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Mediterranean Chronology


c. 460-c. 377 BC

 Hippocrates       Hippocrates is the Greek physician and teacher of medicine whose name is associated with the famous Hippocratic Oath.  He is also known as the "father of medicine," who separated the practice of medicine from magic and superstition to a focus on observation and study.

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            Hippocrates was born around the year 460 BC, one of several sons of Praxithea and Heracleides.  His education probably consisted of nine years of physical education, reading, writing, spelling, music, singing, and poetry.  A few years later he studied medicine under his father, a member of the priest-physician groups known as Asclepiads. (3) Biographical details are scanty and unreliable, but many historians believe that Hippocrates lived into his nineties.  He is an author held in high regard for a large collection of Greek medical writings.

            One of his first controversial theories was taken from Antiqua medicina [Ancient Medicine], which discusses the way the art of healing was studied.  Prior to this, medicine had been a matter for philosophical speculation.  This essay established medicine as a branch of knowledge that calls for skill, craft and observation. (1) Hippocratic medicine recognized disease as a natural process and further suggested that most acute diseases were self-limited.  The symptoms of fever and malaise were the body's way of fighting off the poison of infection.  Before this theory, these symptoms were related to mysterious spiritual maladies.  The focus of Hippocratic medicine was on regulating diet, meaning not only nutrition but exercise as well.

            Another of his works, Regimen, he argued that health is affected by the totality of diet and exercise; the age, and strength of the individual; and the seasonal changes in which that person lived.  He goes even further to state that the human body is composed of four fluid substances: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. (1) Perfect health results from the balance of these fluids in the body.  An excess or deficiency results in pain, sickness, and disease. 

            Knowledge of physiology at this time was underdeveloped.  It was known that man had blood vessels that carried blood, but the function of the heart was still a mystery.  Blood vessels were particularly thought to carry air to all the vital body parts.  Hippocrates writes in Sacred Heart that "air which goes to the lungs and blood vessels thus enters the body cavity and the brain, it has a further purpose.  It induces intelligence and is necessary for the movement of the limbs." (1) This emphasized his idea of the body being a whole and working as a system.  This is important in the field of medicine in that Hippocrates was able to relate the function on the inside of the person to the function on the outside through study and observation.  This had never been done before.  Prior to this, the reaction of the body was mysterious and magical. 

            Hippocrates helped change the attitude toward disease, freeing medicine from magic and superstition and insisting on the importance of observation over philosophical speculation.  The Hippocratic writings established medicine as a separate discipline with a scientific basis, settling down in writing the medical knowledge of the time.  With this he helped lay the foundation and formulated the ideals of modern medicine. (1)


who is Hippocrates and why is he important, who is hippocrates and what did he do the father of medicine


1.     Bahr, L. S. and Johnson, B. Collier's Encyclopedia Vol.12 ( P. F. Collier Inc.; New York, 1993).

2.     Debus, A.G. World's Who's Who in Science (Marquis-Who's Who; Chicago, 1968).

3.     Magill, F. N. The Great Scientist (Grolier Education Corp; Connecticut, 1989).

4. University of Virgina Health System.  . March 27, 2000.

Edited by: Jennifer Lindermuth
Researched by: Erika Johnson
Written by: Lori Gaedt
March 2, 2000

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