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History of Medicine

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MEDICINE, HISTORY OF. -For the beginnings of medicine, as for much else that is of importance in modern life, we must look to the Far East, even to China, where civilisation had reached a high state of development while Europe was still in a primeval condition. At that time China had, in all probability, a fairly \veil systematised fund of medical knowledge, including pharmacology and anatomy, the latter subject, however, hampered by the fact that two of the religions of the country, the Airman and the Buddhist worship, forbade the section of either the human body or t he bodies of lower animals. The first Chinese works on medicine are said to have been written as early as 2698-2599 B.C., and there are traditions of one Shinnong, a semi-mythical medicine-man, even earlier.

India also ante-dates, by at least a century, the Grecian cult of :Esculapius with the " Vedas," its sacred books, which contain descriptions of the human body based on dissections. Egypt, too, contributes, perhaps as early as the sixteenth century B.C., and some of the terms in the Hippocratic nomenclature betray its Egyptian origin. Yet the popular impression which associates the Greeks with the foundation of medical knowledge is, after all, justified, since it was the school of medicine situated on the island of Kos which laid those foundations firmly enough for the rearing of the subsequent superstructure as we know it to-day. It was in Greece, too, that the profession was fully recognised ; and it is to Greece that we owe the rise of the professional conscience and the formulation of the Hippocratic oath which still binds the physician swearing by " what he holds most sacred," though the gods of his Greek predecessors have vanished.

Seven or more physicians taught under the name of Hippocrates, and the medical knowledge of the time is to be considered as the accumulation of the school rather than the achievement of one man, although Hippocrates II., who flourished about 430 B.C., was the great Hippocrates. After his death the school seems to have fallen off somewhat, in spite of the efforts of Polybus, Syennesis; Diogenes, and Praxagoras. Aristotle (3S4-322 B.c.) introduced a more exact scientific method, and the dissection of the lower animals at this time brought to light much that is still in use.

Following Aristotle's time comes the brilliant Alexandrian period, when the Greek learning was largely transferred to Egypt. centring around the

Alexandrian museum. This period is signalised by the authorisation of human dissection ; and the names of Erasistratus and Herophilus stand out conspicuously among the leaders of the time. The emphasis laid upon anatomy by the followers of Erasistratus and Herophilus was disregarded in large measure by the empirical school, under Serapis and Phalinus, which came into prominence as the Alexandrian school declined, and Rome rose to supremacy. In medicine, as in art and literature, Rome levied tribute upon the intellect of weaker countries ; and her physicians were still Greeks. Asclepiades (126-56 n.c.) figured in the founding of the atomic school at Rome. Rufus of Ephesus is another notable name of the period ; and Aurelius Cornelius Celsus (25 n.c..-4o A.D.) contributed largely to the depart ment of therapeutics, and in addition to this he compiled the works of those who had gone before him. In the year 165 there came to Rome a Greek physician, Claudius Galen, from Pergamos, who brought with him the last spark of the waning Alexandrian school, and in whose writings much of what was then known of the Hippocratic school has been preserved. G:tlen also systematised the knowledge of anatomy as it existed at that time, making what may very likely have been the first experimental physiological studies.

For some centuries after the death of Galen nothing of importance was achieved in medicine. Roman civilisation was checked in its spread by the barbaric northern tribes, and degenerated at home. It is not to be wondered at that no notable advance in science is recorded of this period.. Rather is it a matter for wonder as well as congratulation that what had been accomplished was so well preserved by obscure scholars here and there, and particularly among the Saracens. Indeed, it is to the East that we must look once more fur intellectual development, in the Byzantine countries and among the Arabs, where universities were founded and where the newer Christian-Oriental ideas blended with those of the Roman-Hellenic culture. Sergios von Resaina (536) translated the works of Hippocrates and Galen into Syrian ; and the names of Oreibasios and Avicenna are also prominent in what is sometimes called the Arabic period of medical history.

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