Hippocrates was born in the isle of Cos, of a family in which the practice of Medicine was hereditary. They pretended to trace their ancestry, on the male side, to Esculapius, and on the female side to Hercules. They count as many as seven of its members that had borne the name of Hippocrates ; but the most celebrated of all was the
second in this range. His birth goes back about as far as the year 460, before Christ. But few particulars are known of his life, and we know not his age at death. Some say he lived to one hundred and ten years ; others, to ninety : and others, again, to eighty, only. It is certainly known, that he traveled in Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and many other countries, because, in various passages of his writings, he names these countries, and the diseases he had occasion to treat in them. From these it is ascertained that he was a cotemporary of Socrates, and slightly younger than he ; therefore, he belongs to the famous age of Pericles, when the sciences and arts attained, in Greece, so high a degree of splendor.
The isle of Cos, now Stan-co, situated between Milet and Bhodes, not far from the coast of Ionia, was favored with a delicious climate, and. in former times, was considered, also, as one of the most salubrious countries ; but it has lost its antique reputation since it has been under the dominion of the Turks, for it is now regarded as one of the most unhealthy countries. It possessed then a temple dedicated to Esculapius. and a Medical school, which was the most celebrated of all the Asclepidian schools. Hippocrates was thus placed under very favorable circumstances to receive a most careful and complete Medical education. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with this domestic instruction. He visited the principal Greek cities of Europe and Asia, communing with philosophers, examining the gymnasiae, giving attention to all persons who asked his services, collecting, at all points, observations on special diseases, epidemic constitutions, also, on the influence of manners, climate, regimen, etc.
After his return to his native country, being now rich in the materials he had collected, and especially in those that his ancestors had amassed for a considerable length of time, he published those immortal works that astonished the world, and made the physical science of man, one of the most important branches of Natural Philosophy. Already whilst living, he had an unequaled renown in his profession. Plato, his cotemporary, and even Aristotle himself, rest on his authority when referring to the organization of the human body. The habit of calling Medicine the Art of Esculapius, was gradually lost, and learned men more frequently spoke of it as the Science of Hippocrates.
His sons, son-in-law, and grandchildren, followed the same career, and added much to his professional labors. But the greater number of them published their writings in his name, either to honor his memory, or to obtain more weight for their opinions and precepts, or to conform to a usage immemorial in clerical families, or, for all these three reasons together : thus, even in a short time after the death of the great Hippocrates, it had already become very difficult to distinguish his own works from those of his disciples. This difficulty continued to increase in proportion as the texts became impaired by the ignorance or inexactness of copyists, and above all by the bad faith of bookmongers. These, according to Galen, had not the least scruple in the world, to write the name of Hippocrates on the medical writings of unknown or obscure authors.
By this fraud they augmented, very much, the venal value of the volumes which they had in possession ; and on this account, says Galen, they had frequent recourse to it, especially at an epoch when the sovereigns of Egypt and Pontus, rivals in zeal for the increase of the libraries they had founded, purchased in every country all the books that could be procured, and paid for them a price proportional to the reputation of the authors. The savans having charge of the library at Alexandria very soon discovered the fraud; so from the commencement of that collection, they were careful to place in a separate column, the writings which appeared to them to have really come from the pen of the physician of Cos ; and they designated them as volumes of the little tablet, to. ex zoo /kx/jou tzcvolxwcoo. This disposition of them in the library, was still seen in the time of Galen.
A great number of commentators have attempted to arrange a catalogue of the legitimate writings of Hippocrates ; but, guided by different views, and resting on diverse documents, they have all varied in their enumeration. Galen gives a list of these writings that differs from all preceding ones ; and the moderns, in their turn, have each, after his own notion, changed the list of Galen. After the learned researches of Mercuriali, Foes, Grimm, Gruner, Ackermann, Sprengel, and many others, one might suppose the subject exhausted. Nevertheless, at this moment there appears an edition of the works of Hippocrates, in French, in which the author, M. Littre, in a remarkable introduction which occupies nearly the whole of the first volume, passes in review all the questions relative to the authenticity of the Hippocratic books, and throws upon a track, so well beaten, and apparently so sterile, a new light, and perceptions, sometimes profound, sometimes ingenious, which could scarcely have been expected : so true is it of the facts of antiquity, as says the poet,
" On ne peut dans ce champ tellement moissonner Que les derniers venus n'y trouvent a glaner."
But they are not simply gleanings, that the modern translator of Hippocrates has gathered in the field of erudition ; it is a beautiful and excellent harvest. After the example of his predecessors, M. Littre examines the catalogue of writings attributed to the father of Greek Medicine, and changes it again.
To guide me in the midst of this labyrinth of divergent opinions, without involving myself in researches, or dissertations, which is foreign to my plan, I have adopted the following rule : I admit, as legitimate, those works only, which the principal critics unanimously recognize as such ; and I set aside the others, as doubtful or apocryphal. This rule, it seems to me, is the best to get at the truth as nearly as possible ; as the commentators and interpreters have a greater propensity to extend the domain of their favorite author, than to limit it. In accordance with this rule, I now give what appears to me to be an undoubted list of the authentic writings of Hippocrates the Second :
The Prognostic ;
Some Aphorisms ;
The Epidemics, 1st and 3rd books
On the Regimen in Acute Diseases ;
On Airs, Waters, and Places ;
On Articulations or Luxations ;
On Fractures ;
Mochlic, or Treatise on Instruments for Reduction. This list does not comprise the fourth part of the entire Hippocratic collection ; hut, thus reduced, the portion ascribed to Hippocrates still suffices, when we consider the era in which they were composed, to justify the enthusiasm of his cotemporaries, and the admiration of posterity.
From History of medicine by P.V. Renouard M.D.