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Hippocrates of Kos
(Greek: Ἱπποκράτης)

Engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638, courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.[1]
Born ca. 460 BC
Kos, Greece
Died ca. 377 BC
Larissa, Greece
Occupation Physician

Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) - Greek: Ἱπποκράτης; Hippokrátēs was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Athens), and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the Western father of medicine[2][3][4] in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields that it had traditionally been associated with (notably theurgy and philosophy), thus making medicine a profession.[5][6]

However, the achievements of the writers of the Corpus, the practitioners of Hippocratic medicine, and the actions of Hippocrates himself are often commingled; thus very little is known about what Hippocrates actually thought, wrote, and did. Nevertheless, Hippocrates is commonly portrayed as the paragon of the ancient physician. In particular, he is credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath, Corpus and other works.[5][7]



Historians accept that Hippocrates was born around the year 460 BC on the Greek island of Kos (Cos), and became a famous physician and teacher of medicine. Other biographical information, however, is likely to be untrue (see Legends).[8] Soranus of Ephesus, a 2nd-century Greek gynecologist,[9] was Hippocrates' first biographer and is the source of most information on Hippocrates' person. Information about Hippocrates can also be found in the writings of Aristotle, which date from the 4th century BC, in the Suda of the 10th century AD, and in the works of John Tzetzes, which date from the 12th century AD.[5][10]

Soranus wrote that Hippocrates' father was Heraclides, a physician; his mother was Praxitela, daughter of Tizane. The two sons of Hippocrates, Thessalus and Draco, and his son-in-law, Polybus, were his students. According to Galen, a later physician, Polybus was Hippocrates' true successor, while Thessalus and Draco each had a son named Hippocrates.[11][12]

Soranus said that Hippocrates learned medicine from his father and grandfather, and studied other subjects with Democritus and Gorgias. Hippocrates was probably trained at the asklepieion of Kos, and took lessons from the Thracian physician Herodicus of Selymbria. The only contemporaneous mention of Hippocrates is in Plato's dialogue Protagoras, where Plato describes Hippocrates as "Hippocrates of Kos, the Asclepiad".[13][14] Hippocrates taught and practiced medicine throughout his life, traveling at least as far as Thessaly, Thrace, and the Sea of Marmara.[12] He probably died in Larissa at the age of 83 or 90, though some accounts say he lived to be well over 100; several different accounts of his death exist.[12]

Hippocratic theory

"It is thus with regard divine nor more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause from the originates like other affections. Men regard its nature and cause as divine from ignorance and wonder..."

On the Sacred Disease[15]

Hippocrates is credited with being the first physician to reject superstitions, legends and beliefs that credited supernatural or divine forces with causing illness. Hippocrates was credited by the disciples of Pythagoras of allying philosophy and medicine.[16] He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits. Indeed there is not a single mention of a mystical illness in the entirety of the Hippocratic Corpus. However, Hippocrates did work with many convictions that were based on what is now known to be incorrect anatomy and physiology, such as Humorism.[17][18][19]

Ancient Greek schools of medicine were split (into the Knidian and Koan) on how to deal with disease. The Knidian school of medicine focused on diagnosis. Medicine at the time of Hippocrates knew almost nothing of human anatomy and physiology because of the Greek taboo forbidding the dissection of humans. The Knidian school consequently failed to distinguish when one disease caused many possible series of symptoms.[20] The Hippocratic school or Koan school achieved greater success by applying general diagnoses and passive treatments. Its focus was on patient care and prognosis, not diagnosis. It could effectively treat diseases and allowed for a great development in clinical practice.[21][22]

Hippocratic medicine and its philosophy are far removed from that of modern medicine. Now, the physician focuses on specific diagnosis and specialized treatment, both of which were espoused by the Knidian school. This shift in medical thought since Hippocrates' day has caused serious criticism over the past two millennia, with the passivity of Hippocratic treatment being the subject of particularly strong denunciations; for example, the French doctor M. S. Houdart called the Hippocratic treatment a "meditation upon death".[23]


