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Medicines 2017, 4(4), 92;

Greek Medicine Practice at Ancient Rome: The Physician Molecularist Asclepiades

Ionian Department, University of Bari “A. Moro”, Piazza Umberto I, 70121 Bari, Italy
Policlinico University Hospital, P.zza G. Gesare 11, 70124 Bari, Italy
L. Santacroce and L. Bottalico are shared first authors.
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Gerhard Litscher
Received: 18 October 2017 / Revised: 30 November 2017 / Accepted: 4 December 2017 / Published: 12 December 2017
Full-Text   |   PDF [274 KB, uploaded 12 December 2017]


Background: In the pre-Hellenistic period, the concept of medicine was not well-defined. Usually, a disease was considered as a divine punishment and its treatment was devolved to the priests who asked for healing from the divinities. The only job that could be compared to medical practice was a kind of itinerant medicine, derived from the Egyptian therapeutic tradition based only on practical experience and performed by people that knew a number of remedies, mostly vegetable, but without any theoretical bases about the possible mechanisms of action. Opinions about the human nature (naturalistic thinking) and the origin of the illness and heal were the basis of Greek medicine practiced by ancient priests of Asclepius. However, with the evolution of the thought for the continuous research of “κόσμος” (world) knowledge, philosophy woulld become an integral part of medicine and its evolution. This close relationship between philosophy and medicine is confirmed by the Greek physician Galen in the era of the Roman Empire. Methods: Philosophical thought looked for world knowledge starting from mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, psychology, metaphysics, sociology, and ethics. We must keep in mind that, according to the ancient people, the physicians could not heal the patients without the aid of a “divine God” until medicine, thanks to the Hippocratic practice, became more independent from the supernatural, and contemporary, ethical, and professional. Many physicians were philosophers, as confirmed by their views of life, such as Hippocrates of Cos, Aristotle (hailed as the father of comparative anatomy and physiology), Pythagoras of Samos, Alcmaeon of Croton, Empedocles, Praxagoras, Erasistratus, Galen, and others, including Asclepiades of Bithynia (atomists affinity). Asclepiades, a Greek physician born in Prusa, studied in Athens and Alexandria. His thought was influenced by Democritus’ theories, refusing extensively the Hippocratic ideas that diseases are a result of mood imbalance. Results: Differing from the current Hippocratic idea, only in extreme cases he prescribed medications and bloodletting, two of the most-used therapies of that time. He usually prescribed therapies based on the Epicurean thought, then consisting of walks and music, massages, and thermal baths. He anticipated the modern idea of the body consisting of atoms, and believed that between the atoms exist empty spaces called pores. As the founder of the so called Methodist School, he was the first to divide acute and chronic diseases, and thought that body weakness was dependent on the excessive width of the pores, while their excessive shrinkage determines fever. According to his student Caelius Aurelianus he was the first to adopt tracheotomy as an emergency therapy for diphtheria. Conclusions: Although it is very difficult to reconstruct the theories of Asclepiades of Bithynia because of the lack of original texts, this paper attempts to focus his role and his thought in affirming the Greek medical practice in ancient Rome and to highlight his modernity. View Full-Text
Keywords: Asclepiades; Hellenistic medicine; atomism; medical philosophy Asclepiades; Hellenistic medicine; atomism; medical philosophy
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Santacroce, L.; Bottalico, L.; Charitos, I.A. Greek Medicine Practice at Ancient Rome: The Physician Molecularist Asclepiades. Medicines 2017, 4, 92.

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