Life is short, the Art long...
In these first few words of his first aphorism, Hippocrates places the life of the individual physician against the panoramic backdrop of medical history for a sense of humility and perspective. The practice of medicine stretches all the way back into the misty dawn of time. What any individual physician can hope to learn and master in relation to the entirety of medical knowledge collected throughout human history is indeed miniscule by comparison.
The vast expanse of medical history is indeed a panoramic landscape filled not only with deep valleys, but also numerous exalted peaks. Some paths of medical experience and development have proven to be blind alleys, while others have been extremely fruitful. Above all is the impressive ingenuity, persistence and resourcefulness of man in his ongoing struggle against disease.
Modern man can easily lull himself into a sense of chauvinism and condescension, thinking that he is living in the best of all possible worlds and times. He also tends to belittle or downplay the medical accomplishments of the past. Instead, we should go back, seek them out, and try to learn from them with an open mind.
As the drawbacks of modern technological medicine become increasingly self-evident, there is an increasing need to think outside the box to search for innovative solutions. Past civilizations and cultures, with their radically different perspectives on Life, may also hold the key to providing refreshing new answers and solutions to the medical problems and challenges we now face.
For all its tremendous accomplishments, modern medicine isn't without its failures and shortcomings:
Many of its methods and treatments are unnatural and invasive, and try to suppress or subvert the natural defensive and recuperative responses of the organism, which can only deplete and compromise the overall health and vitality of the body in the long run. We should go back to Hippocrates and learn again how to work with nature, not against it.
Many synthetic pharmaceutical drugs have numerous negative side effects, even when used and prescribed properly, because they're not metabolized in a natural, balanced way by the organism. Many infectious microbes are now resistant to antibiotics, which were once hailed as the "wonder drugs" of modern medicine, mainly because they've been overused and overprescribed. Natural remedies and treatments from the past don't have these drawbacks, and are generally safer and gentler.
Technology can truly be a great blessing to modern medicine where it is truly necessary and cost effective. But a lot of modern medical technology is prohibitively expensive, and is driving the cost of healthcare way up and out of sight. "Low tech", or traditional alternatives are usually much cheaper, and are often just as effective.
Because of their great cost effectiveness, the United Nations has supported and endorsed the use of traditional medical systems and their natural remedies and treatments, especially in impoverished Third World countries. Insurance companies in the industrialized nations are also recognizing this cost effectiveness, and are now starting to pay for traditional medical treatments like acupuncture.
Like the great medical systems of China and India, Greek Medicine is a traditional healing system with a lot to offer to relieve the illness and suffering of modern man. It was also the traditional medical system from which modern medicine evolved. By studying its history and development and how it evolved into modern medicine, we can begin to understand the true nature of healing and gain a sense of perspective that lifts us above the fray of current medical politics and propaganda.
So, what are the historical accomplishments of Greek Medicine, and how can they benefit us today? Read on!