Unit 3 - Medical Practice in Antiquity
University of Thessaloniki (EL)
Hellen King, Professor in Classical Studies at the Open University presents what we can nowadays learn from ancient Greek medicine. First, she notes that ancient Greek medicine focused on three things: diet, drugs and surgery, with diet always coming first, clarifying though that it had to do with the whole way of life and not just the dietary habits (sleep, exercise, sex etc). The way of life thus, along with environmental factors, affected health. Taking this phrase alone, one may observe that it not only suits ancient medicine but also modern medical practice. The ancient holistic approach to human health honestly relates to modern medical theory.
Professor King also talks about the diachrony of the need for trust from the patient’s side and of the effect of fashion in medical practice. She refers to possible interpretations of the reason why ancient Greek medicine took over Roman medicine, pointing out that it offered explanations of the disease causation. These explanations included external etiological factors (such as the environment) whose suggestion was considered as a great strategy of exonerating the patient. Medicine needs to make sense to patients otherwise they will not co-operate. Furthermore, ancient Greek medicine was holistic and tailored to each patient reminding us of modern genetic medicine that suggests individualized medicine as well. Closing, Professor King suggests that “looking back at a system like theirs which lasted for thousands of years must give us some humility about our own medical system. We've always got to be prepared to rethink if something new comes along”.