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Hippocrates of Cos

Bust of Hippocrates. Kérylos Villa, Beaulieu-sur-Mer (France). Photo Jona Lendering.
Hippocrates of Cos (Kérylos Villa, Beaulieu)
Hippocrates of Cos (460-377?): famous Greek physician.

Hardly anything is known about Hippocrates of Cos, except for the fact that his reputation as the greatest physician of all times had already been firmly established in the fourth century. It is likely that he was born in 460, but the year of his death is a mystery, although 377 has been mentioned.

Not even his own writings can be used to gain knowledge about the man, because the Corpus Hippocraticum was collected in the second century, and contains spurious material.

However, it is certain that Hippocrates made medicine an independent discipline and did much for its professionalisation. One of his principles was that one could not study an illness in isolation, but had to study the patient as a whole. For several diseases, he discovered the cause in a wrong way of life.

The Hippocratic Oath

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
  • To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art -if they desire to learn it- without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
  • I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
  • I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
  • I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
  • Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
  • What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
[tr. Ludwig Edelstein]
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