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.
Sprengel, who undertook the same task, two hundred years later, with germanic patience, has only succeeded in displaying a vast and confused erudition (See also "l'Histoire de la Chirurgie," commenced by Dujardin.and continued by Peyrilhe. Paris, 1774-1780. 2 vols, in 4to. ). It would then be temerity on my part to enter into a labyrinth where men of such great wisdom have lost themselves. I shall content myself by extracting from these fabulous legends a few anecdotes, and some of the best credited names, that have become common knowledge, and which a physician ought to know, or suffer the imputation of ignorance of the history of his Profession.
Melampus is the first of the Greeks, following the chronological order, who immortalized himself by extraordinary cures, and to whom, from gratitude, altars were erected. He lived in the times of Prcetus, king of Argos, nearly two hundred years before the Trojan war. He is said to have cured Iphiclus of impotency, by giving him the rust of iron. But this is difficult to accredit, when we are assured that Iphiclus took part in the Argonautic expedition, one hundred and fifty years later.
The most famous of the cures attributed to Melampus. were those of the daughters of Proetus. These princesses, who had taken vows of celibacy, became subject to fits of hysteria or monomania, during which, they imagined themselves transformed into cows, and would leave the palace to run wild in the forests, lowing like those animals. This nervous affection was communicated, sympathetically, to other women of Argos, who followed the Proetides, imitating their deranged conduct. The shepherd, Melampus, having observed that his goats purged them- selves by eating white hellebore, gave his young patients milk in which this plant was infused, and then caused some robust young boys to chase them over the field until they were thoroughly f tigued. Then he en- chanted them, and made them bathe in a fountain of Arcadia, called Cli- torian, which completed their cure. In pay for so great a service, Prcetus off red to Melampus the hand of one of his daughters with the third of his kingdom. The herdsman showed, on this occasion, as much fraternal affection as medical perspicacity, for he would not accept the offer of the monarch, except on condition that his brother Bias should have a reward equal to his own.
Chiron is less illustrious in the great acts that he performed than in the pupils he reared. He held his school in a grotto in Thessaly, and, if the chronicle may be believed, no philosopher of antiquity, no professor in modern times, could count in his audience as many celebrities as the Centaur saw in his cave. A majority of the heroes who distinguished themselves at the capture of the fleece of gold, or in the Trojan war, boasted of having been his disciples. Among these are enumerated Hercules, Jason, Theseus, Castor and Pollux, the subtle Ulysses, the fiery Diomedes, the prolix Nestor, the pious Eneas, and the invincible Achilles. The hermit, it is said, taught them philosophy, music, astronomy, the military art, political science, and medicine. He cured Phoenix, son of Amyntor, of a blindness supposed to be incurable, and his renown for the treatment of ulcers was so great, that the name of Chironians was given to those which resisted all curative means, and presented a malignant appearance. The etymologists derive the word Centaureus, from Centaur, in order to remain true to the mythological tradition, and doubtless from having no better substitute. Finally, it is said, that this hero or demigod, so skillful in dressing wounds of all kinds, met his death from the wound of an arrow, poisoned by the blood of the hydra of Lerna.
Esculapius, of all the disciples of Chiron, was the most eminent, in a medical point of view. He passed for the son of Apollo, by the nymph Coronis. Several cities of Greece have contended for the honor of his birthplace ; but the general opinion is, that he was born at Epidaurus a city of Argolis, where he had a temple and a famous oracle. The twins, Castor and Pollux, were anxious that he should accompany the Argonautic expedition, which shows that he was famous at that epoch, as a physician, or rather, as a surgeon.
The Esculapius of the Hellenists, being of a date posterior to the Hermes of the Egyptians, and these two characters, having between them many traits of resemblance, certain authors have thought that the latter might probably only be a copy of the former. They have denied the individuality of the god of Epidaurus, and have accused him of being a twin brother of his colleague of Memphis. Leclerc, after having deeply studied this grave question, in every respect, has not dared to decide it. My views correspond with his.
However this may be, Esculapius obtained in antiquity, nearly a universal veneration. His worship, which passed from the Greeks to the Romans, extended into all countries, penetrated by the arms of these two nations. We shall speak elsewhere of the principal temples erected to his honor, of the priests that were connected with them, and the progress they made in Medical Science. For the present, we shall con- tent ourselves with relating some of the cures attributed to him, and glance at the opinions of the ancients, relative to his manner of treating diseases.
It is said he brought from death to life, Hippolytus, son of Theseus, a Capaneus, a Lycurgus. an Eryphile, and many others. Pluto, god of Hell, alarmed to see the number of new arrivals to his gloomy kingdom, diminishing day by day - complained to Jupiter, who destroyed the audacious healer. On this account says a wit, the modern children of Esculapius abstain from performing prodigies. But the witty writer forgot, that there has always existed, and now exists, a class of self- styled physicians, who have never ceased to perform miracles. They are called, according to circumstances, charlatans, quacks, theosophs, thaumaturgs, etc. Such were, among others, Asclepiades of Bithynia, who resuscitated a corpse, in a public place in Borne, in open day ; Paracelsus, who boasted of keeping in a vial, a living little man, man- ufactured by himself; Bobert Fludd, the oracle of modern theosophs; Mesmer, the magnetizer, and their adepts.