Humorism and crisis

The Hippocratic school held that all illness was the result of an imbalance in the body of the four humours - fluids which in health were naturally equal in proportion (pepsis).[24] When the four humours, blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm, were not in balance (dyscrasia, meaning "bad mixture"), a person would become sick and remain that way until the balance was somehow restored. Hippocratic therapy was directed towards restoring this balance. For instance, using citrus was thought to be beneficial when phlegm was overabundant.[25]

Another important concept in Hippocratic medicine was that of a crisis, a point in the progression of disease at which either the illness would begin to triumph and the patient would succumb to death, or the opposite would occur and natural processes would make the patient recover. After a crisis, a relapse might follow, and then another deciding crisis. According to this doctrine, crises tend to occur on critical days, which were supposed to be a fixed time after the contraction of a disease. If a crisis occurred on a day far from a critical day, a relapse might be expected. Galen believed that this idea originated with Hippocrates, though it is possible that it predated him.[26]

A drawing of a Hippocratic bench from a Byzantine edition of Galen's work in the 2nd century AD

Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive. The therapeutic approach was based on "the healing power of nature" ("vis medicatrix naturae" in Latin). According to this doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to re-balance the four humours and heal itself (physis).[24] Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process. To this end, Hippocrates believed "rest and immobilization [were] of capital importance".[27] In general, the Hippocratic medicine was very kind to the patient; treatment was gentle, and emphasized keeping the patient clean and sterile. For example, only clean water or wine were ever used on wounds, though "dry" treatment was preferable. Soothing balms were sometimes employed.[28]

Hippocrates was reluctant to administer drugs and engage in specialized treatment that might prove to be wrongly chosen; generalized therapy followed a generalized diagnosis.[28][29] Potent drugs were, however, used on certain occasions.[30] This passive approach was very successful in treating relatively simple ailments such as broken bones which required traction to stretch the skeletal system and relieve pressure on the injured area. The Hippocratic bench and other devices were used to this end.

One of the strengths of Hippocratic medicine was its emphasis on prognosis. At Hippocrates' time, medicinal therapy was quite immature, and often the best thing that physicians could do was to evaluate an illness and induce its likely progression based upon data collected in detailed case histories.[19][31]


A number of ancient Greek surgical tools. On the left is a trephine; on the right, a set of scalpels. Hippocratic medicine made good use of these tools.[32]

Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline and rigorous practice.[33] The Hippocratic work On the Physician recommends that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice: he followed detailed specifications for, "lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging and splinting" in the ancient operating room.[34] He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.[35]

The Hippocratic School gave importance to the clinical doctrines of observation and documentation. These doctrines dictate that physicians record their findings and their medicinal methods in a very clear and objective manner, so that these records may be passed down and employed by other physicians.[12] Hippocrates made careful, regular note of many symptoms including complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and excretions.[31] He is said to have measured a patient's pulse when taking a case history to know if the patient lied.[36] Hippocrates extended clinical observations into family history and environment.[37] "To him medicine owes the art of clinical inspection and observation".[19] For this reason, he may more properly be termed as the "Father of Clinical Medicine".[38]

Direct contributions to medicine

Clubbing of fingers in a patient with Eisenmenger's syndrome; first described by Hippocrates, clubbing is also known as "Hippocratic fingers"

Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical conditions. He is given credit for the first description of clubbing of the fingers, an important diagnostic sign in chronic suppurative lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease. For this reason, clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as "Hippocratic fingers".[39] Hippocrates was also the first physician to describe Hippocratic face in Prognosis. Shakespeare famously alludes to this description when writing of Falstaff's death in Act II, Scene iii. of Henry V.[40][41]

