Ancient medicine writers are very useful to us, both to follow the fantastic past development of this science, and for creating a better understanding for what is considered as just «alternative or complementary» by modern western medicine.
These writers and their work help us grasp the more holistic and natural approach ancient medicine used in treating disease, and by doing so come to realize that we actually have several choices when deciding the best approach to illness prevention and possible treatments available out there. Ancient medicine as such is like history itself, a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are. Or in the words of Aldous Huxley:
"The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different."
from China, also known as the Yellow Emperor, wrote the Huangdi Neijing together with six of his equally legendary ministers. Huangdi (2704 BC)
It is an ancient Chinese medical text that has been treated as the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese medicine for more than two millennia and until today. The Huangdi Neijing is composed of two texts that cover the theoretical foundation of Chinese Medicine with its diagnostic methods, and acupuncture therapy. The work of Huangdi was revised and thorughly expanded by many other chinese scholars and physicians into a great medical system called TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine.
TCM practices include such treatments as Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, dietary therapy, and both Tui na and Shiatsu massage. Qigong and Taijiquan are also closely associated with TCM. TCM is rooted in meticulous observation of nature, the cosmos, and the human body, and it is thousands of years old. Major theories include those of Yin-yang, the Five Phases, the human body Meridian/Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory, six confirmations, four layers, etc. Modern TCM was systematized in the 1950s under the People's Republic of China and Mao Zedong.
from India, wrote the Sushruta Samhita a Sanskrit redaction text on all of the major concepts of ayurvedic medicine with innovative chapters on surgery. Sushruta (1500 BC)
The Sushruta samhita is in two parts, the Purva-tantra in five sections and the Uttara-tantra. Those two parts together encompass, apart from Salya and Salakya, the other specialities like medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, diseases of the ear, nose, throat and eye, toxicology, aphrodisiacs and psychiatry. Thus the whole Samhita, devoted as it is to the science of surgery, does not fail to include the salient portions of other disciplines too.
The Samhita is thus an encyclopaedia of medical learning. It gives classification of the bones and their reaction to injuries and gives the student the knowledge of aetiology, signs and symptoms of important surgical diseases and those ailments, which have a bearing on surgery.
The rudiments of embryology and anatomy of the human body along with instructions for venesection (cutting of veins), the positioning of the patient for each vein, and protection of vital structures (marma) are dealt with. It also includes the essentials of obstetrics and aphrodisiacs. Not to mention that Sushruta was the pioneer of anaesthesia too.
from Greece, is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits. He is atributed to have writen, alone or in association with others, the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece. The most famous work in the Hippocratic corpus is the Hippocratic Oath, a landmark declaration of doctoral ethics. Hippocrates (460 BC)
Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive. The therapeutic approach was based on "the healing power of nature" ("vis medicatrix naturae" in Latin). According to this doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to re-balance the four humours and heal itself (physis). Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process.
One of the strengths of Hippocratic medicine was its emphasis on prognosis. At Hippocrates' time, medicinal therapy was quite immature, and often the best thing that physicians could do was to evaluate an illness and induce its likely progression based upon data collected in detailed case histories. He is well known for his famous quote: "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food."
Greek anatomist, physician, and writer whose theories formed the basis of European medicine until the Renaissance. He wrote the Galenic Corpus, a collection of 600 treatises, although less than a third of his works have survived. His surviving work runs to around 3 million words, making him the most prolific author in antiquity. Galen (AD 129)
He proceeded by observation, deductive reasoning, and experimentation, such as his demonstration of the effect of ligating the ureters and the functions of the spinal cord. His medical practice drew on the biological theory and anatomical observations from Aristotle to the Alexandrians in addition to his own research.
Galens therapeutics led him to travel widely gathering elements and plants. At first reluctantly, but then with increasing vigour, Galen promoted Hippocratic teaching including venesection, then unknown in Rome. This was sharply criticised by Erasistrateans, who predicted dire outcomes, believing that it was not blood but Pneuma that flowed in the veins. Galen however staunchly defended venesection in his three books on the subject, and in his demonstrations and public disputations. His attitude towards medicine is expressed in his quote: «A good physician must also be a philosopher»
a Persian polymath and the foremost physician and philosopher of his time, wrote The Canon of Medicin based on a combination of his own personal experience, medieval Islamic medicine, the writings of the Roman physician Galen, the Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka, and Persian medicine in addition to many aspects of Chinese materia medica. Avicenna (AD 980)
The book contains, among many things, directions for the identification of samples and the preparation of compound medicines. It was the first book dealing with evidence-based medicine, experimental medicine, clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, efficacy tests, risk factor analysis, and the idea of a syndrome in the diagnosis of specific diseases. The Canon of Medicine remained a medical authority up until the 18th century and early 19th century. It set the standards for medicine in Europe and the Islamic world.
Avicenna defined medicine as follows: «Medicine is the science by which we learn the various states of the body; in health, when not in health; the means by which health is likely to be lost; and, when lost, is likely to be restored. In other words, it is the art whereby health is concerned and the art by which it is restored after being lost.»
Other articles in this series:
- Medicine: Definitions
- Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine; Zhong Yi Xue Ji Chu.
- The Chinese Heritage; Wu, K. C.
- Medicine of India; Dr. Rudolf Hoernle.
- Ancient Indian Medicine; Orient Longman, Kutumbian.
- Exchanges between India and Central Asia in the field of Medicine; Hakeem Abdul Hameed.
- History of Medicine; Garrison, Fielding H.
- Hippocrates; Wesley D. Smith. Encyclopedia Britannica.
- The Chronology of Galen's Early Career; Nutton, Vivian.
- Cause and explanation in ancient Greek thought; Hankinson R.J. Oxford University Press.
- Islamic Medicine; Edward G. Browne.
- The Canon of Medicine (work by Avicenna); Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008.
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