Hippocrates – the Father of Medicine
Hippocrates has been my inspiration in my journey from Ancient Greek Wisdom to 21st century Nutritional Medicine
Ὠφελέειν ή μη βλάπτειν᾽: ‘To help, or at least, to do no harm’ Hippocrates proclaimed 25 centuries ago.
This expression was passed on, like a batton, from Hippocrates to Galen, to Thomas Sydenham, to Florence Nightingale and became the famous Latin injunction: “primum non nocere”.
Hippocrates was not only an inspiring physician and teacher of the medical school of Kos that he founded. Neither was he just the most famous doctor of his time and the one who is still now considered by most physicians, historians and philosophers to be the Father of Medicine.
He did something no-one else had done before: he systematically wrote down and passed on to future generations his research observations, teachings, theories, philosophy, ethics and regimes for health and illness.
He was of course the product of his epoch, the ‘Golden Age of Greece’.
He learned from the traditions that preceded him for centuries, such as the Babylonians and the Egyptians and benefited from the discoveries that they had made. He learned all this through oral tradition although he may have had access to written material that we don’t know of.
He composed the Hippocratic Oath and such was the influence of it that, still today many graduate doctors around the world swear it just before they start practicing medicine on real people, like you and me.
I recited the Hippocratic Oath with my colleagues, during the 1st International Medical Olympiad at the island of Kos in 1996. As we came down the steps at the Asklepeion of Kos, local young men played a simple, hypnotic tune on wooden pipes. We recited:
‘I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses, that, according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this contract: … I will use those dietary and lifestyle regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them…’
Ten years later, while I was studying Nutritional Medicine in England, the organiser of the Olympiad, the then President of the International Hippocratic Foundation of Kos, Professor of History of Medicine Dr Spyros Marketos, reminded me of the words in the Oath and the teachings of Hippocrates. He gave me the first material from the Hippocratic Corpus to study and interpret with my new knowledge of Nutritional Medicine. This set me off on a journey of exploration and discovery that I am now sharing with you.