Hippocrates began to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and use terms such as, "exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence."[31][42] Another of Hippocrates' major contributions may be found in his descriptions of the symptomatology, physical findings, surgical treatment and prognosis of thoracic empyema, i.e. suppuration of the lining of the chest cavity. His teachings remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery.[43] Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his findings are still valid.[43]

The Hippocratic school of medicine described well the ailments of the human rectum and the treatment thereof, despite the school's poor theory of medicine. Hemorrhoids, for instance, though believed to be caused by an excess of bile and phlegm, were treated by Hippocratic physicians in relatively advanced ways.[44][45] Cautery and excision are described in the Hippocratic Corpus, in addition to the preferred methods: ligating the hemorrhoids and drying them with a hot iron. Other treatments such as applying various salves are suggested as well.[46][47] Today, "treatment [for hemorrhoids] still includes burning, strangling, and excising".[44] Also, some of the fundamental concepts of proctoscopy outlined in the Corpus are still in use.[44][45] For example, the uses of the rectal speculum, a common medical device, are discussed in the Hippocratic Corpus.[45] This constitutes the earliest recorded reference to endoscopy.[48][49]

Hippocratic Corpus

A twelfth-century Byzantine manuscript of the Oath in the form of a cross

The Hippocratic Corpus (Latin: Corpus Hippocraticum) is a collection of around seventy early medical works from ancient Greece, written in Ionic Greek. The question of whether Hippocrates himself was the author of the corpus has not been conclusively answered,[50] but the volumes were probably produced by his students and followers.[51] Because of the variety of subjects, writing styles and apparent date of construction, scholars believe Hippocratic Corpus could not have been written by one person (Ermerins numbers the authors at nineteen)[30]. The corpus was attributed to Hippocrates in antiquity, and its teaching generally followed principles of his; thus it came to be known by his name. It might be the remains of a library of Kos, or a collection compiled in the 3rd century BC in Alexandria.[13][34]

The Hippocratic Corpus contains textbooks, lectures, research, notes and philosophical essays on various subjects in medicine, in no particular order.[50][52] These works were written for different audiences, both specialists and laymen, and were sometimes written from opposing view points; significant contradictions can be found between works in the Corpus.[53] Notable among the treatises of the Corpus are The Hippocratic Oath; The Book of Prognostics; On Regimen in Acute Diseases; Aphorisms; On Airs, Waters and Places; Instruments of Reduction; On The Sacred Disease; etc.[30]

Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath, a seminal document on the ethics of medical practice, was attributed to Hippocrates in antiquity although new information shows it may have been written after his death. This is probably the most famous document of the Hippocratic Corpus. Recently the authenticity of the document's author has come under scrutiny. While the Oath is rarely used in its original form today, it serves as a foundation for other, similar oaths and laws that define good medical practice and morals. Such derivatives are regularly taken today by medical graduates about to enter medical practice.[13][54]


Mural painting showing Galen and Hippocrates. 12th century; Anagni, Italy

Hippocrates is widely considered to be the "Father of Medicine".[51] His contributions revolutionized the practice of medicine; but after his death the advancement stalled.[55] So revered was Hippocrates that his teachings were largely taken as too great to be improved upon and no significant advancements of his methods were made for a long time.[13][27] The centuries after Hippocrates' death were marked as much by retrograde movement as by further advancement. For instance, "after the Hippocratic period, the practice of taking clinical case-histories died out...", according to Fielding Garrison.[56]

After Hippocrates, the next significant physician was Galen, a Greek who lived from 129 to 200 AD. Galen perpetuated Hippocratic medicine, moving both forward and backward.[57] In the Middle Ages, Arabs adopted Hippocratic methods.[58] After the European Renaissance, Hippocratic methods were revived in Europe and even further expanded in the 19th century. Notable among those who employed Hippocrates' rigorous clinical techniques were Sydenham, Heberden, Charcot and Osler. Henri Huchard, a French physician, said that these revivals make up "the whole history of internal medicine".[59]


