International Hippocratic

Foundation of Kos.


Hippocrates - philosopher, scientist, author, doctor - one of the greatest in a galaxy of great minds of the ancient Greek World, was born on the island of Kos in 460 BC.

He died in 370 BC, about a decade before the birth of Alexander the Great and the dawn of the Hellenistic era during which the Greek ideas and achievements in mathematics, philosophy, science, literature, architecture, art and politics, along with the Hippocratic rational medicine were spread to the then known world.

The ancestry of Hippocrates is connected to Greek mythology. It is said that he was 20th generation descendant of demigod Hercules (son of Zeus) and 18th generation descendant of demigod - later deified as God of Medicine - Asklepios (son of Apollo). He was thus a descendant of two of the most respected and honored Olym­pian Gods in the ancient Greek World. Suffice it to point out that the installations of the Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia were dedicated to Zeus, while the Oracle Place in Delphi was a shrine of Apollo.

By heredity, Hippocrates could be in the guild of Asclepiads ­physicians who were practicing their healing art based mainly on a combination of religious beliefs and prejudice and on an ad hoc administration of various herbs, an art passed on from father to son - since his grandfather, his father and his uncle had been Asclepiads. Regarding the beginning of this practice in Kos, Homer mentions that Asclepiads Podalerios of Thessalia (in mainland Greece) physician-son of Asklepios had fought with the Greeks in the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, Asclepiads was returning by ship to his homeland, but got ship-reeked and landed on Kos. There he settled and began practicing his healing art, which survived and evolved through the guild of the Asclepiads, until the era of Hippocrates.

Among the teachers of Hippocrates were men like Herodecos, as well known dietician of that time and the sophist Gorgias, while Democritos, the inventor of the concept of the atomic constitution of matter, became his friend.

Hippocrates was practically a contemporary of Plato (429-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC, who later became the tutor of Alexander the Great) and of some of the great playwrights of Athens. He traveled extensively and offered his services in many Greek cities.

Plato mentions Hippocrates twice in his dialogues. Once in "Pro­tagoras" where Socrates urges a young man, also named Hippocrates, to travel to Kos in order to study medicine near Hippocrates of Kos. In "Phaedrus", Hippocrates is mentioned as the man who teaches that the practice of medicine requires the understanding of natural events.

Aristotle in his Politics VII says: "When one mentions the Great Hippocrates, one means not the man but the Physician"

Hippocrates was the first to secularize medicine by rejecting the ancient religious-oriented healing practice. His therapeutic methods started with the careful observation of the phenomena of disease, attempting a rational approach to diagnosis. The treatment placed emphasis on the patient and relied on the recovery ability of the human body when placed in the proper environment and supported by the appropriate medicines. When necessary, surgery was applied on external parts, using opium and mandragora as anesthetics.

Thus, he introduced principles of Science in the therapy of Man's Body and Mind. It is in this respect that, since Roman times, he is considered as the Father of Medicine.

Hippocrates is also accredited with the authorship of several medical books. In a truly contemporary scientific way, he declares in his Epidemics: "State the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future".

"Life is short
The art long
Opportunity fleating
Experiment precarious
Judgement difficult"

Hippocrates, Aphorism I,

The Hippocratic Aphorisms - about four hundred - constitute a good example of the ideals of clinical medicine that Hippocrates practiced and taught and that his disciples, the Koan doctors, pro­pagated. They were revered, memorized and elaborated upon by generations of Greek and Roman physicians as well as by medical practitioners in the Christian and Muslim Worlds of the Medieval era.

Galenos (Galen), a Greek who lived and worked in Pergamos, Asia Minor, in the second century AD, is the most famous of the intellec­tual pupils of Hippocrates and another giant in the history of Medicine.

Galen's numerous writings demonstrate his complete devotion and reverence for the Father of Medicine. His writings - alongwith the Hippocratic Corpus (first Latin translation of which was published in AD 1525) - constituted the standard text books of scientific medi­cine from the Hellenistic-Roman to the post-Medieval period.

So greatly respected was Hippocrates throughout the Greek World, that with the coming of Christianity, icons of him were painted and were placed in churches next to icons of Christian saints. The only difference between icons of Christian saints and the icons of Hip­pocrates was that his did not have the halo around his head. Today, the memory of Hippocrates is part of local folklore. The great Plane Tree (or a direct descendant of it), under which popular myth has it that he used to teach his methods and principles, still stands in the heart of the city of Kos.

Through his ideas and actions, Hippocrates created a strong legacy, an expression of which was the Asclepieion of Kos and the many generations of distinguished Koan doctors who practiced throughout the G reek and Roman worlds.

The Asclepieion complex, remnants of which can be seen today, was built on the same site of the ancient sanctuary of the Asclepiads, of which only the ancient altar of Asclepios had survived. It was situated in an ancient cypress grove, sacred to Apollo Kyparissios, about 100 meters above sea level, on a downward sloping terrain, through which ran waters that came from natural mineral springs. The evergreen cypress grove still grows all around the site of the remnants of the Asclepieion.

The construction of the complex began toward the end of the 4th century. The various buildings were built over four centuries on three levels of the sloping terrain, an indication that the Asclepieion of Kos kept expanding its facilities, as a result of its increasing fame and influence.

Through its Asclepieion, Kos succeeded in achieving a special kind of influence over political powers like Athens, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors, and the Roman Empire, by sending Koan doctors to all cities and states that needed them.

Numerous inscriptions have been found in Kos and elsewhere, honour­ing Koan doctors for their services to various cities and states. Some well known Koan doctors, after Hippocrates, were Thessalos and Drakon sons of Hippocrates, the anatomist Praxagoras, Kritodemos the surgeon of Alexander the Great, Dexippos, Erasistratos and Ster­tinios Xenophon who practiced in Rome, in the service of Emperors

In Hellenistic times, the Asclepieion had become a symbol in the Greek World almost equal in importance to other great symbols like:

- Delphi, the Oracle Place.
- Olympia, site of ancient Olympics
- Parthenon in Athens

Despite the fact that the splendor that was there for almost 900 years is now absent, to modern physicians visiting the Asclepieion is just as moving and breath-taking as visiting anyone of the above three great symbols of Greece.


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Last update: 10-05-2010.