In regard to the method which Esculapius followed, in the treatment of diseases, as well as to all else relating to this god, we possess no documents, entitled to much credit. The poet Pindar, who lived seven or eight hundred years later, is the first to describe it in the following terms: "Esculapius," says he, " cured the ulcers, wounds, fevers and pains of all who applied to him, by enchantments, calming potions, incisions, and by external application (Third Pythian Ode.)."
The greatest number of writers, after the Boeotian poet, such as Galen, Plutarch, Pausanias, Pliny and others, have reiterated the same views. Plato, comparing the practice of Esculapius, with that of his cotemporaries, gives the preference to the former, for reasons which deserve to be reported.
In the third dialogue on the republic, Socrates, when interrogated by Glaucus, responds as follows:
"Is it not a shameful thing to be compelled to call upon a physician, not for the cure of wounds, or the diseases of the seasons ; but for such as are produced by the indulgent life I have described, which fills us with humors and unhealthy vapors, like swamps; thus obliging the worthy sons of Esculapius, to invent such new names, as catarrhs, fluxions, etc."
" Indeed, Socrates, these are new and extraordinary names of dis- eases."
"Yes! such as did not exist in the times of Esculapius, I think, and what leads me to believe it, is, that his sons (Machaon and Podalirius) , during the siege of Troy, did not blame the women who gave as a beverage to the wounded Eurypylus, Pramnian wine, upon which she had sprinkled flour and grated cheese, both of which have an inflammatory tendency; nor Patroclus, who cured wounds with herbs."
"It was strange, nevertheless, to give that beverage to a wounded man."
"It was not, if you reflect that before Herodicus, the art of treating and curing diseases, as is now attempted, was not put in practice, by the disciples of Esculapius. Herodicus was the master of a Gymnasium ; becoming a valetudinarian, he combined gymnastics and medicine, by which combination he tormented himself, and many others after him."
"In what way?"
"By producing a slow death, for as his disease was mortal, he followed it step by step, without being able to cure it, and neglecting everything else to take care of himself. Distressed by anxieties, if he varied ever so little from his regimen, by force of art he reached old age, by a life of real agony."
"His art rendered him an excellent service! "
"He well merited it, for not having seen, that if Esculapius did not teach to his descendants that system of Medicine, it was neither from ignorance, or defect of understanding, but because he knew, that in every well-ordered government, each citizen has a task to fulfill, and that no one has leisure to pass his life in sickness, and in taking care of himself. If we see the absurdity of this method, for artisans, we see it none the less for the rich, and the pretended happy of the world."
" Explain yourself?"
"Let a carpenter be sick, he is benefited by a physician, who relieves him by a vomit or a purge, or rids him of his disease by fire or steel, but if one comes to him and prescribes a long regimen, enveloping his head in cloths, and other similar treatments, he very soon must say, that he has no time to be sick, and that there is no advantage in living thus, occupying himself with his disease, and neglecting his labor which awaits him. He says, away with such medical treatment, and resuming his ordinary style of living, recovers his health, and goes to^work again; or, if his system can not resist the disease, death comes in to relieve him from his embarrassment. These are, according to my opinion, the considerations that led Esculapius to prescribe a treatment, suitable only for the diseases of persons of strong constitutions, and good habits ; and to limit his remedies to potions and incisions, without changing their manner of living, wishing not to harm society. But in regard to those rad- ically unsound, he was not willing to assume the responsibility of prolong- ing their lives and sufferings, by injections or ejections, given according to circumstances, and thus put them in a condition, to beget other beings, destined most likely to inherit their diseases. He thought that it was not required to treat those who could not fulfill the career marked out by nature, because it was neither advantageous to themselves, nor to the state."
“You make a politician of Esculapius."
"It was evident that he was one, and his children furnish the proof of it; for while they fought with intrepidity under the walls of Troy, they practiced Medicine, as I have just stated." (De la Republic, Book III, translation of M. Cousin, p. 167, et suiv.).
The above argument, tending to prove that Medical Science must not be occupied with valetudinarians or individuals of a debilitated constitution, is destroyed by the simple remark of one of the interlocutors, "You make a politician of Esculapius." It is certainly wrong in Socrates, or Plato, as explained by him, to desire that the physician sacrifice the sentiments of his nature, and the right of suffering human- ity, to the exigencies of an unpitying political economy. No, whatever this sage may say, a physician must not ask himself, if the preservation of the individual who claims his services is likely to be burdensome or useful to the State. In ancient republics, such atrocious patriotism was praised, but modern civilization repudiates it. It does not permit the physician to consider any such question in regard to his patients; he must do all he can for them.