A conventionalized image in a Roman "portrait" bust (19th century engraving)

According to Aristotle's testimony, Hippocrates was known as "The Great Hippocrates".[60] Concerning his disposition, Hippocrates was first portrayed as a "kind, dignified, old country doctor'" and later as "stern and forbidding".[13] He is certainly considered wise, of very great intellect and especially as very practical. Francis Adams describes him as "strictly the physician of experience and common sense".[20]

Hippocrates statue, Parnassus Ave. in front of the Robert H. Crede Ambulatory Care Center of UCSF

His image as the wise, old doctor is reinforced by busts of him, which wear large beards on a wrinkled face. Many physicians of the time wore their hair in the style of Jove and Asklepius. Accordingly, the busts of Hippocrates that we have could be only altered versions of portraits of these deities.[55] Hippocrates and the beliefs that he embodied are considered medical ideals. Fielding Garrison, an authority on medical history, stated, "He is, above all, the exemplar of that flexible, critical, well-poised attitude of mind, ever on the lookout for sources of error, which is the very essence of the scientific spirit".[59] "His figure... stands for all time as that of the ideal physician”, according to A Short History of Medicine, inspiring the medical profession since his death.[61]


"Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult."

Aphorisms i.1.

Most stories of Hippocrates' life are likely to be untrue because of their inconsistency with historical evidence, and because similar or identical stories are told of other figures such as Avicenna and Socrates, suggesting a legendary origin. Even during his life, Hippocrates' renown was great, and stories of miraculous cures arose. For example, Hippocrates was supposed to have aided in the healing of Athenians during the Plague of Athens by lighting great fires as "disinfectants" and engaging in other treatments. There is a story of Hippocrates curing Perdiccas, a Macedonian king, of "love sickness". Neither of these accounts is corroborated by any historians and they are thus unlikely to have ever occurred.[62][63][64]

Kos town: The Plane Tree of Hippocrates, under which Hippocrates is said to have worked.[65]

Another legend concerns how Hippocrates rejected a formal request to visit the court of Artaxerxes, the King of Persia.[66] The validity of this is accepted by ancient sources but denied by some modern ones, and is thus under contention.[67] Another tale states that Democritus was supposed to be mad because he laughed at everything, and so he was sent to Hippocrates to be cured. Hippocrates diagnosed him as merely having a happy disposition. Democritus has since been called "the laughing philosopher".[68]

Not all stories of Hippocrates portrayed him in a positive manner. In one legend, Hippocrates is said to have fled after setting fire to a healing temple in Greece. Soranus of Ephesus, the source of this story, names the temple as the one of Knidos. However centuries later, the Byzantine Greek grammarian John Tzetzes, writes that Hippocrates burned down his own temple, the Temple of Cos, speculating that he did it to maintain a monopoly of medical knowledge. This account is very much in conflict with traditional estimations of Hippocrates' personality. Other legends tell of his resurrection of Augustus's nephew; this feat was supposedly created by the erection of a statue of Hippocrates and the establishment of a professorship in his honor in Rome.[12][62][64][69]


Hippocrates' legendary genealogy traces his paternal heritage directly to Asklepius and his maternal ancestry to Heracles.[30] According to Tzetzes's Chiliades, the ahnentafel of Hippocrates II is:[70]

An image of Hippocrates on the floor of the Asclepieion of Kos, with Asklepius in the middle

1. Hippocrates II. “The Father of Medicine”
2. Heraclides
4. Hippocrates I.
8. Gnosidicus
16. Nebrus
32. Sostratus III.
64. Theodorus II.
128. Sostratus, II.
256. Thedorus
512. Cleomyttades
1024. Crisamis
2048. Dardanus
4096. Sostatus
8192. Hippolochus
16384. Podalirius
32768. Asklepius


