Hippocrates: the father of medicine


This is the first of several short posts looking at how important historical figures have impacted on the practise of medicine and the study of human biology today. Modern approaches to science are informed by understandings of the past and few individuals have made a more lasting contribution to the field of medicine than the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos.

Hippocrates was born in the 5th century BC into a noble family that had been practising medicine for a number of generations. Although some of his theories, such as humourism, have long been discredited he pioneered the rational approach to treatment that forms the foundation of Western medicine.

While Hippocrates is often known as the “father of medicine”, he should perhaps be known as “the father of clinical medicine”, as the careful observation and documentation of clinical symptoms was a hallmark of the Hippocratic school of thought. He and his followers used diagnostic procedures that aimed to determine the cause of disease based on a patient’s symptomatology, taking into account family history and lifestyle factors. They dismissed supernatural causes of illness and prescribed holistic treatments that involved drug therapies, dietary changes, mental relaxation and physical exercise. Patients were also advised to get plenty of sleep and fresh air.

Despite working to ensure that medicine became regarded as a discipline distinct from theology and philosophy, he also laid out a number of ethical principles to guide medical practice. The benevolence, concern for confidentiality and standards of care described in the Hippocratic Oath still guide the professional conduct of doctors today.

Image credit

University of Seville. (2010). Hippocrates [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdctsevilla/4842887491


Orfanos, C. (2007). From Hippocrates to modern medicine. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 21(6), 852-858. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.


3 comments on “Hippocrates: the father of medicine

  1. Nick West says:

    One thing that may be of interest is the “Hippocratic” treatise On the Sacred Disease. While it has been traditional in anglophone literature at least to stress the arguments of the treatise oppose supernatural causes/gods, a fairly recent study by Derek Collins (Magic in Ancient Greece) has managed to show that the treatise’s author did not have an issue with the supernatural treatments per se but the types of healer who practiced them and the location in which they were performed. In several cases he has shown that the author has misrepresented or misunderstood the logic of his opponents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting how a figure from so long ago had such an impact on modern medicine! Has the Hippocratic Oath been altered since it was first introduced and what are the implications of this oath?


    • bonniepaton says:

      The Hippocratic oath has been modified several times since being translated from Greek to English. It is frequently divided into 12 principles that physicians must adhere to and some of the most significant revisions have taken place in the second half of the 20th century.

      The Declaration of Geneva adopted by the World Medical Council in 1948 was based upon the Oath and sought to reaffirm commitment to patient welfare following the human rights abuses perpetrated by German and Japanese doctors in WW2. The principles of the Hippocratic Oath form the basis of many post war legislative changes to medical ethics and guidelines for human experimentation.

      In the 1960s the wording of the oath was changed to remove references to higher powers and make it more secular. This meant that people were able to swear before others rather than before God that they would adhere to the charter. This version is commonly used today.

      In many places around the world medical students still take a variation of the Hippocratic oath upon graduation. Swearing to the Oath is not legally binding although taking part in the ceremony helps to remind doctors of their professional roles and responsibilities.


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