I will terminate this succinct review of the Hippocratic collection, by the examination of a work which was intended as a recapitulation of all that is set forth in the others. I mean the collection of Aphorisms, in seven of his books. No medical work of antiquity has had a more colossal reputation
than this ; physicians and philosophers have professed for it the same veneration as the Pythagorians manifested for their golden verses. The aphorisms of Hippocrates were long regarded as the crowning glory of the medical scientific edifice - as the most sublime effort of medical genius. Only a few years past, the faculty of Paris required of the aspirants to the doctorate to insert a certain number of them in their theses ; and perhaps nothing less than the political revolution in France was sufficient to overthrow this old relic of a superannuated adoration.
For some propositions that express general truths of recognized utility, and some clear and profound observations, how many are there that contain exceptional truths, vulgar reflections, and even errors and contradictions. In a practical point of view, the Aphorisms appear to me to be nearly an absolute nullity ; because, having no union with each other, they make only a superficial impression on the mind of the reader, and are easily effaced from his memory. Besides, in admitting even that a practitioner might have them all at his fingers' ends, they would not render him much more skillful in treating diseases. Such reading, then, can offer no solid instruction to the student, nor is it valuable to any but a practitioner whose judgment is ripened by experience, for he alone is capable of discerning what is true and what is false, or the good and the bad in these general maxims : to him they are merely a recapitulation of scattered notions and observations.
This was my judgment of them long before M. Littre had published his translation of this Hippocratic treatise. Since I have read the learned explanations of this commentator I have not changed my mind, for it seems to me that both of us consider these famous sentences from different points of view he as an erudite and a philosopher, and I as a simple practitioner. "The Aphorisms form," says M. Littre, "a succession of propositions in juxtaposition, but not united. It is, and always will be, disadvantageous, for a work to be written in that style, and this disadvantage is increased if the Aphorisms are considered with modern ideas, and with the notions we now have of physiology and pathology : they thus lose all their general signification, and the aphorism, already so isolated in itself, becomes more so when introduced into modern science, with which it has but little practical relationship. But it is not so when the mind conceives of the ideas which prevailed when the Aphorisms were written: then, in those parts where they seem most disjointed, we see that they are related to a common doctrine, which unites them together ; and in this view, they no longer appear as detached sentences. (Aphorismes, Argument, Â§ 11, Tome IV., page 405, des Oeuvres d'Hippocrate)
History of Medicine by P.V. Renouard M.D.