History of medicine

We have seen, that after bringing together all the fragments the Hippocratic writers have transmitted to us, relative to the structure of the human body, it would be impossible to compose from them a regular or complete treatise on anatomy ; for, with the exception of the skeleton, they possessed very limited and imperfect notions of any organic apparatus. They confounded, under a common name, the

Greece, which will, hereafter, furnish us the most interesting and best preserved debris of the Healing Art of the ancients, does not give us, in regard to the history of this Science, during the ages that precede the Trojan War, anything more than dim lights and tradition stamped with a fabulous character, and often borrowed from other nations. The learned and modest Daniel Leclerc, details at great length her medical mythology ; he names more than thirty gods or goddesses, heroes or heroines, who were supposed to have invented or cultivated, with distinction, some of the branches of Medicine. He interrogates, successively, history, poetry, chronicles, and inscriptions ; he neglects nothing in the hope of shedding some light on the chaos of improbable or contradictory- traditions ; but his praiseworthy though unfruitful efforts have not drawn from them any valuable truths, nor well established facts.

The chief of the dynasty of the Lagides, Ptolomy Soter, was not contented with collecting, at a great expense, an enormous quantity of books ; he felt also the necessity of having order and choice in his collection. To effect this, he called around him men, the most renowned for their erudition, and gave them residences near the library, and created a revenue for their maintenance. Some were charged with the classification, collation and annotation of the manuscripts; and the copies that underwent this labor of revisal were

If we accord the first place, in this history, to Egyptian Medicine, it is not without a motive. It seems to us to merit this honor, not only because its antiquity is based on monuments, the most authentic, but also because it has been the source whence the Greeks drew the first elements of this science; and in this respect also the Egyptian nation may be justly named, the instructress of the human race. We read in the Bible, that when Jacob died, " Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm him ; and the physicians embalmed Israel, and forty days were fulfilled for him, for so are fulfilled the days of those that are embalmed." Thus, at the death of the Patriarch Jacob, about 1700 years before the birth of Christ, Egypt possessed men who practiced the art of medicine. This passage, in the writings of Moses, is the most ancient authentic monument that we possess of the Healing Art ; all that is more remote in the history of Egypt, and of other nations, is enveloped in uncertainty and obscurity, at least so far as medicine is concerned.

It was truly a royal idea, and worthy of the successors of Alexander, that of collecting together all the intellectual riches of the universe, and placing them at the disposal of studious men, who were desirous to use them for their improvement, and the advancement of science.

In order to conceive all the grandeur and munificence of such a creation, it is necessary to recall under what circumstance it was

Under the name of Indians, we comprise all those tribes that inhabit that vast extent of country, bounded on the east by China, on the west by Persia, on the north by little Thibet, and on the south by the sea. Though now divided into many kingdoms or principalities, the inhabit- ants of these countries appear to have had in antiquity, a common origin, the same religion, and similar institutions. The mildness of the climate, and the fertility of the soil, which produced abundantly the necessities of life, must have invited early the occupation of man ; and authentic monuments attest that India possessed the blessings of civilization, while Europe was still plunged in the darkness of barbarism. Some writers even go so far, as to pretend that the torch of civilization, was transported from the banks of the Ganges, to the banks of the Nile; but this is only a simple conjecture, devoid of proof, while the contrary view is at least as probable. 

The Indians are divided into many castes, of which the most noble is that of the priests or bramins. These only have the privilege to exercise the functions of priests and physicians ; they alone learn the Sanscrit, which is the language of the learned of those countries, and in which all their books are written. Their medical knowledge is collected in a book which they name Vagadasastir. We possess of this work only a few extracts, the exactness of which I dare not guarantee ; for such as they are, they give too poor an opinion of the knowledge and judgment of the Hindoo doctors. 
This organon of Medicine, is divided into eight parts ; the first treats of diseases of children ; the second of bites of venomous animals ; the third of affections of the mind, which are produced, as generally sup- posed, by demons ; the fourth part, is consecrated to diseases of the sexual organs ; the fifth to hygiene and prophylactics ; the sixth to surgery ; the seventh to treatment of diseases of the eye, and of the head ; the eighth gives directions for the preservation of youth, and the beauty of the hair. It is plain that no philosophic idea, lies at the foundation of the arrangement of this medical encyclopedia. 

