).

The depth of the pulse taken was also taken into consideration. The depth of the pulse could either be moderate which is normal, deep which is taken close to the bone or superficial which is close to the skin. For a healthy person the pulse should be taken at a moderate deepness because if the pulse is taken at a deep level that could mean that the heart is beating at a very low level or if the pulse is needed to be taken at a superficial level then the Greeks knew that the heart was beating sporadically and the patient was in danger either way. The final way the pulse was taken was and looked at was the rhythm in the beats. The Greeks knew that if the rhythm of the heart was too slow or too fast then the patient was having trouble and needed to be treated right away (Bendick 113).

Since the Greeks thought of ways to diagnose a patient they then discovered a way of healing them with different kinds of therapies and treatments. Some of their treatments and therapies are even used today on our present health care. One technique that was used for a remedy to the common cold was the water diet. The Greeks came up with a theory that if the cold was taken into the body then it should be able to be flushed out. After coming up with this hypothesis the Greeks came up with the diet. The water diet is exactly what it sounds like. The patient is told to only ingest liquids and not any kind of solid food. This way the liquid will easily be digested and flushed out the patients system. After a couple of days of this diet the patient should be starting to get rid of the disease by basically urinating it out of their system (Philips 94).

The Greek Doctors prescribed many different kinds of medical drinks that the patient could make and drink. A popular herbal tea that was prescribed contained lemon and was called Luiza by the Greeks. This tea would be prescribed if the patient was complaining of digestion or stomach problems. The tea would actually act as a digestion and was also great for the patients skin because of the amount of lemon used. Another medicinal drink is called Oxymel which contains only honey and vinegar but can be used in a few different ways. If a patient is complaining of a sore throat this liquid can be gargled and the acid in the vinegar will kill the bacteria while the honey soothes the throat. A patient could also just put a spoon full of this substance in a glass of water for a refreshing medicinal beverage that can be used for patients after they are starting to heal from a disease to keep the healing process strong (Freeman 221).

The most respectable and drink of choice for almost anything for the Greeks though was wine. Even though the Greeks did not invent wine they still consider it one of their main drinks of the culture. Wine is actually very good for you if you drink it responsibly. Wine stimulates the heart thus helping blood flow because of the low alcohol content. The Greeks also used wine as a disinfectant to kill bacteria on open wounds of a patient (Dawson 111).

The Greeks found Hydrotherapy to be a very compatible treatment because it was capable of producing a wide range of therapeutic effects not only by differentiating the temperatures, but also how the Greeks applied them.  Although there are endless ways to apply hydrotherapy, the major ones are full bath, foot bath, sitz bath, sponge bath, blanket wrap, steam bath, and fomentations (Lloyd 152).

     Full bath is when the total body submerged into the water used.  This therapy can produce a wide range of different effects and reactions, depending on the water temperature that the Greeks decided to use. Foot Bath was when the Greeks submerged the patient’s feet up to their ankles in a tub of water that was shallow.  The Greeks used different water temperatures for different symptoms. The Greeks used cold water for varicose veins, foot edema, headaches, low blood pressure, sweaty feet, and sprained ankle. The Greeks used cold water for those symptoms because they knew that cold temperatures decreased swelling thus healing the patient. The Greeks used warm water for sleeplessness, susceptibility to colds and flu.  The Greeks also found that the best way to improve circulation in the feet and legs was to Alternate between hot and cold water temperatures. The Greeks decided though that they need to avoid cold foot baths if the kidneys are weak or the bladder sensitive because that would trigger the patient to urinate (Lloyd 154).

     A Sitz Bath is when the Greeks submerged the patient’s hips, buttocks and pelvis by sitting down in a medium sized tub, with water up to about the patient’s stomach. The Greeks found that this method was great for treating all types of pelvic disorders because it brought down the swelling so much.  The Greeks used warm water when the patient was diagnosed with urinary obstruction, irritable bladder, or any kind of problem with their prostate.  The Greeks concluded that when they alternated between cold and hot water they greatly strengthen circulation, immunity, healing and regeneration in the patient’s pelvic organs. A Sponge Bath the Greeks found was excellent for bringing the patient’s body temperature way down when the patient had a fever (Lloyd 155). 

     A Blanket Wrap was when the Greeks wrapped their patient in a cotton or linen sheet that was soaked with cold water.  Around the wet blanket the Greeks then wrapped a dry sheet, and around the dry sheet they then wrapped a thick wool blanket.  If the patient wants they can drink a cup of hot diaphoretic herbal tea before getting wrapped in these blankets since their body temperature will be shot higher and already having something warm in the patient’s body will just help the patient at that point. The Greeks used this method so the patient could sweat out the deadly toxins that caused their colds. A Steam Bath is a sauna that the Greeks created with the use of water or herbal teas to create steam.  Steam has many of the natural effects of hot water such as a relaxing effect.  Steam also penetrates into the lungs and respiratory tract to release phlegm from the lungs, and opens the pores of the skin to releases sweat which can contain toxins that are causing the patient to become sick. Steam baths and saunas are used by the Greeks in small i


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