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Hippocrates of Kos
BirthplaceKos, Ancient Greece


Hippocrates (hĭpŏkˈrətēz), c.460–c.370 B.C., Greek physician, recognized as the father of medicine. He is believed to have been born on the island of Cos, to have studied under his father, a physician, to have traveled for some time, perhaps studying in Athens, and to have then returned to practice, teach, and write at Cos. The Hippocratic or Coan school that formed around him was of enormous importance in separating medicine from superstition and philosophic speculation, placing it on a strictly scientific plane based on objective observation and critical deductive reasoning.

Although Hippocrates followed the current belief that disease resulted from an imbalance of the four bodily humors, he maintained that the disturbance was influenced by outside forces and that the humors were glandular secretions. He believed that the goal of medicine should be to build the patient's strength through appropriate diet and hygienic measures, resorting to more drastic treatment only when the symptoms showed this to be necessary. This was in contrast to the contemporary Cnidian school, which stressed detailed diagnosis and classification of diseases to the point of ignoring the patient. Hippocrates probably had an inkling of Mendelian and genomic factors in heredity, because he noted not only many of the signs of disease but also that symptoms could appear throughout a family or a community, or even over successive generations.

Of the large collection of writings that derived from the Coan school, only a few are generally ascribed to Hippocrates himself, although his influence is felt throughout. Of these, The Aphorisms, summing up his observations and deductions, and Airs, Waters, and Places, which recognized a link between environment and disease, are considered the most important. The collection has appeared in a number of translations, notably that of Littré.

While the Hippocratic oath cannot be directly credited to him either, it undoubtedly represents his ideals and principles. The oath, which still governs the ethical conduct of physicians today, is often recited at the graduation ceremonies of medical schools. Among other things the oath details codes of patients's right to privacy, asks the physician to pledge to lead an honorable personal and professional life, and requires that he or she prescribe treatments only for curative purposes.


See studies by W. Smith (1979) and W. Heidel (1981).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born 460 B.C. on the island of Cos; died 377 B.C. (according to other data 356 B.C.) near Larisa, Thessaly. Ancient Greek physician and reformer of ancient medicine.

Hippocrates received his medical education under the guidance of his father, Heraclides. Hippocrates’ mother, Phenareta, was a midwife. It is believed that Hippocrates belonged to the 17th generation of a medical family from which the Coan school of physicians emerged. Hippocrates led the life of a traveling physician (periodeut) in Greece, Asia Minor, and Libya; he visited the peoples inhabiting the shores of the Black Sea and also the Scythians, which enabled him to acquaint himself with the medicine of the peoples of Southwest Asia and Egypt. The writings attributed to Hippocrates that have survived to the present day represent a collection of 59 works by various authors, gathered by scholars of the Alexandria Library. Among the works most often ascribed to Hippocrates himself are Airs, Waters, and Places; Prognosis; Regimen in Acute Diseases; the first and third books of Epidemics; Aphorisms; Joints; Fractures; and Wounds in the Head.

Hippocrates’ achievement lay in freeing medicine from the influence of priestly temple medicine and defining the path of its independent development. Hippocrates taught that the physician must treat not the disease but the patient, paying attention to the individual characteristics of the body and the environment. He proceeded from the idea of the determining influence of the environment on the formation of the bodily (constitution) and spiritual (temperament) characteristics of the human being. Hippocrates distinguished these factors (climate, quality of the water and the soil, people’s way of life, laws of the land) from the point of view of their influence on human beings. He was the originator of medical geography.

Hippocrates distinguished four basic types of people according to their constitution: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic. He elaborated problems of etiology and rejected the supernatural and divine origin of diseases. He established the principal stages in the development of disease and elaborated problems of diagnosis. Hippocrates proposed four principles of treatment: to bring benefit and not harm, to treat the contradictory with contradiction, to help nature, and while exercising caution, to spare the patient. Famous as an outstanding surgeon, he worked out methods of using bandages and treatments for fractures and luxations, wounds, fistulas, hemorrhoids, and empyema. Hippocrates is credited with the text of the so-called physician’s oath (the Oath of Hippocrates), which concisely formulates the moral standards of behavior for a physician. (However, the original version of the oath existed even in Egypt.) Hippocrates is called the father of medicine.


Izbrannye knigi. [Moscow] 1936. (Translated from Greek.)
Sochineniia, vols. 2-3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941-44. (Translated from Greek.)


Borodulin, F. R. Lektsii po istorii meditsiny: Lektsiia 4-6. Moscow, 1955.
Istoriia meditsiny, vol. 1. Edited by B. D. Petrova. Moscow, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(c. 460–c. 360 B.C.) Greek physician and “Father of Medicine.” [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 1246]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?460--?377 bc, Greek physician, commonly regarded as the father of medicine
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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