Is "First Do No Harm" From the Hippocratic Oath? Myth vs Fact

Wellcome Library, London Papyrus, fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath.3rd century Collection: Archives & Manuscripts Library External Reference Oxyrhynchus papyri no. 2547 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0, see Wellcome Library, London Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence

Question: Is "First Do No Harm" From the Hippocratic Oath? Myth vs Fact

Answer: A question was raised in the Ancient / Classical History forum:
"Having just read the translation to English of Hippocrates' oath, I was surprised to see that 'first do no harm' did not appear in the text as is commonly quoted. Any idea where the quote comes from?"
You're right, the dictum first do no harm doesn't exactly come from the Hippocratic Oath, but it does come from the Hippocratic at least in esssence.

A related section from the Hippocratic Oath has been translated as

I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves.
But while not harming the patient is explicit, this section doesn't make doing no harm the first concern of the Hippocratic physician.
The Hippocratic writing Epidemics is considered the more likely source:
5. With regard to the dangers of these cases, one must always attend to the seasonable concoction of all the evacuations, and to the favorable and critical abscesses. The concoctions indicate a speedy crisis and recovery of health; crude and undigested evacuations, and those which are converted into bad abscesses, indicate either want of crisis, or pains, or prolongation of the disease, or death, or relapses; which of these it is to be must be determined from other circumstances. The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future - must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm. The art consists in three things - the disease, the patient, and the physician. The physician is the servant of the art, and the patient must combat the disease along with the physician.

Suggested Reading

  1. Why Rome Fell
  2. Norse Story of Creation
  3. Naqsh-i-Rustam: The Tomb of Darius the Great