The Ancient Medical Texts of the Hippocratic Corpus


The Medical Texts of the Hippocratic Corpus

The Hippocratic Corpus, or the Hippocratic Collection, is a body of about 70 medical texts written between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C., but most of the texts have been dated to, between 450 and 350 B.C. Though the ancient Greek texts are strongly associated with Hippocrates of Cos, from which the name was derived and the putative author, it is clear that he did not write all of them.

In fact, he may not have written any of them. The texts vary greatly in age and content, but are all believed to be connected to the teachings of Hippocrates, if not the man himself. To make matters all the more puzzling, the people who wrote the treatises did not all agree with one another and expressed various, often conflicting points of view. As a result, there are two main schools of medicine identified with the Hippocratic Corpus: the schools of Cos (Kos) and Cnidos (Knidos).

The Origin of the Hippocratic Corpus

It is believed that the collection may be the remains of a great library of Cos or a collection compiled in Alexandria in the 3rd century B.C. Despite its believed origins in Cos both in terms of the collection and Hippocrates’ influence, it is evident that there were contributions from students of the Cnidian school as well. The surviving collection is also not considered complete.

Many of the existing texts refer to literature that has apparently been lost. As a result, it is believed that only a fraction of the original works has survived. Additionally, some of the texts have only survived as translations of the original. Texts considered to be a part of the corpus endure in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac.

The Authors Behind the Hippocratic Corpus

Of the surviving texts of the Hippocratic Corpus, most are of unknown or otherwise unproven authorship. Most interestingly, none have actually been proven to be works of Hippocrates himself. Only one text of the Hippocratic Corpus has been identified as probably having been written mostly by a specific person, Hippocrates' son-in-law Polybus, who was also his pupil. The excerpt below is from On the Nature of Man, which contains information on the humoral theory associated with Hippocrates:

IV. The body of man has in itself blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile ; these make up the nature of his body, and through these he feels pain or enjoys health. Now he enjoys the most perfect health when these elements are duly proportioned to one another in respect of compounding, power and bulk, and when they are perfectly mingled.
On the Nature of Man Translation, by W.H.S. Jones.

The corpus may have been put together at Alexandria in the third century B.C.

Hippocratic Corpus References

  • Hippocratic Writings, by Hippocrates, John Chadwick
  • Philosophy and Medicine in Ancient Greece, by William Henry Samuel Jones, Hippocrates

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