When the storm of persecution had dissolved the Pythagorian societies, the members that composed it were scattered in different parts of Greece. Being no longer held by the bond of the community, many of them revealed in whole or in part the secrets of their doctrine, and to this circumstance we owe the little light that we possess on the subject.

 

A great number of the disciples of Pythagoras became illustrious in different careers, but we can only speak in this work of those who followed the practice of Medicine. History states that the latter first introduced the custom of visiting their patients in their own houses ; that they went from city to city, and from house to house, fulfilling the duty of physicians, as is done at present. On this account they were called periodic, or ambulant physicians, in opposition to the Asclepiadae, who were consulted by and treated the sick only in the temples. As to the charlatans who retailed drugs in shops, or at market, it appears that they have never had a rank in the medical hierarchy, however numerous they may have been at certain epochs.

Among the Pythagorians who cultivated Medicine, is cited Alemoeon, of Crotona, who is said to have written on anatomy and physics. It is pretended that he was the first to dissect animals ; but this is quite doubtful, as Anaxagoras and Democritus were already much earlier occupied than he, in zoology. At any rate, we are not able now to judge either of the reality or merit of his discoveries, as no part of his writings have come down to us. (Lauth, Histoire de l'Anatomic, Strasbourg, 1815, Liy. 11)

Empedocles, of Agrigentum, was more famous than Alemoeon. Many remarkable cures are ascribed to him which attest his sagacity. Among many instances that prove this, we select the following. From time immemorial pestilential fevers ravaged, periodically, his native city. He observed that the appearance of these fevers coincided with the return of a wind named Sirocco, which blows in Sicily, from the east and south. He therefore advised to close by a wall the narrow gorge which gave passage to this wind when it blew on Agrigentum. His counsel was followed, and from that time the pest ceased to make its appearance in the city. Some modern travelers have confirmed this remark ; among others, Doctor Braycr has alluded to it, in his excellent work, entitled, Nine Tears of Residence in Constantinople. The inhabitants of Selinus were a prey to an epidemic disease. A stream, by its sluggish course, filled the city with stagnant waters, from which were evaporated, daily, mephitic vapors. Empedocles saw this, and caused two small creeks to be conducted into it. This gave a new impulse to the waters, which ceased to be stagnant and to exhale the noxious effluvia. The scourge disappeared.(Diog. Laert. in Empedocl. Des Sciences Occultes, par Eus. Salverte, Paris, 1843, pag. 334)

 

Agrigentum saw flourish, about the same epoch, another physician, named Acron, who was not of the sect of Pythagoras. He rejected in medical practice every species of physiological theory, and insisted upon the value of pure experience only. On this account he is regarded by some as the chief of the empirists. But it is impossible for us to judge of the value of this opinion, because, no fragment of his writings has come down to us. All that can be said, is, that the separation of physicians into several sects, each one having principles, rules, and in some sort distinct symbols, did not take place for two centuries later, until the establishment of the Alexandrian school. 

From History of Medicine by P.V. Renouard M.D.

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