Connection between natural philosophy and medicine in Greece

In the fifth century, there was a shift in the connection between natural philosophy and medicine. Philosophers such as Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia had an interest in medical discoveries, especially in the field of physiology. Additionally, there were philosophers who were also doctors, such as Alcmaeon, Empedocles, and Hippon, all of whom were part of the Western Greek school. Simultaneously, this convergence of interests exerted an influence on medical professionals, prompting them to adopt certain philosophical frameworks as the foundation for their own theories.

This phenomenon is evident in several of the Hippocratean treatises. Consequently, following the initial encounter between these two distinct forms of thinking, there ensued a period of ambiguity wherein they infiltrated each other’s domains, posing a threat to the established boundaries between medicine and philosophy. The earliest surviving Greek medical literature began during a crucial moment for the independent existence of medicine. Now, we need to conduct a concise analysis of the philological issue that is presented by this literature.

The preservation of a significant portion of it, the specific stylistic format in which it is written, and the unique manner in which it has been passed down to future generations, indicate that it was created through the practical application and instruction of the renowned medical institution located on the little island of Cos.

This school reached its peak of importance during the latter part of the fifth century, under the leadership of its renowned founder, Hippocrates. Plato considered Hippocrates to be the epitome of medicine in the early fourth century, and Aristotle saw him as the ideal model of a great physician.

“Even after a century, the school continued to be led by the exceptional president Praxagoras, who developed the theory of the pulse.”

The surviving medical treatises from the fifth and fourth centuries are all attributed to Hippocrates and have been transmitted to us as a unified corpus with a set structure. However, contemporary research has demonstrated that these writings cannot all be attributed to a single author, as distinct treatises frequently exhibit contradictions and even engage in mutual criticism.

Even in classical times, students of the topic were aware of this fact. Both Hippocrates and Aristotle saw a revival during the Hellenistic age, when schools dedicated to Hippocratic and Aristotelian inquiry were established. These schools thrived as long as Greek culture and medical science persisted. Galen’s extensive and scholarly explanations of the Hippocratic texts, along with the surviving Hippocratic dictionaries and interpretations from the later Greco-Roman era, provide us with insights into this field of academic study.

We must acknowledge and admire its expertise and understanding, even though we cannot agree with its certainty that the true essence of Hippocrates can still be derived from the extensive collection of Hippocratic treatises. Contemporary scholars have also tried to separate a specific set of works from the collection and attribute them to Hippocrates.

However, the number of such works has decreased over time and varies depending on the specific medical perspective that each scholar believes represents Hippocrates’ characteristic style. After conducting extensive and meticulous research, it appears that we must accept and admit our lack of information of the truth.