Medicine of the antique nations

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 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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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