Hippocrates: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Emily Cummins
This lesson provides a biographical sketch of Hippocrates, a physician born in Ancient Greece. It covers major facts about his life and work, with a focus on his contribution to the study of medicine.

Who was Hippocrates?

Hippocrates was an ancient Greek philosopher and physician, born around 460 BC in Greece. He is most recognized for his contribution to medicine. He founded the Hippocratic School of Medicine, and his work lead to the establishment of medicine as a rational, scientific discipline, distinct from philosophy.

medicine, philosophy, ancient Greece

Medicine and Science

Hippocrates lived during a time when many people were superstitious of science, and medicine did not exist as a profession. When members of society fell ill, family members prayed to a god of healing, or used other religious practices in an attempt to heal the sick. Hippocrates began to teach people that diseases had natural causes, and were not a religious or supernatural phenomenon. Hippocrates challenged long-held beliefs that diseases were a punishment sent from the gods. Much of his work challenged those who did not believe in science or rational thinking. He once said, 'There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance'. He believed that the healing of disease was the domain of science, and not of religion or superstition.

Hippocratic School of Medicine

Hippocrates is believed to be the first to note that diseases come from lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. He said, 'Walking is a man's best medicine', referring to how disease might be treated or prevented by one's lifestyle choices. He believed that disease was caused when the body's four humors, or the four basic substances of blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm, were imbalanced. This theory was known as humorism, and is no longer used today.

Hippocrates developed practices of closely monitoring patients for changes in eye and skin color, and he encouraged his students to clean their hands thoroughly before seeing patients. The idea behind the Hippocratic school of medicine was that the body contained a natural ability to heal and balance itself, and it focused on complimenting this natural process. Hippocrates was a strong believer in teaching his students to be compassionate healers. He said once that 'Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity', referring to the relationship between compassion and medicine.

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