During the short period through which we have just passed, we have seen medical science, stripped of its mystic veil, take, suddenly, a rapid bound. The principal foundations of its edifice have been laid, and we see appear an outline of each of its parts, which is to form, at a later period, a vast structure - an outline whose totality offers already an imposing, although somewhat vague, aspect. " Antique science," as M. Littre most eloquently

The Sacred History says, positively, that Moses, having been rescued from the river by one of the daughters of Pharaoh, was reared in the court of that Prince, and instructed in all the knowledge of the Egyptian priesthood, in which he became a proficient. On this account, when he presented himself before his sovereign, to demand, in the name of the God of Israel, the freedom of his brethren, who were reduced to an unjust and cruel servitude, he was not at all embarrassed by the prestiges of the magicians and savans that Pharaoh so frequently sum- moned to meet him in the palace. He proved the legitimacy of his mission, in confounding the pride of the magicians by prodigies more wonderful than theirs, and finally overcame the interested obstinacy of the king, and had the glory of delivering his brethren from the yoke that had pressed so heavily upon them for nearly two hundred years. All are familiar with the great obstacles he overcame in leading them back to the land of their forefathers, and how well he availed himself of long and weary wanderings in the wilderness, to give to them the moral and political laws inspired by God. 

We have seen that the first notions of Medicine go back to the earliest infancy of society, in all the countries of the world ; so that we may repeat the statement of Pliny, that if there exists any nation which, at any epoch of its history, was without physicians, there is not one in which we do not find some vestiges of Medicine.

The Chinese offer to our observation the unique spectacle, in the records of the human race, of a people who have preserved, for more than four thousand years, their manners, laws, religion, literature, language, name, and territory. This remarkable phenomenon is certainly related to a concourse of extraordinary circumstances, well worthy the attention of the philosopher and statesman ; but we can not dwell on this subject especially, as we do not possess the documents necessary thereto.

The history of other nations offers nothing peculiarly remarkable, in a medical point of view. All that can be affirmed of each one of them is, that just as far as we can go back in their annals, we always find some vestiges of Medicine. Thus, Hippocrates mentions certain medical practices, in use among the Scythians. We have stated before the practice of the Portuguese and Babylonians, of exposing the sick before the doors of the houses, in order that passers-by might give them their advice. In short, we also know, that in Gaul and in the Britannic isles, the Druids were at the same time priests, legislators and physicians, and that their women shared with them their offices and prerogatives.

In the New World, the same phenomena are produced among a people, who have had no species of communication with the inhabitants of the Old World. Antonio de Solis states, that Montezuma, emperor of Mexico, possessed gardens, where great numbers of plants were cultivated, whose properties were well-known to the physicians of the country, who employed them with success. Cortez having been attacked with a grave disease, assembled a council of the most skillful native physicians, who employed various remedies, and in a short time restored the eminent patient to health. In the island of St. Domingo, the priests named butios, were both physicians and apothecaries. Among the Apalachicolas, a tribe in Florida, the sacrificers to the sun, practiced Medicine, to the exclusion of other castes. Finally, now that all parts of the globe have been explored, we are able to repeat with assurance, that sentence of the elder Pliny, which says, "no nation has existed, entirely destitute of Medicine, though some may be found, that have had no men, especially occupied as physicians."

from History of Medicine by P. V. Renouard. 

If we should be asked, what has taught men to provide themselves with things indispensable to life ; to prepare their food and clothing, and habitations against the inclemencies of the seasons, etc.; our unembarrassed and prompt reply would be : 

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