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Arch Hellen Med, 30(1), January-February 2013, 88-96


Hippocrates, the father of clinical medicine and Asclepiades, the father of molecular medicine

C. Yapijakis,1,2 M. Bartsakoulia,3 G.P. Patrinos3
1Department of Neurology, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens,
2Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens,
3School of Pharmacy, University of Patras, Patra, Greece

This review describes the life, medical philosophy, and legacy of two pioneering Greek physicians who, more than two thousand years ago, introduced the basics of medical theory, practice and ethics that correspond to various aspects of modern clinical and molecular medicine: the legendary Hippocrates of Kos and the relatively unknown Asclepiades of Bithynia. Hippocrates of Kos (460−377 BC) is universally recognized as the father of clinical medicine, which is based on observation of clinical signs and rational conclusions, and not on religious or magical beliefs. Influenced by the Pythagorean theory that nature is made of four elements (water, earth, wind and fire), Hippocrates believed that the body consists of four fluids or "humors" (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood), the imbalance of which is manifested as disease. The physician's role was to reinstate the balance by facilitating the healing work of "benevolent nature". The clinical and ethical basics of medical practice, many clinical terms, and the famous oath have their origins in the era of Hippocrates. The oath encompasses the Pythagorean duties of justice, confidentiality, respect for teachers and solidarity with peers. Asclepiades of Bithynia (124−40 BC) was the first physician to propose an ancestral theory analogous to molecular medicine. Influenced by Epicurean philosophy, he adhered to the atomic theory and the ideas of chance and evolution. He suggested that the human body is composed of molecules and void spaces, and that diseases are caused by alteration of the form or position of a patient's molecules. The Bithynian physician founded the Methodic School, which did not accept the theory of a "benevolent nature" and which introduced naturalistic, friendly, sympathetic, pleasing and painless treatment of patients into medical practice. Asclepiades was the physician who first made the highly important division of diseases into acute and chronic, the surgeon who first performed an elective non-emergency tracheotomy, and the first Greek to establish medicine in Rome. His pioneering contributions were fully understood only in recent decades with the advent of the era of molecular medicine.

Key words: Antiquity, Historical article, Science history.

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