Some clinical symptoms and signs have been named after Hippocrates as he is believed to be the first person to describe those. Hippocratic face is the change produced in the countenance by death, or long sickness, excessive evacuations, excessive hunger, and the like. Clubbing, a deformity of the fingers and fingernails, is also known as Hippocratic fingers. Hippocratic succussion is the internal splashing noise of hydropneumothorax or pyopneumothorax. Hippocratic bench (a device which uses tension to aid in setting bones) and Hippocratic cap-shaped bandage are two devices named after Hippocrates.[71] Hippocratic Corpus and Hippocratic Oath are also his namesakes. The drink hypocras is also believed to be invented by Hippocrates. Risus sardonicus, a sustained spasming of the face muscles may also be termed the Hippocratic Smile.

In the modern age, a lunar crater has been named Hippocrates. The Hippocratic Museum, a museum on the Greek island of Kos is dedicated to him. In the Harry Potter series, the main healer on Arthur Weasley's ward's name was Hippocrates Smethwyck. The Hippocrates Project is a program of the New York University Medical Center to enhance education through use of technology. Project Hippocrates (an acronym of "HIgh PerfOrmance Computing for Robot-AssisTEd Surgery") is an effort of the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science and Shadyside Medical Center, "to develop advanced planning, simulation, and execution technologies for the next generation of computer-assisted surgical robots."[72] Both the Canadian Hippocratic Registry and American Hippocratic Registry are organizations of physicians who uphold the principles of the original Hippocratic Oath as inviolable through changing social times.


  1. ^ National Library of Medicine 2006
  2. ^ Useful known and unknown views of the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates and his teacher Democritus., U.S. National Library of Medicine
  3. ^ Hippocrates, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Microsoft Corporation. Archived 2009-10-31.
  4. ^ Strong, W.F.; Cook, John A. (July 2007), "Reviving the Dead Greek Guys", Global Media Journal, Indian Edition, ISSN: 1550-7521, http://www.manipal.edu/gmj/issues/jul07/strong.php 
  5. ^ a b c Garrison 1966, p. 92–93
  6. ^ Nuland 1988, p. 5
  7. ^ Garrison 1966, p. 96
  8. ^ Nuland 1988, p. 4
  9. ^ Britannica 2006
  10. ^ Nuland 1988, p. 7
  11. ^ Adams 1891, p. 19
  12. ^ a b c d e Margotta 1968, p. 66
  13. ^ a b c d e Martí-Ibáñez 1961, p. 86–87
  14. ^ Plato 380 B.C.
  15. ^ Plato 400 B.C.
  16. ^ Adams 1891, p. 4
  17. ^ Jones 1868, p. 11
  18. ^ Nuland 1988, p. 8–9
  19. ^ a b c Garrison 1966, p. 93–94
  20. ^ a b Adams 1891, p. 15
  21. ^ Margotta 1968, p. 67
  22. ^ Leff & Leff 1956, p. 51
  23. ^ Jones 1868, p. 12–13
  24. ^ a b Garrison 1966, p. 99
  25. ^ Boylan 2006
  26. ^ Jones 1868, p. 46,48,59
  27. ^ a b Margotta 1968, p. 73
  28. ^ a b Garrison 1966, p. 98
  29. ^ Singer & Underwood 1962, p. 35
  30. ^ a b c d Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
  31. ^ a b c Garrison 1966, p. 97
  32. ^ Adams 1891, p. 17
  33. ^ Garrison 1966
  34. ^ a b Margotta 1968, p. 64
  35. ^ Rutkow 1993, p. 24–25
  36. ^ Martí-Ibáñez 1961, p. 88
  37. ^ Margotta 1968, p. 68
  38. ^ Leff & Leff 1956, p. 45
  39. ^ Schwartz, Richards & Goyal 2006
  40. ^ Singer & Underwood 1962, p. 40
  41. ^ Margotta 1968, p. 70
  42. ^ Martí-Ibáñez 1961, p. 90
  43. ^ a b Major 1965
  44. ^ a b c Jóhannsson 2005, p. 11
  45. ^ a b c Jani 2005, p. 24–25
  46. ^ Jóhannsson 2005, p. 12
  47. ^ Mann 2002, p. 1, 173
  48. ^ Shah 2002, p. 645
  49. ^ NCEPOD 2004, p. 4
  50. ^ a b Singer & Underwood 1962, p. 27
  51. ^ a b Hanson 2006
  52. ^ Rutkow, p. 23
  53. ^ Singer & Underwood 1962, p. 28
  54. ^ Jones 1868, p. 217
  55. ^ a b Garrison 1966, p. 100
  56. ^ Garrison 1966, p. 95
  57. ^ Jones 1868, p. 35
  58. ^ Leff & Leff 1956, p. 102
  59. ^ a b Garrison 1966, p. 94
  60. ^ Jones 1868, p. 38
  61. ^ Singer & Underwood 1962, p. 29
  62. ^ a b Adams 1891, p. 10–11
  63. ^ Jones 1868, p. 37
  64. ^ a b Smith 1870, p. 483
  65. ^ National Library of Medicine 2000
  66. ^ Pinault 1992, p. 1
  67. ^ Adams 1891, p. 12–13
  68. ^ Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2006
  69. ^ Jones 1868, p. 24
  70. ^ Adams 1891
  71. ^ Fishchenko & Khimich 1986
  72. ^ Project Hippocrates 1995


