On Ancient Medicine
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
On Ancient Medicine or Tradition in Medicine is a treatise in the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of ancient Greek medical texts attributed to Hippocrates and written probably in the late 5th century BC. As with all works in the Hippocratic Corpus, authorship cannot be confirmed and is regarded as dubious by some historians of medicine.
As the title suggests, the treatise gives a reconstruction of the development of medicine, assuming that it was an outgrowth of the discovery by ancient people that health could be promoted by the consumption of certain foods prepared properly. Primitive peoples ate raw food and their health suffered greatly. Once they began to grind grain into flour and bake bread, and to boil strong foods, their longevity increased. Some people had more delicate constitutions and required milder foods; and so the art of medicine was born.
The treatise is a rhetorical attack on pre-Hippocratic medicine as it was apparently practiced by many of the author's contemporaries. He (the author was probably male, assuming it was written by a Hippocratic physician) criticized doctors who prescribed a treatment such as "hot" or "cold," "wet" or "dry," categories which sound like the four humors: blood, yellow bile (vomit), black bile (excrement), phlegm (mucus). The author argues that there is no substance in the four humors theory.
The inclusion of this work in the Hippocratic Corpus is surprising, given that it attacks the humor theory underpinning later Hippocratic and Galenic medicine. The contrast is one reason for modern skepticism about its authorship.