Examples of Ancient Greek Medical Knowledge

Michael Lahanas

    In Latin there is a nice comment of . The closing paragraph is, however, of interest:

    The brain--the seat of the psychic faculties--is protected by membranes and bony walls on all sides, has a cold and moist temperament, and is divided into several parts, which reside in it as if they were not attached to each other. Among them one may observe a gland, called the pineal gland, which is situated like a centre in the middle of the ventricles, and which is the meeting point of threads coming from the external senses as if from the circumference; and because it is unique, supported by the choroid plexus and permanently inflated by the spirits which have been elaborated, it is only in this gland that the double appearances received by both the eyes and the ears can and must be united: "for there is one sense-faculty, and one paramount sense organ." Aristotle was therefore mistaken when he located the common sense in the heart, the Arabs were mistaken when they located it in the anterior part of the brain, and the Metoposcopists were mistaken when they located it in the forehead and its wrinkles.

    Some clarification may be in order. First, both Aristotle and Galen viewed the brain as cold and moist. Second, the quote about the uniqueness of the faculty of perception and its paramount organ comes from Aristotle's On sleep (Bekker, 1831-70, 455a21). Third, Aristotle located the sensus communis in the heart in On sleep (Bekker, 1831-70, 456a1) and On youth (Bekker, 1831-70, 469a10). Fourth, "the Arabs" refers to Avicenna and his followers (Sudhoff, 1913). Fifth, "the Metoposcopists" refers to the adherents of the pseudo-science of metoposcopy or physiognomy, which was very popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Thorndike, 1923-58, vols. V-VIII).

  • Catheter: A thin, flexible tube. For example, a catheter placed in a vein provides a pathway for giving drugs, nutrients, fluids, or blood products. Samples of blood can also be withdrawn through the catheter. The catheter was created by the Greeks. "Katheter" originally referred to an instrument that was inserted such as a plug. The word "katheter" in turn came from "kathiemai" meaning "to sound" with a probe. The ancient Greeks inserted a hollow metal tube through the urethra into the bladder to empty it and the tube came to be known as a "katheter."
  • Electro Therapy? The Greeks and Romans were known to combat the pain of gout by standing patients upon electrical eels until their feet became numb in the 2nd century attempted to distinguish the two by giving the wild carrot the name Daucus Pastinaca. The Greeks had three words each of which could be applied to the properties of the carrot: "Sisaron", first occurring in the writings of Epicharmus, a comic poet (500 B.C.); "Staphylinos", used by Hippocrates (430 B.C.) and "Elaphoboscum", used by Dioscorides (first century A.D). Dioscorides said that the Greeks used carrot leaves against cancerous tumors.

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