Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) was a Greek philosopher and physician who has been often called ‘the father of medicine’.

He and his followers dismissed the idea that illness was simply caused or cured by superstitions, spirits or gods. Instead, Hippocrates argued for a rational approach to medical treatment based on close observation of the individual patient.

Disease and illness would no longer be left to fate.

However, so little is known about the man himself that some scholars have questioned whether he was a real person at all.

Hippocrates is believed to have founded a medical school on Kos – the island of his birth – where his students helped to spread his ideas. A collection of ancient written works associated with Hippocrates and his teachings, known as the Hippocratic Corpus, was a huge influence on the development of medicine in the centuries that followed.

Hippocratic Medicine

In Hippocratic medicine, effective treatment relied on considering the patient as a whole.

“It’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”


Diet, sleep, work and exercise were all seen as important factors that could play a role in producing – and reversing – the imbalance in humours that was believed to result in illness. Diseases were allowed to run their natural course with treatment restricted mainly to the careful use of specific herbal medicines. Surgery was very much seen as a last resort.

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”


The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath defines good medical practice and morals for medical professionals. It was most probably compiled by a number of authors, but echoes elements of Hippocrates’ philosophy and has an enduring legacy as the ethical framework for today’s medical profession.

Hippocrates made his students swear the following:

“I will follow that system or regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider to be for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest any such counsel, and in like manner I will not give to a woman the means to produce an abortion.

Whenever I go into a house, I will go for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption, and further, from the seduction of females or males, whether freemen or slaves. Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, I see or hear which ought not to be spoken abroad, I will keep secret.

So long as I continue to carry out this oath un-violated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men in all times, but should I violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.”

Hippocratic Oath

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