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Generally regarded as the father of western medicine, Hippocrates of Cos was a physician in ancient Greece during the time of Pericles and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of medicine. His own contributions to the field are quite remarkable and long lasting. Even today, physicians take the "Hippocratic Oath" in recognition of his philosophy and approach to medicine.


Hippocrates was born around 460BC and arguably lived at least 90 years with some scholars believing he actually made it to 100. We know relatively little about his long life apart from a 20 year prison sentence he endured for opposing the forms of medical practices that was being engaged in at the time. During his sentence, he wrote "The Complicated Body" which did encompass many of the elements that we are familiar with today.

Interestingly enough, despite his overwhelming fame there is actually very little we know of the man himself. This is because most of his work we know from the writings of Corpus, a practitioner under Hippocratic medicine and not from Hippocrates. Most of the writings Hippocrates did have, apart from "The Complicated Body" are presumably lost to history.

However, Soranus of Ephesus who lived in the 2nd century BC did write about Hippocrates as well as Aristotle and John Tzetzes who also compiled information about Hippocrates in the 12th century AD.

The Achievements of Hippocrates

His most notable achievements came from founding the Hippocratic School of Medicine, a school which revolutionized the thinking of healthcare in its treatment and practice. The results were in creating a discipline that separated itself from philosophy and established itself on its own terms.

The most obvious achievement of Hippocrates is the establishment of the Hippocratic Oath which is still being used today. In addition, he established the study of clinical medicine using a systematic form that our modern version derives from as well. In general, it must be stated that Hippocrates was arguably the most influential in how we see the medical profession today rather than for a string of achievements.

The "Hippocratic Corpus", a collection of roughly 70 early medical works from the time period of Hippocrates survives to this day. It contains research, notes, textbooks and lectures from the time period that Hippocrates himself might have contributed, but it does appear the work is from several authors.

In addition, Hippocrates and those who followed his teachings are noted for the description of many different types of diseases along with medical conditions. Cyanotic heart disease and lung cancer were first diagnosed by Hippocrates as well as the clubbing of fingers as a medical condition. In addition, Hippocrates categorized these diseases into categories such as chronic, acute, endemic and finally epidemic.

Unfortunately, the very fame of Hippocrates that he earned during his long life contributed to the stalling of medical science once he passed away. It took several centuries for the progress of medicine to advance. However, the foundation of modern medical science owes a huge debt to Hippocrates for establishing the focus and boundaries of the science.

Rumor Has It

that Hippocrates' younger brother Ted was known as the Hippocratic Oaf when romancing women with his clubbed hand. And some say he was a bit hypocritical as well.

Written by Kevin Lepton

Published August 13, 2014