A woodcut of the reduction of a dislocated shoulder with a Hippocratic device

Further reading



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.

Hippocrates (Ἱπποκράτης) of Kos (c. 460 BC - 377 BC) was an ancient Greek physician who is referred to as the "father of medicine."



Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult.
  • As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.
    • Epidemics, Book I, Ch. 2, Full text online at Wikisource
    • Variant translation: 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.
    • Paraphrased variants:
      • Wherever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.
        • Viking Book of Aphorisms : A Personal Selection (1988) by W. H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger, p. 213
      • Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.
        • Therapeutic Chair Massage (2005) by Ralph R. Stephens, p. 32
  • Time is that wherein there is opportunity, and opportunity is that wherein there is no great time. Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. However, knowing this, one must attend to medical practice not primarily to plausible theories, but to experience combined with reason. For a theory is a composite memory of things apprehended with sense perception.
    • Precepts, Ch. 1, as translated by W. H. S. Jones (1923)
  • Conclusions which are merely verbal cannot bear fruit, only those do which are based on demonstrated fact. For affirmation and talk are deceptive and treacherous. Wherefore one must hold fast to facts in generalizations also, and occupy oneself with facts persistently, if one is to acquire that ready and infallible habit which we call "the art of medicine."
    • Precepts, Ch. 2, as translated by W. H. S. Jones (1923)
  • Everything in excess is opposed to nature.
    • As quoted in Catholic Morality : Selected Sayings and Some Account of Various Religions (1915) by E Comyns Durnford, p. 90
  • To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.
    • As quoted in A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1942) by H. L. Mencken


Full text online at Wikisource
Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.
  • Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.
    • 1:1, Variant translation: Art is long; life is short; opportunity is fleeting; judgement is difficult; experience is deceitful. Compare: "The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne", Geoffrey Chaucer, The Assembly of Fowles, line 1.
  • For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.
    • 1:6; Variant translations:
    • Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases. Compare: "A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy", Guy Fawkes, in admitting to the Gunpowder Plot; "Diseases desperate grown / By desperate appliance are relieved, / Or not at all", William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act iv, Scene 3; "For a desperate disease a desperate cure", Michel de Montaigne, The Custom of the Isle of Cea, Chapter iii.
  • Sleep and watchfulness, both of them, when immoderate, constitute disease.
    • 7:72
  • Those diseases which medicines do not cure, iron cures; those which iron cannot cure, fire cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable.
    • 7:87
    • Variant translation: What cannot be cured by medicaments is cured by the knife, what the knife cannot cure is cured with the searing iron, and whatever this cannot cure must be considered incurable.