Such is the view that the medical corps of France has held of its duties, under all phases of our internal dissensions. A striking proof of this has been given but very recently. It may be remembered that, at the close of one of the bloody contests in the capital, which took place during the first years of the reign of Louis-Philippe, a chief of police endeavored to force the physicians to tell the names of the wounded whom they attended. The magistrate thought this an honest way of dis- covering the enemies of the government ; but the public, as well as the medical corps, saw in this a shameful abuse of confidence, the espionage hiding itself in the cloak of the minister of benevolence.
Policy was obliged to bend before the morale, and this is not one of the least glories of our epoch. This would not have taken place in the time of Plato, for the opinion which we combat here, and of which the philosopher has made himself the echo, appertains much less to him than to his age, it reigned in all the ancient republics prior to the advent of Christianity.
Machaon and Podalirius touched the limits that separate mythology from history; these two personages participate in this double character ; their biography is a mixture of fabulous and probable narrations. Their existence, for example, can not be considered doubtful, for the Homeric songs, and other ancient writings, agree in representing them as valiant captains and skillful physicians, who took an active part in the siege of Troy, but the statement of their genealogy does not inspire us with the same confidence. They are said to be the sons of Esculapius, and we know that the reality of this famous individual is exceed- ingly problematical. Beside, the words, children of Esculapius, are often employed figuratively by ancient authors, to designate men who devoted themselves to the medical profession.
Machaon was regarded as the elder of the two brothers. He treated Menelaus, when that prince was treacherously wounded by Pindar. He cured, also, Philoctetes, who was lame from a wound which he inflicted upon himself, by letting fall upon his foot one of the arrows of Hercules. This illustrious surgeon met his death in a singular com- bat under the walls of Troy.
Podalirius survived him, and assisted in the ruin of the kingdom of Priam, but on his return he was cast by a tempest on the shore of Ca- ria. A shepherd rescued him, and learning that he was a physician, he conducted him to Dametus, the king of the country, whose daughter had lately, accidentally, fallen from the top of the house. She was insensible and motionless, and the attendants already supposed her dead, but this skillful surgeon bled her from both arms, and had the happiness of restoring her life.
Here is the first example of bleeding practiced for the purpose of a cure ; unhappily, it is not very authentic. Stephen, of Byzance, who reports it. wrote in the fifth century, nearly 1600 years after the event, and he does not indicate the source whence he obtained it. However, the habit of bloodletting goes back far beyond the era of Hippocrates, for he speaks of it, in several places, as a common practice in his time.
The other members of the family of Esculapius are all fictitious beings, whose symbolical names only remind us of some attribute in Medicine. Thus, the name of Epion, his wife, is derived from a Greek word, which signifies to quiet; those of Hygeia and Panacea, his daughters, express, the one health, and the other, a remedy for all diseases.
Moreover, many of the gods and goddesses of Olympus assumed the honor of fulfilling some medical function. Apollo, or Phoebus, the father of Esculapius, usurped nearly everything. Under the name of Paeon, he assumed the privilege of exciting or appeasing epidemics. It is well known that Juno presided at accouchements, and took at those times the surnames of Lucina, Ilithyia, or Natalis. In short, by the ingenious connection of many passages in the Iliad and the Odyssey, M. Malgaigne indicates that Apollo was considered as the author of all the natural deaths among men, and Diana of those among women.
At an epoch when yet the earliest inhabitants of Greece, called Pelages, lived on the acorns of their forests, and were covered with the skins of wild beasts, making their homes in caves ; Egypt, Phenicia, and Chaldea already rejoiced in the blessings of an advanced civilization. The emigration of successive parties from Sais, Tyre, and Mem- phis, carried to the hellenic peninsula the germs of the arts and sci- ences. Inachus, the victim of a revolution, conducted to Greece the first Egyptian colony, and laid the foundation of the city of Argos, 1856 years before Christ. Several ages later, Cecrops, obliged to fly from the banks of the Nile, landed on the shores of Attica, and became the founder of Athens, which he consecrated to Minerva. Cadmus came from Tyre with a company of Phenicians, and established himself in Boeotia. He built the walls of Thebes, which citadel bore his name.
The major part of the aborigines embraced, either from taste or compulsion, the habits of civilized life, and adopted the worship and laws of the new comers, while a certain number, still preferring the independence and idleness of a nomadic life, formed themselves into wandering bands that devastated the country, driving off the flocks, and despoil- ing and murdering travelers. The founders of the new colonies made a war of extermination, and the first men who signalized themselves by victories over the chiefs of the brigands, or the savage monsters of the wild country, were considered as heroes, and benefactors of humanity. Gratitude mingled their praise with that of the gods. Gradually the recollection of these events became dim, because the narrations were not committed to writing. The adventures of these earthly heroes were confounded with those of the gods imported from foreign countries. Names and dates were mingled together, and the national vanity gratified itself in giving Greek origin to both, and in transferring the theater of all the celebrated events, and great discoveries, to the hellenic territory. The earliest chroniclers appearing a long time afterward, made no effort to go back to the source of the traditions, and clear up their obscurity, by comparing them with each other ; they only made themselves the echoes of popular belief. This is the reason why the mythology of the Greeks, although sufficiently modern, offers as much uncertainty and obscurity as that of nations much more ancient.
from history of medicine by P. V. Renouard.