5 Things Modern Medicine Can Learn From Ancient Greek Medicine

Greek medicinal history is 3,000 years old. It would, however, be unwise to conclude that they were lagging behind in terms of knowledge about the human body or hygiene, antiseptics, antibiotics. etc. It might be interesting to know that apart from the Oath of Hippocrates, about 90% of medicinal jargon that the modern doctors use have a Greek or Latin origin. Earlier, the Greeks had knowledge of medicine but mostly relied on their Gods like Apollo, Asclepius, etc. as they credited them with healing powers. It was until 400 B.C. when Hippocrates lived, who is known to be the first rock star in the field of medicine, that they turned away from divine notions of medicine. Offering sacrifices to Gods did not hold the central position anymore for Hippocrates but changes in the diet, drugs and keeping the body in balance did. Although there are many treatises that have been written on his knowledge of medicine, they are not of much relevance now. Having said that, we have come a long way since the Greeks, but do we really owe them any gratitude?

1. Mind Your Diet

Are we following Hippocrates


Apart from prescribing a list of medicines, now doctors also recommend you visit a physiotherapist for orthopedic issues, and a dietitian in cases where following a particular diet would really benefit you. Moreover, people themselves have become quite health-conscious and practice yoga, jog, hit the gym, get an optimum amount of sleep, eat fruits and sip on green tea as a part of their diet. So, is it only we, the modern people who give importance to a healthier lifestyle in order to ward off diseases? Well, the answer is a comprehensive NO. Ancient medicine didn’t completely rely on drugs. The first stage of treatment used to cover the way of life which included diet, exercise, excreting and sleep. For them, health was the overall balance of different fluids in the body and the way the body relates to the environment. Therefore, the reason behind adopting the Greek style approach in treatment nowadays is actually quite apparent.

2. The Doctor-Patient Relationship

Greeks believed that a patient must trust his doctor

As many as 60 treatises have been accredited to Hippocrates in modern medicinal science, which include topics that cover almost the entirety of medicine and infections, diagnosis, pediatrics, surgery, just to name a few. These are known as Hippocrates’ corpus and have been written by different authors from around the world. One drawback associated here is the fact that some of the treatises contradict each other. Although it covers a vast range of medicinal topics, if you get around to reading them, you’ll discover that they aren’t of much use anymore. But they surely do contribute in lending you a new way of thinking towards the doctor-patient relationship. They also emphasize on the ethics associated with a doctor’s responsibility towards his patients and co-workers.

Back in the day, it was difficult for the Greeks to trust their doctors as they did not believe in allowing a stranger near themselves, especially during bouts of sickness. It was because they saw illness as a loss of self-control and injury to a man’s manliness. So, it was very important for doctors to have a good image and be trustworthy. They preferred wearing plain clothes and avoided strong perfumes to appear as simple as possible to their patients. The idea of the present-day doctor’s white coat is quite similar to the Greek ideology, isn’t it?

3. The Root Cause

It is easier to treat if the root cause is known

Earlier, people used to think of diseases as punishments from Gods for not honoring them in the right way. Gradually, they realized that it’s not the duties which the patient failed to fulfill but something more practical. Ancient medicine also suggests that the factors that lead to a disease can range from ingesting wrong food, lack of exercise to the physical ones like seasons, wind, rains or location of the house. It also has a positive effect on the patient if he is not blamed solely for the disease he is suffering from. So, it gives us a clear picture that even ancient people had the idea of the external factors that may cause diseases.

4. How Similar Is The Belief?

Is abortion right

Does the gap of 3,000 years divide us on the basis of our beliefs? Or, on the contrary, do we have similar beliefs? Beliefs keep changing depending on the situation. However, exceptions are always there. We do not support bloodletting, still there is exception to a few of the ancient ideas such as abortion and euthanasia (though, they are not supported on a large scale). In the first century A.D., Latin writer Scribonius Largus cited the Hippocratic Oath to support his anti-abortion belief stating that medicine is an art of healing hence, abortion is not right. However, only after 50 years, Greek doctor Soranus quoted the same oath to support his position stating that another treatise of the corpus allows abortion. He also said that there are times when abortion is the only way to save a pregnant woman and he would do it if it remains the only way to save a life.

5. Does Modern Medicine Know It All?

New techniques but old recipes

Every generation thinks it is better than the previous one in terms of knowledge. However, this is only partially true. There are many herbs which our ancestors have been using for ages but they get scientific recognition much later. We think that we are much advanced and so did the Greeks during their time. Although their medical system was entirely different from ours, it lasted for centuries. The Greeks always challenged new techniques and didn’t blindly accept them. They also believed in the fact that the patient must have an understanding of the treatment. This also supports the nature of their treatment which promoted healthy living and prevention more.