The Law

Francis Adams translation (1849) online at Wikisource
Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have been initiated in the mysteries of the science.
  • Medicine is of all the Arts the most noble; but, owing to the ignorance of those who practice it, and of those who, inconsiderately, form a judgment of them, it is at present far behind all the other arts. Their mistake appears to me to arise principally from this, that in the cities there is no punishment connected with the practice of medicine (and with it alone) except disgrace, and that does not hurt those who are familiar with it. Such persons are like the figures which are introduced in tragedies, for as they have the shape, and dress, and personal appearance of an actor, but are not actors, so also physicians are many in title but very few in reality.
    • 1
  • A natural talent is required; for, when Nature opposes, everything else is in vain; but when Nature leads the way to what is most excellent, instruction in the art takes place, which the student must try to appropriate to himself by reflection, becoming an early pupil in a place well adapted for instruction. He must also bring to the task a love of labor and perseverance, so that the instruction taking root may bring forth proper and abundant fruits.
    • 2
  • It is time which imparts strength to all things and brings them to maturity.
    • 3
  • Timidity betrays want of powers, and audacity a want of skill. There are, indeed, two things, knowledge and opinion, of which the one makes its possessor really to know, the other to be ignorant.
    • 4
  • Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have been initiated in the mysteries of the science.
    • 5

Oath of Hippocrates (c. 400 BC)

Francis Adams translation online
  • I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation — to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others.
    • Variant translation: I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant ...
      • As translated in The Hippocratic Oath : Text, Translation, and Interpretation (1943) , by Ludwig Edelstein
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
  • While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!

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From Ancient Greek Ἱπποκράτης (Hippokratēs).

Proper noun




  1. A Greek physician, circa 5th century BC, sometimes called the "father of medicine."

Derived terms



  • Hippocrates in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913
  • Hippocrates” in Dictionary.com Unabridged, v1.0.1, Lexico Publishing Group, 2006.
  • "Hippocrates" in the Wordsmyth Dictionary-Thesaurus © Wordsmyth 2002.
  • Random House Webster's Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1987-1996.

Simple English


Hippocrates was a Greek doctor. He was probably born in 460 BC, and died in 377 BC.

Hippocrates is called the "father of medicine". He was the first person to write that people got sick for scientific reasons. People used to believe disease was caused by angry (mad) gods.

Hippocrates wrote about treating sick people. His writings are still important to doctors today. He said many ideas that doctors still study. An idea he wrote about is "patient confidentiality". This means that doctors cannot tell anyone else what their patients tell them. Another idea is that the doctor cannot do anything to kill a patient. These kinds of ideas are part of medical ethics.

The Hippocratic Oath is named after him. This is a promise or oath doctors say. This means they say they will do what is said in the Hippocratic Oath. (People now think that Hippocrates did not write it.)

Most medical schools today use a new version. This means that some things are changed. But the important ideas are the same.

This is an example of a modern Hippocratic Oath. This is used today at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

I do solemnly swear by all I hold most sacred:

  • that I will be loyal to the profession of medicine and just to its members
  • that I will lead my life and practice my art with virtue and honor
  • that into whatsoever home I shall enter it shall be for the good of the sick and the well by the utmost of my power and that I will hold myself aloof from wrong and from corruption and from the tempting of others to vice
  • that I will exercise my art solely for the benefit of my patients, the relief of suffering, the prevention of disease and promotion of health, and I will give no drug and perform no act for an immoral purpose
  • that in the treatment of the sick, I will consider their well-being to be of a greater importance than their ability to compensate my services
  • that what I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside the treatment in regard to the lives of persons which is not fitting to be spoken, I will keep inviolably secret
  • that I will commit myself to a lifetime of continued learning of the art and science of medicine
  • these things I do promise and in proportion as I am faithful to this oath, may happiness and good repute be ever mine, but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.


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