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(b. c. 460 BC, island of Cos, Greece--d. c. 377, Larissa, Thessaly), Greek physician of antiquity who is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine. His name has long been associated with the so-called Hippocratic Oath--certainly not written by him--which in modified form is still often required to be taken by medical students on graduating. (see also IndexGreece, ancient) 


Trustworthy information about Hippocrates' life is scanty. His younger contemporary Plato referred to him twice. In the Protagoras Plato called Hippocrates "the Asclepiad of Cos" who taught students for fees and implied that Hippocrates was as well known as a physician as Polyclitus and Phidias were as sculptors. It is now widely accepted that an "Asclepiad" was not a temple priest or a member of a physicians' guild but instead was a physician belonging to a family that had produced well-known physicians for generations. Plato's second reference occurs in the Phaedrus. Hippocrates is referred to as a famous Asclepiad who had a philosophical approach to medicine. Further, Hippocrates regarded the body as "a whole"--that is, as an organism. His medical practice resulted from his collection of information regarding parts of the body into an embracing concept and, thereafter, the division of the whole into its parts. 

Meno, a pupil of Aristotle, specifically stated in his history of medicine the views of Hippocrates on the causation of diseases, namely, that undigested residues were produced by unsuitable diet and that these residues excreted vapours, which passed into the body generally and produced diseases. Aristotle said that Hippocrates was called "the Great Physician" but that he was small in stature (Politics). 

These are the only extant contemporary, or near-contemporary, references to Hippocrates. Five hundred years later, the Greek physician Soranus wrote a life of Hippocrates, but the contents of this and later lives were largely traditional or imaginative. Throughout his life Hippocrates appears to have travelled widely in Greece and Asia Minor practicing his art and teaching his pupils, and he presumably taught at the medical school at Cos quite frequently. His birth and death dates are traditional but may well be approximately accurate. Undoubtedly Hippocrates was a historical figure, a great physician who exercised a permanent influence on the development of medicine and on the ideals and ethics of the physician.

The Hippocratic Collection

From shortly after the Hippocratic period, references were made to named works by "Hippocrates," and this tradition continued. The number of works "by Hippocrates" known in ancient times was about 70, but the number now extant is about 60. They became known as the Hippocratic Collection (Corpus Hippocraticum), of which the earliest surviving manuscript dates from the 10th century AD. 

Even in antiquity it was realized that not all the works attributed to Hippocrates had actually been written by him--hence the later attempts to designate the "genuine works." This endeavour started at least as early as the 2nd century AD and continues to the present day. The works differ enormously in length and style, in the opinions expressed, and in the types of their intended users. Some are written for professional physicians, some for their assistants and students, some for laymen, and some are philosophical works. From internal and other evidence the approximate dates of some of the treatises are known, and it seems fairly certain that at least a century--and possibly much longer--separates the date of the earliest work from that of the latest. One feature is common: all the works were written in the Ionic dialect, which thus became the language of Greek science. (see also IndexIonic-Attic) 

There has long been general agreement that the collection constituted the library of a medical school, probably that at Cos, and that, during the 3rd or 2nd century BC, it passed to the great library at Alexandria, where the works were edited and made available. The collection deals with the following subjects: anatomy, clinical subjects, diseases of women and children, prognosis, treatment by diet and drugs, surgery, and medical ethics. (see also IndexAlexandria, Library of) 

Prominent among the works in the Hippocratic Collection were a treatise on Epidemics, in seven books and written by at least two authors; On the Sacred Disease, a treatise on epilepsy; Prognostics; Airs, Waters and Places; and Aphorisms, a collection of 412 short counsels regarding diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. (E.A.U.) 


The only modern edition of the whole of the Greek text of the Hippocratic Collection is Emile Littré, Oeuvres complètes d'Hippocrate, 10 vol. (1839-61, reprinted 1961). This work also gives a French translation of the complete collection and is the only complete translation into any modern language. A selection of 28 of the treatises are given in Greek text and English translation by W.H.S. Jones and E.T. Withington in Hippocrates, 4 vol. ("Loeb Classical Library," 1923-31, reprinted 1957-59). An excellent modern translation of 13 treatises may be found in John Chadwick and W.N. Mann The Medical Works of Hippocrates (1950). 

An excellent discussion of Hippocrates and his influence is in Charles Singer, Greek Biology and Greek Medicine (1922). A shorter discussion, from a slightly different aspect, is in Charles Singer and E.A. Underwood, A Short History of Medicine, 2nd ed. (1962). The whole Hippocratic question is very fully discussed, from the medical and philological aspects, in H.E. Sigerist, A History of Medicine, vol. 2 (1961). For the Hippocratic Oath, see W.H.S. Jones, The Doctor's Oath (1924); and Ludwig Edelstein, "The Hippocratic Oath," Bull. Hist. Med., suppl. no. 1 (1943), reprinted in Edelstein's Ancient Medicine (1967). For a modern discussion of the therapeutic armamentarium of Hippocrates, see J. Stannard, Bull. Hist. Med., 35:497-518 (1961). 

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