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The Greeks medicine through time – essay questions

History homework

The theory of the four humours was created by Hippocrates, a Greek philosopher. He, among others, believed that the world was made up of four elements: earth, fire, water and air. He then began to think that the body was also made up of four elements, blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. Then, he began to think all these elements could in some way be connected as well as with the 4 seasons. Such as, spring = blood, air.

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Through his observations, he thought that the seasons seemed to affect the amount of certain humour in your body, such as, in winter when you got a cold, you had too much phlegm, therefore winter was linked to phlegm. In order to cure an illness, he thought the humour in your body that was too great, had to be reduced. For example, if you had “too much” blood you were bled to balance your humours. This theory was so popular, it was believed for thousands of years.

The theory was thought of at this time for a number of reasons. Firstly, they had more time for thinking out theorys, as they had slaves to do work for them. They also had enquiring minds and wanted to know how everything worked and why. They also observed and noted things they had seen to build up explanations, backed up with evidence. Overall, this helped greeks to start to seriously think out important issues, such as physiology.

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Hippocrates is sometimes known as the father of medicine because of his impact on medicinal understanding throughout time. Firstly, he created the Hippocratic oath, this made doctors swear to work hard for the benefit of the patients and not to help them get rich. This oath is so well known, doctors still use it today.

Another reason for this, was his encouragement of observation and recording of illnesses and cures. Doctors were encouraged to closely observe a patients illness and how they reacted to the cure given. These observations and discoveries were then sometimes recorded in numerous books, which if passed along, could help other doctors learn how to cure certain illnesses and ailments.

Hippocrates also broke the chain of belief the gods were the cause of all illness. He tried to find natural explanations and treatments instead of always blaming spirits or gods. This of course, led him to his theory of the 4 humours, which was very well known and believed for many years.

However, the famous 4 humours theory was of course wrong, and although it helped people start to think of natural explanations for illness, it also hindered there a progression of medicinal knowledge. People believed the theory so strongly that they didn’t bother to find an alternative, therefore it slowed the advance of medicinal knowledge. Also, the treatments given for illnesses to do with the 4 humours were sometimes dangerous. Such as bleeding people if they had “too much” blood in the body. This could cause the patient to bleed to death, if the flow was not stopped.

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Overall, I mildly agree with the statement. This is because Hippocrates had a big impact on the way people thought about medicine, and if it wasn’t for this, people may not have even considered trying to investigate new cures, or to share these ideas through records. However, I only mildly agree, as his incorrect theory did hinder development of medicinal knowledge for thousands of years as it was so widely believed.

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